They say you sell your soul when you move from journalism to advertising. I sometimes wonder if that’s true.
I've been writing for public consumption for a long time. Started on the school newspaper in high school. Continued to write, became an editor and even started my own publication in college. Went to work for the Ventura County Star straight out of school covering the cops and courts beat.
With a brief hiatus, I've been writing ever since. Including starting a publishing company before co-founding my ad agency.
That's why it makes me sad to see journalism pros following the lead of advertising pros instead of the other way around. I've fully lived on both sides of the fence and I can confidently say this is a monstrous mistake.
I guess you could say this is a cautionary tale.
Every newsroom I worked in was filled with some of the most amazing people I've ever met. They worked with passion, with purpose and with honor. They 150% bought into the idea of the fourth estate: that journalism is a part of the public trust that balances out the courts, Congress and the executive branch.
Because of that, they wrote.
They wrote about the little guy. Wrote about the arcane. Wrote about the difficult. Through it all, they wrote to keep the public informed. Sure, along the way there were the articles about the store grand opening, the Eagle Scout award or the other obligatory puff piece. But the good journalists always found a fact, angle or perspective that turned the puff piece into something that kept the public informed.
Now, here is where you say: "Bryan, newspapers and magazines have been and are dying. Why should marketers follow in their footsteps?"
And here's where I say my thesis: "We are becoming too much of an entertainment culture."
Journalists are following the lead of most advertisers by putting too much emphasis on entertainment and selling. Advertisers need to follow the lead of journalists -- good journalists, because a good journalist always seeks to inform and educate. Purely relying on entertainment means we put ourselves at the whimsy of the reader (aka consumer). We become subject to being dropped in favor of the next entertainment fad.
Basically, we rely on superficial relationships.
But to accept the challenge of always seeking to inform, this is where we find the building of strong relationships. With the increase in content marketing, the marketers, advertisers and publishers that embrace the call to educate will be the ones to show the reader the soul of the content creator. This creates a bond.
You see, I was that journalist who got assigned the story about the boy receiving his Eagle Scout badge. Just like I was the journalist who got assigned to write about the trend of cigars because a large cigar store had just opened downtown.
But, I was also the journalist that had a strong editor. A real sonofabitch sometimes. An old Navy guy -- as in "a former Navy man" not "folded shirts at Old Navy." Brad Smith. Excellent man, a real hard driver and someone who would go to battle for you. He prompted me to learn about how much dedication and hard work it takes to earn an Eagle badge, so I could communicate that effort in my article. He also made me read a 200-page study on the effects of cigar smoke to provide balance in the cigar trend story.
All those many years ago, I never would have imagined myself saying now: We all need to channel a little more Brad Smith.
Whether a journalist or advertiser, creating content for the public should be considered a privilege, an honor and a sacred trust. When we consider it that, we will not forsake the quick dollar (whether that be earned in views, shares or likes) for the long-term dollar (earned in loyalty, return purchase and advocacy).
Because that is the difference between a superficial relationship and a deep one. The superficial can have immediate returns, but does not have lasting quality. The extra effort to create the deep relationship pays off immensely, both in the short term and in the long term that sometimes takes a leap faith to wait to see.
And that’s why I hope to always be a recovering journalist, to never fully walk away -- and for Brad Smith to see this article so I can say “thank you.”
At the end of the day there is a simple test. Are you fundamentally writing in service of the reader, the brand, or yourself? I think a lot of authors and critics over-worry about authors shilling, and selling out in service of brands. The bigger problem I see today is that most writers tend to write in service of themselves.