Journalism these days looks increasingly like content marketing, especially with major publishers including social media training.
I've been digesting conversations I had at FinCon, as well as my later trip to H&R Block headquarters in Kansas City. The last month has given me a lot of food for thought, and one of the things I've been chewing on is the blurring line between journalism and content marketing.
The rise of the Internet has been accompanied by a rise in yellow journalism. The 24-hour news cycle, and the existence of infotainment are changing the way we consume news. It's all a competition, and it's all about the clicks. These days, journalism and content marketing are becoming increasingly close. And I see it all the time in the sorts of things I do while writing for blogs and even major online publications. I've been contemplating a business model change as a result of the new realities of online publishing.
Journalists as Brands
One of the more interesting items I've run across recently was a post on Jim Romenesko's blog. (If you want a cool look at what's going on in the media, particularly traditional print, Romenesko is the place to go.) He shared a schedule of seminars from what Gannett (a huge publisher and owner of newspapers across the country, from USA Today to the small town newspaper where I first realized I wanted to be a freelancer) terms its “Newsroom of the Future.”
Some of the trainings covered subjects you would expect to see from a large publisher hoping to train its journalists, such as cleaning your copy (grammar and style), identifying credible sources, and verifying the information you receive. But some of the other seminars are a little surprising:
Better SEO? Headlines across platforms?
The seminar that really stuck out to me, though, was the one about using social media to establish your brand and personality. Journalists are no longer just associated with the publications they write for; now they need personal brands. It reminds of a conversation I had on Skype not too long ago about delivering pageviews, and how many publications are looking for writers who bring a social media followings with them.
And this makes sense. In a world where print is dying, and major publications are moving online, it's more about freelancers who can deliver good content + eyeballs than it is about a full-time journalist sitting at a desk, pulling down a salary and benefits. The value in switching to freelancers is growing.
As a journalist, you need to develop your personal brand, and establish yourself as an expert. That's another point of the seminar on using social media. You can use social media to establish yourself as a subject matter expert. This reality also hit home to me as I was interviewed for a Deseret News story not too long ago. I'm not just interviewing experts for the articles I write for others; I am the expert in some cases. I'm on both sides of the equation. I've learned to become an expert on writing about money, and I interview money experts all the time. But I'm also regularly interviewed as an expert by others.
My personal brand isn't just me-as-journalist. It's also me-as-subject-matter-expert. It's taking a little getting used to, but it accurately reflects the way that journalists need to operate in the current writing market. And, as more publications move online and turn to freelancers, building a personal brand separate from a specific publication becomes more important than ever. You need to be able to show that you have the writing chops and that others will read what you write.
Journalism as Content Marketing
The emphasis on personal branding for journalists, and the need for publications to bring in money is one of the reasons that journalists also need to know a little bit about content marketing. In a lot of ways, it's kind of sad. But it's the way we are moving.
Consider initiatives like Forbes BrandVoice. That's all about connecting brands, and integrating content, with the Forbes brand. Techniques common to journalism, such as article-style writing, expert interviews, and reporting of stats are used, but it's all designed to focus on specific brands and help them raise their profiles.
This type of content marketing is becoming increasingly common. You can have a well-written article that is also a bit of clever content marketing. What's even better is if you, as a journalist, have enough social media followers and influence to help your piece get a bit of a boost to bring more eyeballs. You can also use this type of content marketing in blogging campaigns, in which brands ask bloggers to write high-quality, sponsored pieces that link to specific information, or quote certain sources. It's an interesting approach to content marketing, and one that journalists need to consider as they move forward. Is this sort of thing worth it?
Who's Paying the Bills?
One of the things to consider, especially if you are a freelance journalist confronted with the idea of content marketing, is how you are paying the bills. An example of content marketing that I am involved with is at Wise Bread. I recently wrote a post using information garnered from research done by Discover Home Loans. As you can see when you head over there, the article involves my own story, and my own thoughts on the subject of home affordability. However, one of the requirements was to mention the survey from Discover Home Loans, and incorporate their data into the story.
Above, you can see what the story looks like for the first paragraph, and below, you can see how the article ends. The Discover Home Loans branding and disclosure are there, and easy to see, but it's not particularly obtrusive.
It's not quite the high-brow work I thought I'd do when I decided to become a writer and study journalism. However, it's the work of a freelancer paying the bills — and a freelancer looking to keep paying the bills in a changing online writing marketplace.
And I console myself with the thought that, even though I'm involved in content marketing, I still, for the most part, get to write about what I want, and share my opinions and even offer solid information. I just get paid a little bit more for it. And make no mistake, even at the old, venerable publications, there is some serious content marketing going on as well — and journalists are involved.
What do you think of the trend toward content marketing in journalism? Is it hard to keep it separate? Should it be kept separate?