Thursday, April 26, 2012

Brand journalism? The media and commerce conspire

Way way back, when I began a journalism cadetship on The Courier-Mail in Brisbane, there was a massive separation between advertising (promoting brands and products) and editorial. Never the twain should meet in those days. But the other week, I joined a LinkedIn group called 'Brand Journalism'.

It was the final sign-off for me from journalism, as I once knew it, and PR and marketing. Don't get me wrong, I see nothing wrong with brand journalism, as long as it doesn't masquerade as pure journalism, like many of our so-called current affairs programs do.

I crossed to the 'dark side' when I left newspapers in 1981 and moved into Ford Australia's public affairs office. It wasn't long before I was elevated to the lofty position of 'Product Information Manager', which was the first formal transition from PR into marketing. From there, from the journalism purists point of view, it was all downhill for yours truly.

It's now widely acknowledged that there are more journalists working for corporate masters than reporting on them. Over 80% of many newspapers, more in some cases, originates from copy or ideas generated by brand journalists than from those employed in the media. Whether this is a good thing is another issue, but it's a trend endorsed by the growth in media distribution and the 24-hour news cycle.

Get past the first section of your daily newspaper, or the first two items on your current affairs program and you're well into understanding the growing nexus between editorial and PR / brand journalism. You're into channels hungry for content and grateful for any corporate largesse that may help fill them.

What's worse is the evidence suggests the public is generally happy with this arrangement. They're happy for a current affairs show to research whether it's cheaper to shop at Aldi than anywhere else. They think all content should be free on the Internet.

If they wanted truly independent editorial, they'd pay subscriptions to independent news services. Indeed some do, but not enough to sustain a genuine global news organizations. So brand journalism is here to stay, perhaps to become one of the fastest growing professions in corporate communications, as companies not only interact with media organisations, but also service their own growing channels in the social media and web.

Always thought of myself as a journalism turncoat until I discovered brand journalism. I've subscribed!

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