Journalism Is Not Content Marketing

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I’m a rare breed.

I started off my professional career as a journalist. The truth is, that I still don’t have the courage to call myself a journalist. Why? I was interviewing rock stars and writing record views back in the late eighties. I didn’t consider that “true” journalism. I was a rock writer… or a professional writer (I was being paid to do it). I always held journalism to a higher standard. Real journalist (and, yes, I knew many back then) were doing the work of the community. They were spending countless hours in dirty, dusty and mangy archive spaces digging for stories. They were spending hours at the public courthouse or at local community meetings, and asking the very smart, tough and better-informed questions that the rest of society wasn’t bothered with. They, in fact, were acting on all of our behalf to make our communities much more transparent. And yes, this was long before we had connectivity. Once all of this research was gathered, these journalists would draft, write, edit (and, with the help of an editor) re-edit and toil away to make their works (once published) resonate. For many, beyond the byline, it was a semi-thankless job that often got criticized (go back in time and look at any “Letters To The Editor” section of a newspaper). After writing for magazines and newspapers, I started publishing a few of them. This is where I started seeing the broader scope of media and publishing. This was also the early days of the Internet’s commercialization. From there, my work always focused on the intersection of media, advertising, communications and technology. Blogging (back in 2003) was the perfect extension for me to continue to publish my words.

It still is.

For most, it is not. Between 1989 (when I started getting paid to write) and 2016 (today) a lot has happened to the newspaper and magazine industry. The power of journalism has shifted. Fake Facebook memes often get much more traction and distribution than the proper news stories that are written about it to correct the error. The troubles of the newspaper industry has spread far and wide. Many people are critical. Many people have written about it. Nobody has a real solution (or, at least, one that shown a turnaround). Many people argue that these publishers didn’t adapt to the technology, or were too late in the game, once the Internet took hold. That may be true in some cases, but not all. 

What’s going on with journalism today?

Look no further than this brilliant segment from Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. Yes, the newspaper industry is suffering. This is terrible news for journalist, publishers… and you. Just watch. What happened next, is classic. Every single pundit had to weigh in. Many took serious issue with Oliver’s comedic slant, because he didn’t offer any true solutions. As if that is his job. Many people in other segments of the media suggested that journalists should not worry, because of the myriad of opportunities that now exist in the content marketing space. While true, brands can’t seem to get enough content into the system, and are sorely lacking the skills to produce credible and quality content, I’m not sure how journalism will be saved by content marketing. Brands should – without question – create newsrooms, hire editors and journalists and tell much better stories, but…

Asking a journalist to become a content marketer is like asking a police officer to babysit your dog. 

Content marketing is a way for a brand to tell a better, more human and (perhaps) a more in-depth story about a product and/or service. Journalism is here to act as a bridge between government/corporations and the citizens of a society. It’s not perfect. There are problems with political slants, biases and more, but this is the true role of journalism. I love content marketing. I practice content marketing, but let’s not confuse the values of a democracy, and the dire need we have for serious journalism, with the need for our companies to sell more stuff.

Watch this. Think about it. What are we going to do about it?: Journalism – Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.