Is Brand Journalism Ruining Journalism?

It was completely inevitable that Brand Journalism would become a marketing buzzword. Anything that is championed or reviled by journalists, social media experts, and content strategists is going to drive conversations. That's just how these guys work.

And I suppose I'm one of them. I run the Brand Journalism practice at JWT, and I speak and write about it fairly regularly -- I've played my part in making Brand Journalism a buzzword, to be sure.

As such, I try to stay up on the conversations in case JWT or my clients' campaigns are invoked. And I've noticed a couple trends over the past year or so:

1. A sharp uptick in conversation volume, by quantity -- The term "Brand Journalism" is becoming more familiar and more discussed among marketers and clients.

2. A sharp uptick in conversation volume, by decibel -- What few Brand Journalism practitioners there are tend to be noisy in defense of their craft. Meanwhile, those defenses are being assaulted just as noisily by critics and even traditional journalists.



I generally prefer to stay out of "The Big Fight" (as this blog breathlessly describes it), mainly because the most common arguments are pointless. So let's debunk a few of the burning questions surrounding the topic:

Q: Is Brand Journalism real

A: Um, yeah. JWT has built effective, award-winning campaigns for global brands. Our clients ask for it. It's real.

Q: But is Brand Journalism real journalism?

A: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But really, who cares? I worked as a real journalist for seven years and I don't think I could arrive at a definition of journalism that I find satisfactory. If you want to define journalism in a way that excludes any content produced or funded by brands, go ahead.

Q: Is Brand Journalism ruining journalism?

A: Yeesh, what a question, and I hear it a lot from my journalism friends. When I think of things that "ruin journalism," the list is long (and is outlined very well by Jay Rosen and Nicholas Carr in the recent debate in The Economist: content farming, slashed editorial budgets, publishers' lust for search traffic, a dearth of journalists who know how to produce original reporting; in a nutshell, The Huffington Post.

There's plenty of ruination happening on both sides of the marketing/journalism wall. Is Brand Journalism playing a role? When done poorly, of course it is.

But let me offer the counter argument: Brands are going to continue to make content, as they've been doing for decades. The content will continue to generally suck, as all content -- marketing or not -- generally does. It's my job to make sure the content my clients produce doesn't suck, and that it aligns with brand and campaign goals. In Brand Journalism scenarios, journalistic attributes like "authenticity," "speed," and "responsiveness" are baked directly into the campaign goals and brand identity, so we are empowered to create content that aligns to those attributes.

Whether this content kneels before the journalism gods or serves the ideals of the web isn't as important as the impact it can have on the audience and on the brand. When brands are authentic, fast, and responsive, everyone is better served. Even journalists.

Note to the reader: These selections were chosen as high-profile examples of the philosophies they espouse. I know Weingarten's piece isn't specifically about brand journalism.

1 comment about "Is Brand Journalism Ruining Journalism?".
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  1. Robert Wheatley from Emergent -- The Healthy Living Agency, July 22, 2011 at 2:27 p.m.

    Amen. Here's where the wheat and chaff begin to part: defining what sucks from what doesn't may fundamentally spring from editorial voice vs. something quite pushy and ad-like. In theory, reporting and unselfish forms of communication focused on the interests and needs of consumers is a starting point. Approaching the content with an editorial sensibility comes across like informing, educating and enlightening more so than persuading. My two cents on the subject:

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