In the digital media town the talk is all the more about the importance of excellent storytelling for brands. There is a wide spectrum of perspectives and ideas about so-called brand journalism, i.e. brands using the tools of digital media and social sharing to behave like original-content publishers. At MediaChange we stressed that a brand is as strong as its strong relationship with the consumer, and this relationship is based on shared values that consumers associate and share with their chosen brand. The question is how, in this new media environment, traditional news media should act to regain and prove their social relevance.

The ratio behind this new trend in storytelling is relatively simple. A generation of sophisticated consumers is emerging, challenging information and knocking back spin. Marketers are using the tools of digital publishing and social media to speak directly to consumers. To do this, brands need storytellers, and journalists represent the greatest pool of storytelling talent. Reporters with long careers in journalism have moved in and out of the grey zone between journalism and advertising. The new motto seems to be think like a journalist, act like a marketer.

So, if there seemingly is little new, what’s the fuss all about? The open question is whether brand journalism counts as journalism or rather it is only a new version of content marketing. At the end of the day, it is the reader/customer who decides whether something is news, especially in a time when broadcasters and magazines no longer have a lock on distributing compelling stories. Social media companies are becoming to the news business what Amazon is to book publishing, i.e. a giant that provides access to hundreds of millions of consumers. Publishers are thus increasingly reaching readers through individual pieces rather than complete editions of newspapers or magazines. However, brands and marketers are reacting more aptly and promptly than news media industry professionals.

The news industry in fact risks that a publication’s home page will soon be important more as an advertisement of its brand than as a destination for readers, having failed to do a good job of saying what makes traditional journalism different than brand journalism. Most readers now come to published news not through the print or online editions of newspapers and magazines, but through social media and search engines driven by a mathematical formula that predicts what users might want to read. In other words, every company feels empowered to be a media company, but the reality is more complex.

Given that this new trend cannot, and should not be blocked, some media companies recently launched platforms where brands are encouraged to use the same publishing tools journalists do to create and distribute content in a news environment. This allows marketers to connect directly with the audience, create content, and participate in the conversation on the digital publishing platform. With all the transparency possible, readers/consumers, journalists and marketers are forming deeper relationships with each other.

However, journalism must be more about the individual, the actual content creator, and the person who’s consuming the content. After all, journalism is the practice of investigating and reporting events, issues and trends to the mass audiences, with the intention to provide their readers and audiences with accurate, reliable information they need to function in society.  In the digital era, each can produce content at will in an effort to be heard, and journalism can best fulfil its essential mission to inform when the individual who possesses information connects one-on-one with the individual who desires it.

The social web and its underlying technology is the next phase of journalism, not the end of it. For traditional media business, the main challenge by brand journalism is about developing a modern newsroom to process quality content, distribute, and market it not to be overshadowed. Content is content: news consumers value information from a wide array of sources.

Brand journalism is evolving into content creation using journalistic skills, redefining what news is and how it should be communicated. This way brand journalism creates an evolving brand story, attracting and enticing consumers with a continuing flow of valuable, integrated and engaging content, a sort of brand "magazine" where each article is different and comes together as a dynamic, timely, and coherent brand story.