Tag Archives: branded content

Is Branded Content Journalism?

25 Feb

Like lots of young J-School graduates, I have one foot in the traditional journalism world and one foot…somewhere else. One former schoolmate works as a “community manager” at an Internet startup. Another friend is a Web editor/SEO specialist at an online newspaper. Yet another sunlights as “communications director” for a government agency.

As I’ve discussed before, I’m the editor of a lightly-branded media and marketing blog called Sparksheet, which is both an independent-minded industry publication and a strategic corporate property. So I’m always navigating the line between editorial and advertorial, zealously guarding my journalistic independence and integrity while making sure not to embarrass the company or its clients.

Which brings me to this recent blog post by Sally Gethin. A self-proclaimed “old fashioned journalist,” Gethin edits a respected inflight entertainment industry newsletter (yes, such a thing exists). Although I can’t say for certain, the post seems to be a thinly-veiled attack on Sparksheet.

(Note: For some reason she seems to have deleted the post. But here’s another Web lesson for Ms. Gethin: online content is forever. You can find a cached version here– just scroll down a few posts to “When news becomes clutter”).

Indeed, most of the post is an inchoate rant. She blames the Internet for killing investigative reporting. She laments that “There is too much online ‘chatter’ going on.” Regarding Twitter, she contends that “just the word itself defames the notion of real debate.” Really?

But the question of whether branded content should be regarded as credible journalism is a legitimate one. So here is my response (originally posted as a comment on her blog):

As a fellow journalism school graduate and someone who works in the branded media space, I couldn’t disagree more.

First, the idea that the Internet and “digital media” are killing investigative journalism is ludicrous. Check out websites like ProPublica, Spot.us and Talking Points Memo, which have picked up the investigative torch dropped by newspapers, magazines and TV stations that are no longer willing or able to invest in proper muckraking.

It’s a shame that so many legacy media outlets are struggling. But “old fashioned journalists” and media executives are far from blameless. Ignoring what happened to the music industry in the face of Napster and iTunes, they failed to grasp the impact digital media would have on their outdated and inefficient business models (low subscription costs, print classifieds, un-targeted ads, etc.).  Instead of seeing the Internet as an opportunity, they saw it as a threat, and leaner, keener outlets rose up to fill the void. Continue reading

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