In a notable variation on advertiser/media relationships, Mondelez International’s Véa snacks brand is sponsoring a year-long “journalism residency” at The New York Times.
Véa, launched in July, “is teaming up with The New York Times in support of its program to empower a new generation of storytellers through a first-of-its kind residency for up-and-coming journalists, titled 'Surfacing,’” states the release.
“The Times newsroom will recruit and train residents to explore the world and create food, culture and travel content within its Travel section, led by The Times travel editor Monica Drake,” it continues. “Each contributor will use visual and social formats, such as Instagram and Snapchat, to take their stories beyond the margins and ensure readers can access them in a way that is relevant to their real lives and daily routines, as they are happening.”
“We are proud to help The New York Times empower a new era of journalists to uncover new experiences, seek out others with fascinating identities and share those authentic stories in real time — an endeavor that truly resonates with and engages Véa fans," states Jason Levine, vice president of marketing at Mondelez, in the release. "While Véa is not developing editorial content [within the residency program] and is not involved in the newsroom process, we believe in the possibilities that arise when you look at the world in new ways and can't wait to see how each contributor's story unfolds."
Times editorial executives are not quoted in the release. However, Sebastian Tomich, senior vice president, advertising and innovation for The Times, states: “We’re excited to work with the Véa brand because their spirt of exploration and presence is very much aligned with the kinds of stores that curious Times readers come to us for day after day. We're looking for the next generation of passionate and thoughtful creators who are pushing the boundaries on how to tell stories and how to tap into what's at the core of culture right now.”
The Véa/Times partnership will also include branded content produced by The New York Times’s T Brand Studio: six videos, each of which will focus on one of the “wholesome ingredients” in Véa snacks.
Marketing Daily asked The Times and a PR agency rep for Véa to provide more specifics, via email interviews.
Linda Zebian, executive director-corporate communications at The Times, says that the journalism produced in the residency program is “definitely not native advertising”; it is “independent editorial content, solely controlled by the newsroom. We call this a sponsorship, where we work with a brand to bring something new and interesting to our readers but where we also remain unwavering in our editorial independence; advertisers have no say in journalistic decisions,” she adds. Zebian also confirms that the residents will have no role in producing the T Brand Studios videos.
Did The Times come up with the idea for the residency program on its own, as a way of bringing new voices into its editorial, and then look for a sponsor? Or did Mondelez/Véa and Times partnership or advertising executives work together to develop the concept? Were Times editorial executives involved in developing the concept?
Neither party provided direct answers.
Véa’s response: “The Véa brand decided to work with The New York Timesbecause it embodies the overlapping objectives of the two brands. This program is a collaboration between two brands that recognized a generational craving for authentic moments delivered as they unfold. The Véa brand has a passion to empower Millennials via exploration and discovery through real experiences, while The Times has ambitions to showcase new voices and explore new styles of journalism.”
Zebian’s response: “The Times is always looking to bring in new voices, expand our coverage areas and experiment with new forms of storytelling formats. In this case we found a brand partner that shares our objectives and they were interested in the project, so it made sense for all involved.”
The Times will hire at least three “emerging journalists” for the residency, with no input from Véa/Mondelez, according to a PR rep for Véa.
Asked whether Véa will be covering some or all of the costs for the residency program, directly or indirectly, Zebian said, “We don’t discuss the details of our financial arrangements.” Véa’s rep said: “While we can’t share specific details of the agreement, Véa is proud to be sponsoring the program, as it so clearly aligns with our brand objectives, and look forward to seeing the content that develops.”
How will the Véa brand will get visibility in return for its investment in sponsoring the residency?
According to Véa’s rep, “the brand’s messaging will appear on the dedicated hub [within the travel section on NYTimes.com] where content from the program will live. Additionally, banner ads with Véa messaging will live on all pages with Surfacing content.” Also, “Residents will share stories across multiple social and visual platforms, including Instagram and Snapchat, to ensure [that] readers can access them as they happen.”
While The Times and Véa clearly have made the residency sponsorship public, how much will candidates or hires for the residency be told about Véa’s sponsorship role, beyond its existence?
However, as Zebian stresses, a post announcing the residency on The Times’s PressRun blog (which was posted “in tandem” with the Times/Vea partnership press release, according to the Véa PR rep), states in its headline that The Times is “launching a residency for emerging journalists with snack portfolio Véa.”
In addition, the copy in the post reads in part: “With the support of the Véa brand, the latest snack portfolio from Mondelez International that delivers real ingredients in unique combinations crafted from globally inspired recipes, The Times will give up-and-coming journalists the opportunity to become Times contributors, and travel the country and the world for their reporting…”
The blog post also includes links to the partnership press release, and to a page (shown above) on The Times’s site that is devoted to the “Surfacing” residency.
That page features a banner at the top with an image of Véa crackers, and copy that reads: “Véa Snacks is proud to support the journey of emerging journalists as they discover and explore new cultures and communities. As a brand that celebrates real ingredients and globally inspired recipes, we believe in the possibilities that arise when you look at the world in new ways.” (Italics are the brand’s.)
The main body copy invites journalists with two to three years’ experience, “a dynamic portfolio and a love for reporting cultural phenomena” to apply, and notes that the
reporter “will travel the country and the world seeking out others with fascinating identities, and share their stories with Times readers in an upcoming
cultural series called Surfacing.”
Below that copy, the page includes the statement: “Supported by Véa,” using the brand’s logo — which, when clicked, links to the brand’s products for sale on Amazon.
“Our journalistic independence is paramount and intact and our advertisers have no input into journalistic decisions, which are always the responsibility of The Times newsroom. This case is no different,” emphasizes Zebian, again stating that the hiring and training of the residency journalists, “as well as their assignments, the stories they create and the formats they use to tell those stories,” are “being run solely by The Times newsroom, under travel editor Monica Drake.”
“Support from advertisers to fund journalism is nothing new,” asserts Zebian. “The vast majority of news organizations’ businesses run on this model.”