When we publicly discuss innovation, the distinction between journalism and brand communication becomes blurred and the question of what brand journalism really is becomes really wide open. Is it journalism revisited, or simply disguised content marketing? While the traditional news media industry sees it rather in the latter category, PR agencies, corporate newsrooms and marketing departments are playing a new role in the former. But there is no clear-cut division. With the increasing digitalization of the information industry, pervasive presence of social platforms, and inevitable transparency, readers/consumers are closer to the content producers in the information and communication industry, and the two types of professionals often overlap. How healthy is this for the media industry landscape? The blogosphere has been debating the issue for a while without reaching a conclusion, which is a good sign per se. In this brief piece, MC tries to map out the latest trends in the debate about brand journalism and related issues.
Does it really matter who the journalist is?
As a namesake website persuasively points out, brand journalism is hardly a new topic. However in the last couple of years professionals are wondering when it all started. AdAge traces the point zero back to a 2004 conference it organized, when McDonald’s announced its new approach to marketing under the guise of brand journalism. In its latest issue, the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) of the eponymous school of journalism asks in its cover story whether traditional journalism should worry about brand journalism, underlining how important it has become. It also wonders about the importance to know who is a journalist. Quite aptly CJR underlines how this new trend should not be underestimated, warning that the media should not degrade its own standards.
Some players in the media industry have an unintelligible approach, which is misleading, but also the acceptance of a de facto revolutionized media landscape. According to them, such as Forbes, brand journalism could be the rebirth of the journalistic profession.
In fact, as Financial Times’ seminal article highlighted, the divide between journalism and public relations professionals has always been blurring, with the advertising and marketing industry being an interested third party in this squabble. In the innovation age a common consequence is that brand journalism often provides superior contents thanks to “embedded” position and privileged access to information and sources which corporations would have otherwise not been ready to reveal to an “external” journalist.
So what’s the fuss about? As stated at the beginning, virtual and real worlds have become interconnected in a way unseen before, with the digital r-evolution scaling up its impact in terms of information gathering and social interaction, and news consumption for that matter. In other words, with rising transparency also the information business is about communication, more than ever. And the storytelling about the product, the content becomes product itself.