The Blurring Line Between Journalism and Content Marketing

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.

journalism or content marketing

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:

journalists and content marketing

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.

Discover Home Loans Content Marketing

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.

content marketing Discover

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?

0 thoughts on “The Blurring Line Between Journalism and Content Marketing”

  1. It’s indeed a fact today that more journalists are building their personal brands as well as being associated with their publications. And they should!

    Those that don’t have their personal blogs (outside their publications) have their own thing going with Twitter and other social media. Not only are they paid (and use their publication airtime) to massively promote their personal brands (albeit indirectly), they build a readership that can remain with them even when/if they leave the particular publications. Examples are the thousands and even hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers that some journalists have, most gotten for them by the publications.

    Nowadays it’s possible for a journalist to lose his/her job but still survive, as they still retain some of their readership. Compared with the time before Internet and social media, all a journalist had was the publication. Lose it, and you lose all. Not anymore, it seems.

    That’s why, as you rightly pointed out in your “delivering pageviews” article, more publications are looking for writers who bring a social media followings with them. I certainly won’t blame such publications. It’s the wave now, and will continue to be that way. Why employ someone who brings only their journalistic expertise when you can employ another who brings both journalistic expertise and a following?

    Regarding separation, or not, of content marketing and journalism, the ideal is for both to be kept separate – a journalist to be a journalist and do what he/she does best, while a content marketer does what he/she does best. But that’s not going to happen, not anymore. Especially, as you rightly pointed out “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”.

    And as a journalist, why shouldn’t you want to be MORE and have MORE, when it only makes you MORE valuable, to your publication and to the rest of the world? 🙂

    Thanks to David, for sharing this thought-provoking piece on I have “kingged” it and hope others will too.


  2. Hi David/Miranda,
    Its really difficult to keep Journalism and Content marketing separate. The line between the two keeps blurring.

    Thanks( or No thanks) to the innovations taking place on the Internet.

    One fact I have to point out is that there is a place for creativity in both journalism and content marketing.

    Journalists need creativity to express their opinion convincingly while content marketers need creativity to share their expressions for profitability.

    A common ground for both is now obtainable. Journalists need content marketing ideas to blend with the trend while content marketers need to create posts/offers like journalists to provide “REAL VALUE” to the audience.

    The blurring line between journalism and content marketing keeps glaring with modern Internet evolution!

    I left this comment on as well

    1. Miranda Marquit

      I like your thoughts on the combination of the two, and creativity. That sounds a lot like what I do right now. I try to provide solid value for the audience — not just deliver some sort of marketing message. But it’s also true that with the way things are going, those who really can provide good information to an audience aren’t going to be able to make a living unless they are willing to make some changes to the way they present information.

      1. Sure Miranda, you are right about this

        “those who really can provide good information to an audience aren’t going to be able to make a living unless they are willing to make some changes to the way they present information.”

        Adaptation to modern trends and technology is necessary remain relevant. This also should be considered creatively. 🙂

  3. For me, it’s a very, very blurred line at the moment.

    If you look around on sites, even news sites, they are starting to get a lot of contributions from content marketers.

    In the long run though, journalists will still have the advantage, which is why more and more seo/marketing companies are looking to hire actual authors and journalists.

    Things are changing. The content we see from SEOs will also change. In time, they’ll probably be too hard to distinguish 🙂

    1. Miranda Marquit

      I do hope that, to some degree, the move toward hiring more professional writers will mean that there is still good information. There will have to be a conscientious effort on the part of writers, I think, to make sure that they are still providing solid, reliable information, no matter who is paying them.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top