July 12, 2013 by Tamara Piety
O’Dwyers the public relations newsletter had this link this week to a report of a presentation given by
an interview with former CBC journalist Ira Basen on the intersection between journalism and public relations. Basen is an academic with extensive experience in media and public relations. (For more on his background see this post.) He reports discussed on something that everyone who is in advertising, journalism or the public relations industry already knows, but which many other members of the public, even very educated ones, are seemingly blissfully unaware of: that is that a great deal of news content today is actually promotional content. In an earlier the interview with Basen there was this quote from an author Clay Johnson, in his book “The Information Diet” about how PR turns into journalism content.
“In an effort to cut costs, journalists often become more filters than reporters, succumbing to the torrents of spin heading their way, and passing on what’s said by the scores of PR consultants. Rather than report the news, they simply copy what’s in a press release and paste it into their stories. It’s a kind of commercially advantageous and permissible plagiarism called churnalism“
Apparently Johnson believes that we need to be more discriminating consumers of information and put ourselves on an “information diet,” purposing that not all “facts” are equally “informative.” I submit that this is a predictable outcome of treating all marketing and branding like information. But I digress.
recent interview with Basen explored his substitution of the term “Corporate media” for “brand journalism.” media If you (like me) are not sure what either one is, that is probably because you don’t work in PR. Apparently, however, much to the chagrin of PR professionals, brands have been hiring journalists to work in house on the “brand story rather than hiring PR professionals. Here is the exchange.
JG Do you think it is because of churnalism that one of your newest areas of study and interest—brand journalism—has resulted, whereby companies are now hiring journalists (often new graduates out of universities such as Ryerson) to be in-house journalists, rather than employing public relations-trained practitioners?
IB: I think churnalism is a serious problem for journalists and readers, too, although the latter are probably largely unaware of the extent to which the “news” they are reading is the product of public relations, rather than the independent investigation of a reporter.
But I think the rise of “brand journalism” is driven to a large extent by search engine optimization (SEO). Companies know that in order to rank highly in search results they need to be supplying a constant stream of high-quality content that goes beyond sales pitches and traditional marketing communications. Organizations need to develop “stories” around their brands, and they believe journalists are better equipped to do that than people trained in PR.
Notice the quotes around stories. Basen says, “Brand journalism’s success is rooted in the fact that people today are increasingly ignorant and/or indifferent to where their online content is coming from.” He notes that many times people might go to a web site that offers sponsored content, unaware that this is in any way different from traditional media. However, he notes, “I’m a purist, and I think you can either be a marketer or a journalist, but not both.”
Apparently, although it is not entirely clear from this post, Basen has relaxed some of his skepticism about the idea that journalism and marketing cannot be combined. The adoption of the term corporate media actually does suggest that you can do both, or at least obscure it a little. And it seems that the main work the new term does is to obscure the conflicting aims.
And that seems to be the push from others
in the more recent post article – that “done right,” corporate or brand media can win a Pulitzer.” [Tom Foremski] And “now [there’s] an opportunity for every company to be a publishing entity, with less need to get past the gatekeeper role of traditional media.”
And this: “[T]here are ethical challenges in being your own corporate media publisher, with a need to “step up your game” in regards to honesty, openness and transparency. [i.e., per Tom Foremski, stop thinking of corporate media simply as a means to promote and market; tell real news about your company, including the bad with the good]”
All I can say is good luck with that. I fear that what is far more likely is that we will be sold on the proposition that it is actually possible to expect a for-profit company to report on itself – “the bad with the good,” but that they won’t actually do so.
Fox? Here’s your henhouse.
NOTE: This post has been edited to make corrections for context and attribution offered by the writer who originally interviewed Basen, Judy Gombita. This was originally posted as “Brand Media vs. Corporate media”