Monthly Archives: February 2015
Did content marketing kill American journalism?
For some time, leading news organizations have warned that the collapse of American journalism is bad for democracy. Some have cast about for a scapegoat, most recently landing on content marketers.
Who wins, journalism’s proponents ask, if everyone in the country has read “How Well Do You Know Taylor Swift’s Cat, Olivia Benson?” but no one knows the benefits and drawbacks of the Affordable Care Act a year after it was fully enacted?
It’s a good question.
The sad collapse of American newspapers over the past 10-plus years has created a vacuum; one that personal, professional, and corporate publishing platforms have rushed to fill — the most common being blogs like this one. The new self-publishing zeitgeist is captured in its purest form in the adage, “Every brand is a now publisher” — a gleaming promise on the horizon of potential and prosperity, if nothing else.
It takes real world form in multi-page advertorials by corporate America high fliers, from AT&T and Lexus to BP (formerly British Petroleum) — moves that, from-time-to-time, have stoked debates when done in bad taste or “Advertising” wasn’t clearly stamped across the header. Similar debates have bubbled to the surface about the appropriateness and labeling of “native ads,” and about a growing number of news and entertainment sites that combine social curation and original reporting, BuzzFeed and The Daily Beast among them.
Influence in journalism
It’s also found its way into mainstream media through funding partnerships with corporations like the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation and through the collapsing wall that once separated, more or less, the news side of journalism from the marketing side, even at iconic publications like Time.
But in a class all its own (at least that I’m aware) is Chevron’s (unbranded) online newspaper, The Richmond Standard, which hired a real/former? (I’m not even sure what to call him) editor/reporter to cover Richmond, Calif. with the explicit understanding (wink, wink, nod, nod) that he wouldn’t bite the energy-conglomerate hand that feeds him. The move evokes a return to the days of the Dearborn Independent, when Henry Ford decided to buy a newspaper so that he could fill it with anti-semitic screed. If that doesn’t scare the crap out of Americans, nothing will.
So what is the threat to journalism? Is it content marketers and/or brand journalist, as some have suggested? That’s the gist of a series of recent attacks that blame them for driving journalism over a cliff, after all — attacks that are unfounded for several reasons, as I explained in a recent post. Content marketing is probably the least of the threats (if a threat at all) to journalism, consider the examples just cited — not to mention some I didn’t.
Follow the money trail
That brings us back to the question. Who benefits?
As a former San Francisco journalist, I was taught to follow the money. In every instance I’ve sited, business benefits. Business benefits. If that’s true, the debate between journalists and marketers is off base. It’s worse than that; it’s a diversion from the debate that, perhaps, we should be having about business, about ethics, about influence peddling, and, yes, about the roles of marketing and journalism.
What’s undeniable is that the content vacuum won’t be denied. As more people go online and mobile phones and wearable devices grow smarter, the demand will increase. The unyielding demands of consumers to have answers at their fingertips, and the advance of technology that allows marketers to serve ads based on a treasure trove of personal touchpoints, makes the future of content marketing and journalism more than secure. It makes them interdependent, just look the success of the Huffington Post and Mashable. The question is who can balance the “benefits.”
by Ed Carpenter — He’s a bad mutha … shut yer mouth.