The Native Son Rises

I read a byliner that said that the future of online advertising is not display, but native content distributed by automated feeds at scale. It referenced a few companies that are already creating content and automating its distribution. So I looked up one of the companies, which said its "freelance network covers over 60 countries and includes over 45,000 award-winning journalists."

To which I thought: 1) wow, there must be a lot of journalism awards; and 2) so how come every time I meet face to face with a journalist he or she confesses to be concerned about his/her work prospects? and 3) I didn't think there were still 45,000 working journalists left in the world. (The UNESCO Institute says as of 10 years ago there were 441,000 journalists worldwide, but nobody really knows how many are still working today.) But at least 45,000 are cranking content for one tech company — which might bring their credentials as working journalist into question, but we split hairs.

Clearly the next great career for those who can put words together into a cogent, entertaining sentence is "content creation." That is, until software reads a few billion examples and concocts  algorithms that can produce the same cogent, entertaining sentences without the vacations, health care coverage and tendency to say suggestive things to the cute girls at the office.



Meanwhile, those who once dreamt of being the next Woodward or Bernstein (or Cronkite or Jennings) will challenge themselves not with freedom-of-information requests, triangulating sources and breaking the news, but rather with how to compose 300 words that make our cake mix sound better than theirs, how to change a visibly branded tire — or agonize over how to relate life insurance to listicles of marginal Hollywood actresses who were caught on video walking their dogs.

This begs the issue of whether you really need journalists (award-winning journalists at that) to produce native advertising content. Perhaps so, because they have a keen sense of where church and state used to be separated, so they know how to take just enough steps over the line to "keep it real." After all, that’s the point of native advertising: to fool people into thinking they are reading some forms of news rather than ad copy.  Say what you will about how "useful" native content is because it meets the "mindset" of the reader "hungry for more information." It is still a vast honey pot.

There was a time when no self-respecting journalist would be caught dead producing native content. But those were the days when the relatively strong economics of the news business allowed reporters and editors to remain unsullied (at least until they went into lobbying or PR, where they were sullied but good). I suspect now there are J-school courses teaching native copywriting.

It must be an enormously difficult transition — to go from being a legitimate reporter and writer to being a native-producing shill. At least until that paycheck comes.

1 comment about "The Native Son Rises".
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  1. David Mountain from Marketing and Advertising Direction, May 8, 2015 at 4:51 p.m.

    If journalism can be created by robot, why not native?

    In the future, we will all be employed for 15 minutes.


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