Brand Journalism, Then and Now

extra-large native ad

Brand journalism is not brand-centric, but a brand journalist’s job includes figuring out how to seamlessly weave in a brand presence.”

That’s Tip #6 in this chipper video about the “now” of branded, err, make that un-branded content.

Marketing professionals are increasingly accepting that un-branded content is the way forward. As summarized by MediaSource, the makers of this video:

[We can] expand your story by developing meaningful content and delivering real journalism that can be leveraged across both company-owned and earned media.

Evolution of Brand Journalism

Plenty of ink has spilled — and pixels have lit up — debating the evolution of traditional journalism, content marketing, and branded journalism.

So, it was fun to find this gem (“Why All the Bellyaching on BuzzFeed & Listicles?“) at The Iron Yuppie. A screenshot of a 100-year-old (almost to the day!) piece in The Richmond Times Dispatch reveals an early example of native advertising:

Aronchick goes on to compare the composition of this 1914 paper and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in 2000, “the year that the newspaper business had the highest revenue in its history.” He compares both papers, describing each as a mix of “the news, and the other stuff that funds the news.” In these papers news comprises 40-60% of the papers and the rest is comprised of advertisements. He writes of BuzzFeed,

By contrast, this listicle of 26 Animals From Around the World has just 1 300×250 ad, and one native ad (at the bottom). That’s practically pristine!

He goes concludes [emphasis added]:

There may be variations of this equation in the future (how much time and real estate a publication can/will spend on each), but it seems highly unlikely there will be too many sites that have the former without having at least some of the latter.

In other words: get used to the future; it’s always been this way.

Or has it?

Transparent Methods

Savannah Marie at LonelyBrand discusses the differences between native advertising and brand storytelling, asserting that “brand storytelling beats native advertising every time.” She describes brand storytelling as: “Using more transparent methods, brands are able to tell stories, frequently in a news format, that promote their services or products.” She goes on to say this form of communication wins because it allows for brand transparency and personal connection.

Of course, not everyone shares a positive view of brand journalism. David Holmes of Pando Daily recently critiqued the idea of a brand journalist as “slimy,” while contending that “if native advertising or using journalistic techniques and instincts to identify trends and influences can help pay the bills, then so be it.”

A thoughtful comment appeared on Holmes’ article by Tracy Fitzgerald, which said, in part:

[…] however, having just got back from a trip to Nepal in which I helped my client report on the poor conditions of the firefighters in Kathmandu, I can wholeheartedly say that brand journalism IS a thing — and it doesn’t mean waving goodbye to your integrity. For me, it’s just a different platform to report across.

[…] journalists should stop focusing on the fact they think this is an oxymoron and start doing something about it — we should start shaping brand journalism into something that looks more like journalism. Then and only then can we use our skills to make a real difference to the world. Unfortunately, this change is happening whether we like it or not. Time to educate the brands on what it really means.

I agree with Fitzgerald’s view, both as a response to today’s journalistic environment and a reminder that the production of “news” has always had a paying patron.

Image: Library of Virginia.

 

About Katie McCaskey

Katie McCaskey is SixEstate’s content director. She tests real-world application of content marketing techniques using the cafe she co-owns as a laboratory. She was Tech Editor of Chief Content Officer, 2010-2011, and contributes to the Content Marketing Institute. Connect with her on Google+ or @KatieMcCaskey.

  

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