Branded journalism: the blending of marketing and journalism

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Businesses are now hiring journalists to write stories for their websites. Photo by tourist_on_earth via Flickr.

Posted by Lillie Schrock

According to a Social Times article by Amanda Cosco titled “Is Branded Journalism still Journalism?,” businesses in Europe and the United States are signing contracts with and, in some cases, employing journalists to write stories for their websites and social media. This new trend is called “branded journalism.” Branded journalism, also called content journalism, is the next big thing in communications, according to Cosco’s article.

Cosco cites social media expert Shel Holtz, who says the goal of branded journalism isn’t necessarily to solicit profits, but to make companies visible. Even if a company has a website, it is virtually invisible without relatable online content.  

Cosco says in her article that “many smart business owners have realized the importance of generating relevant, community-focused content to keep their brand top of mind.” Where controversy comes into play is the changing role of journalists. Branded content is not interested in covering the news, but instead is interested in reporting the stories relevant to a brand’s industry. When is a journalist no longer a journalist but a marketer?

Many traditional reporters are worried about the blending of journalism and commerce. Cosco’s article discusses how author Paul Carr worries that “writers will increasingly be forced to compromise journalistic integrity in the name of the Almighty Dollar.” Carr says that because branded content is produced in the name of capital, businesses and brands will obscure certain world-views and spotlight others.

On the other hand, Sparksheet editor Dan Levy believes in taking a journalistic approach to business and marketing. “There’s definitely an opportunity for corporations to foster and finance innovative journalism,” Levy said in an interview with Karyn Campbell.  Levy says that this is just an extension of underwriting radio and TV shows and placing ads in newspapers. “So long as corporations are clear about their role in the content, as well as the limits of what they are willing to cover, I don’t see a conflict,” Levy said.

According to a Brafton News article titled “Survey suggests branded journalism can help site visitors in quest to learn,” 26 percent of people visit ecommerce websites to learn about companies and their products before making a purchase. The study also said that web visitors who go to an ecommerce website and leave without making a purchase often attribute this to a lack of product information. Does this prove that branded journalism is necessary?

Where do you stand on the bridge between marketing and journalism? Can they blend? Is this beneficial to those absorbing the content?

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10 responses to “Branded journalism: the blending of marketing and journalism

  1. Once Cosco said they were using content journalism to “keep their brand top of mind,” I became even more suspicious. I hesitate to put journalism anywhere near the realm of business. I think journalists should hold their privilege of independence sacred, and this occupation seems to consist of companies paying for journalists who will praise them. I wouldn’t trust them to look into the flaws of a company. Journalists should always be watchdogs, not lapdogs. One of the most important jobs of any journalist is to report the truth no matter who’s sponsoring them, and I don’t trust that that will happen in the writings of content journalists.

  2. I think is benefical for any person to have knowledge is as many topics as they can. As for branded journalism, I can’t say I’m surprised. Our times are changing, and everything is on the web now that I feel like journalist need to take advantage of this opportunity. They are doing good for the business and also for themselves. This I agree is not a traditional style of journalism, but everything is changing.

  3. Quoted:
    “Cosco says in her article that ‘many smart business owners have realized the importance of generating relevant, community-focused content to keep their brand top of mind.’ ”

    Based on this quote, it seems the businesses aren’t looking for a journalist to report on their product, but use a developed style and voice. Just like we’re learning in class now, journalists know how to be concise. Business marketers are more wordy. I think it would benefit businesses to learn from a journalist how to write precisely.

    • I like what you’re saying about businesses benefiting from learning from journalists. I wonder if it would make more sense for branded journalism to become separate from traditional journalism and follow a separate code of ethics? This way, the journalistic profession would not lose credibility, but instead gain a new dimension.

  4. Emily - Drake University

    I agree with Marina. I think journalists’ style of writing could extremely benefit the business world. The line between reporting and promoting would be much easier to cross unintentionally in this case, but I believe that journalists should always stick to the truth no matter who they are writing for. Otherwise, their credibility will be damaged and will affect their future work.

  5. Marketing and journalism certainly blend. One thing that’s getting bigger now is “advertorials,” or editorialized advertisements. Advertorials look like editorial content but are like watered-down, differently designed ads. They’re more of a marketing ploy than a service to or story for the reader, and they bother me. I know publishers need the money, but I believe publications lose credibility and wrong readers by including them.

    • I think it is important for content such as “advertorials” to exist. However, I think it should be recognized that this is a different form of journalism. As long as we follow the code of ethics and remain professional, journalism does not need to lose credibility.

  6. Like the rest of you, I think that marketing and journalism definitely have their commonalities. Each industry seeks to hold onto a particular audience for its livelihood. However, I agree with Katie in that too much involvement with a company could lead to not-so-objective reporting. If this is the way of the future, we’ll need to develop a new code of ethics to adapt and keep our reporting honest.

  7. Kathleen, I really like your statement “Journalists should always be watchdogs, not lapdogs.” You make a really good point that if journalists are selling brands, they’re not searching for the truth, which makes me really scared that journalists will lose their credibility. However, I find it interesting that Olivia mentions developing a new code of ethics to adapt to changes in journalism. This would give journalists the opportunity to participate in branded journalism while retaining their credibility.

  8. I work as a brand journalist for a very large, international company. The only way to keep integrity is to clearly define the scope of the topic being reported on. I can tell the truth about a realm of the company’s interests but if I tried to tackle the entire industry, I would run into a conflict of personal ethics as a journalist. For example: If I worked for a health store chain, I would report on the benefits of eating well, not on the benefits of their food over another brand’s. It can’t be specific or it becomes skewed and I lose my objectivity. It takes a very mature and patient company to see that an overall awareness of their industry is more profitable than stories attacking their competitors.

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