Is Branded Journalism Still Journalism?

It’s called “branded journalism,” or “content journalism,” and it’s the next big movement in communications, but traditional media figures are shaking their fingers.

It’s called “branded journalism,” or “content journalism,” and it’s the next big movement in communications, but traditional media figures are shaking their fingers.

“It’s journalism perhaps, but not as you know it” explains Tom Pullar-Strecker in a recent article for stuff.co.

Says Pullar-Strecker:

“Businesses in Europe and the United States have begun contracting and even employing journalists to write stories for their websites and social media in a recent trend called ‘branded journalism'”

BestBuy and Cisco are among the businesses that have jumped on board the bandwagon that may tow us towards the future of online content.



(right) Best Buy’s YouTube channel & Brand Blog

“At it’s most basic level, brand journalism involves honest brand storytelling that invites audiences to participate” says Kyle Monson, former tech journalist and editor at PC Magazine. In his article “Dispelling the Darkness with Brand Journalism,” Monson defends brand journalism as “a powerful combination of honesty, narrative, and audience participation”

The goal with branded content, explains social media expert Shel Holtz, isn’t necessarily to solicit profits, but to make companies visible, because these days, if your business doesn’t have content on the world wide web, you’re essentially invisible—even if you have a company website. Holtz says that branded content “isn’t trying to sell a product or bolster a reputation, it is just telling good solid news or feature stories that 10 years ago the news media would have been calling them about” (qtd in stuff.co).

The static corporate website is quickly becoming obsolete, and many smart businesses owners have realized the importance of generating relevant, community-focused content to keep their brand top of mind.

The trend in the US and Europe towards branded journalism underscores Silicon Valley Watcher Tom Foremski’s 2009 proclamation that  “every company has to become a media company.” Foremski noticed early on how content is the meat and potatoes fueling our ever-hungry information economy, and he advised business owners to take note.

Despite the plethora of jobs that branded journalism could open up for writers, many traditional reporters are worried about the fusion of content and commerce. Author Paul Carr worries that writers will increasingly be forced to compromise journalistic integrity in the name of the Almighty Dollar. Says Carr:

On one side, those content producers who choose to stay on the free-and-open web will be forced into making more and more ethically dubious decisions to stay profitable. Out will go professional writers and church-and-state separation of content and commerce; in will come more Groupon-style “reader offers”, affiliate links behind every keyword and an Idiocracy of dumber and dumber linkbait.

Carr’s opinion echoes that of many orthodox reporters, who worry over the future of content in the digital age. The attack against “branded journalism” follows the below logic:

a.   branded content is produced in the name of capital

b.   because branded content is produced in the name of capital, businesses and brands will have a vested interest in obscuring certain world-views and highlighting others (i.e. those that support the structure of a capitalistic consumer society).

c.    because of a & b, “branded content” is different than journalism, since journalism is a deeper, more authentic mode of truth-seeking and telling.

Perhaps the heated debate between traditional journalists and brand journalists is simply an issue of semantics: Would traditional reporters and journalists be happier if we called branded content just that, and avoid the label of “journalism,” which is supposed to suggest a deeper, unperverted love for the truth?