Journalism in Information Era
People will always want to hear and see their news. We will always desire a trusted news personality to let us know what is going on in the world. Reporters like Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly will likely always have a place in the news industry. What changed is our desire to read the morning paper with coffee, at least in the traditional sense. Over the past decade, readers rapidly turned to the internet to get their news.
Advertisers responded by focusing their marketing strategy on the web. The business model of newspaper organizations crumbled as a result. Advertisers took their brands online because many more millions of consumers are available. Spending advertising budgets in online marketing proved a better return on investment for brands.
Tom Phillips, former president of ABC News Internet Ventures and ESPN Internet ventures, argues, “the strength of [digital] journalism is the ability to integrate various media”. The web provides a way to report news stories with photographs, audio, video and writing (Harper, Christopher). Many journalists argue that web journalism is flawed and lack of quality information and integrity is to blame.
News organizations responded to their economic downturn by re-designing their business model. Instead of selling ad spaces in papers, they’ve enticed advertisers with branded journalism, native journalism and content marketing. Iconic and trusted news organization like Time, Inc decided to include journalistic stories purchased by advertisers to seduce consumers into buying.
Birth, Spawn of Brand Journalism:
After learning how inexpensive and powerful online marketing could be, advertisers used guerilla marketing techniques to attract consumers. Pop-ups and banner ads surrounded web pages. Still today, users must click several “x”s to finally reach the content they intend to view. In 2010, major studies by Google proved pop-ups and banner ads were ineffective online marketing techniques, stating the click through rate for the year was 0.09 percent, down from 0.1 percent in the year before.
In the same year of Google’s study, Forbes online magazine began publishing content called AdVoice which was later renamed BrandVoice. Forbes believed brands could publish their own content in a credible environment. Forbes warned traditional journalists not to be afraid of BrandVoice. They argued that in the past gainfully employed journalists wrote special features and sponsored content, mudding the ethics of journalism. BrandVoice represented a clear divide between marketer and journalist (DVorkin, Lewis).
An excellent infographic created by IPG Media Lab sums up the effectiveness of native journalism vs banner ads:
The internet created the perfect platform for brand journalism. Prior to the popular phrase, most “brand journalism” was called content marketing. Bloggers, especially, would sell advertising spaces to brands. They received free products to test and talk about, as a result they expanded brand awareness or differentiation.
Forbes changed things by providing a credible platform for brands to take control of the content. From the roots of content marketing, native journalism is becoming more popular.
In 2013, the Atlantic published a profile of Scientology leader David Miscavige, produced and paid for by the Church of Scientology. The Atlantic, like many news organizations, was attempting to try out a new business model which included paid stories (Belam, Martin). Unlike brand journalism or content marketing, the sponsor and reason for the article does not have to be clearly displayed in native journalism. Cisco is a company who focuses on establishing, promoting and differentiating brands with native advertising. Their My Networked Life series markets specifically towards Apple’s target market.
Brand journalism is a powerful tool that businesses can leverage to increase their brand’s awareness.
Traditional Journalism vs. Brand Journalism
Traditional journalism was defined by expensive news stories reported to the consumer and financed by ads purchased by brands. The stories were unilateral. Reporters and news organizations decided what stories were important and how they were to be portrayed to the public. Although ethical journalism is meant to be unbiased, as a reporter it’s difficult not to express opinions. Traditional journalism was a one-sided story, but the news stories were not dictated by advertisers dollars. Ads were placed next to a news story not within it.
Online marketing forced news organizations to redesign how they earn money. News organizations can no longer sell stale ad space at expensive rates. Corporations, and even smaller brands, discovered more economical and effective advertising techniques within the web.
The new news organization business model includes brand journalism. A group of Stanford University students developed a web site on Journalism in the Digital Age and defined brand journalism as, “using the credibility and influence of news to tell a corporate story in order to achieve competitive differentiation”. Although brand journalism has become a buzz-worthy technique in the Information age, companies have used the strategy for years.
While listening to the radio, a DJ might discuss his/her favorite products, occasionally they’ll let listener’s know about sponsors, other times they won’t.
Kaplan says, “ if we were going to show a product, we’d go to the journalist and we’d have bullet points about the product and how it worked, and then they’d go on air and describe it in their own way”(Burg, Natalie).
Brand journalism articles are written for television shows, corporations, products and even causes. In his book, Six Rules of Brand Revitalisation, Larry Light, former McDonald’s chief marketing officer, discusses the shift from traditional journalism to branded journalism.
The essence of journalism ask the following questions:
Light adapted these elements to transform supply-driven marketing to demand-driven marketing. The new elements included:
Brand journalism answers very different questions than traditional journalism. Controversy arising when brand journalism, especially native advertising, is not clearly labeled.
Controversy Surrounding Brand Journalism
Orange is the New Black, a wildly popular Netflix original series, provides an excellent example of brand journalism. The New York Times published an interactive piece, Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work, and the sponsor, Netflix, was not mentioned in the content, nor was information about the upcoming second season of Orange is the New Black(Walgrove, Amanda). This particular piece of brand journalism may have contained rich information and the topic might have been newsworthy, but the origin of intent is where some people, journalists and readers, have an issue.
Journalism, considered the fourth estate, is a trusted method by readers to receive unbiased information. Even if a particular news organization often takes a certain stance on issues, readers generally are not worried about brands influencing the stories they read. Contently, a popular blog on content, performed some surveys in June 2014, They asked questions like:
Typically readers are distrusting of content if it is sponsored by a brand. It’s the same reason people will often switch channels or walk away when commercials air on television. They don’t want to be sold. Branded journalism, or content marketing, represents the same concept to viewers.
Although viewers are accustomed to advertisements when they watch television, listen to the radio or read the newspaper, many have not adjusted to brand journalism. Ethically, is it okay to advertise to someone under the guise of news?
Business and journalists have similar goals: they want to persuade and influence. “What sets journalists apart is a strong code of ethics to tell the truth for the betterment of society”. The author of those words, Diane Thieke, wrote an article trying to determine if brand journalism and ethics can co-exists. Her conclusion: “As marketing becomes more fact-based and news-driven- more focused on brand journalism- we need to recognize that it might be in our best interests not to edit the clip”.
Future of Brand Journalism
Major brands and corporations use reporters to market products and stories. NASA hired journalists like Julian Scheer, who covered the early civil rights movement and the first days of the space program. Journalists were hired to, “get the information out and tell the truth”. NASA understands the importance of selling a story to the public (Helm, Annie).
Today, businesses need to self-publish and create content. They need to reach a large targeted audience. Through the use of brand journalism, they can hire seasoned journalists to write convincing stories that promote their brand to a specific audience. Businesses can leverage the reputation of the news to build their brands.
As print media dwindles, brand journalism will become a viable marketing option for news organizations. In the past, brands would pay to have a passive ad nest to a provocative news story. Now, advertisers expect news organization to jump in and help sell, instead of letting brands do all the work.
Curating content that supports a brand’s mission will be the focus of brand journalism. Crafting content that entices and influences readers will be the job of brand journalists.
The future of brand journalism is promising for businesses and news organizations. The key will be to uphold ethics that will increase the longevity and reliability of brand journalism.
Telling meaningful stories, much like the Women Inmates piece by the New York Times is important. Keeping the conversation open between reader and journalists is also essential. The public is wants to discuss what they’ve read and soon savvy readers are going to want to know where the information came from and why. A good brand journalist will respond honestly and quickly.
Like most things on the internet, transparency is essential. BrandVoice is an excellent example of transparency within brand journalism. Although brand journalism seems to be taking over the news world, technology has always influenced how people get their information.
Technology has also influenced how news organizations make their money. During radio, a voice-over ad was the best form of advertising, with television, commercials were invented. Brand journalism is not going to eliminate the need for traditional journalism. Although the delivery of news has changed several times over the course of history, the need and want to tell and share stories remains the same.
Belam, Martin. “Journalism in the Digital Age: Trends, Tool, Technologies.” The Guardian. The Guardian, 10 Apr. 2010. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.
Bull, Andy. “How McDonald’s Invented Brand Journalism, and How Brand Journalism Saved McDonald’s.” Brand Journalism.co.uk, n.d. Web.
Burg, Natalie. “Journalists vs. Marketers: How to Ease Tension Inside Brand Newsrooms.” The Content Strategist Journalists vs Marketers How to Ease Tension Inside Brand Newsrooms Comments. Contently, 14 Mar. 2014. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.
Crichton, Danny, Ben Christel, Aaditya Shidham, Alex Valderrama, and Jeremy Karmel. “Journalism in the Digital Age.” Journalism in the Digital Age. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.
DVorkin, Lewis. “Inside Forbes: The Birth of Brand Journalism and Why It’s Good for the News Business.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 3 Oct. 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.
Harper, Christopher. “Journalism in a Digital Age.” Journalism in a Digital Age. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.
Helm, Annie. “A Giant Leap for Content Marketing: The Evolution of Brand Journalism.” A Giant Leap for Content Marketing: The Evolution of Brand Journalism. Kuno Creative, 29 May 2014. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.
Thieke, Diane. “Can Brand Journalism and Ethics Co-Exist?” Simply Talk Media. Simply Talk Media, 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.
Walgrove, Amanda. “The NYT Just Created an Incredible ‘Snow Fall’ for ‘Orange Is the New Black’.” The Content Strategist The NYT Just Created an Incredible Snow Fall for Orange Is the New Black Comments. Contently, 13 June 2014. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.