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Brand Journalism – Turf Warfare in the Digital Age

“There’s a dialogue out there and you’re either in it or you’re not.”

Herb Schmertz (Mobil circa 1970)

Brand JournalismTechnology advancements, new apps, ubiquitous software and the mobilization of computing have driven the democratization of information beyond boundaries that have existed since Gutenberg cast his first type. Nowhere are the turf battles colliding more quickly, albeit with little fanfare, than at the intersection of brand and journalism.

“Brand” and “journalism” have each faced an identity crisis brought on by innovative technologies and the globalization of communication. Brand was once just a set of tools used to create a visual identity in the marketplace. Now, brands reflect humanizing characteristics that inform the business strategies, product development, and hiring practices of savvy companies. Conversely, journalism is fighting to maintain a viable role in disseminating investigative news against a wild-west frontier of digital publishing and social media.

The fundamental change in both venerable concepts has been the full-on recognition that “content” is king and that dialogue shapes and delivers the content. Editing, research and segmentation have given way to opinion, conversation and aggregation. And that switch, driven by touch screens and a 24×7 world, has lowered the barriers of entry and blurred the lines across both fields for industry and the public alike.

“Welcome to the emerging world of brand journalism — marketers using the tools of digital publishing and social media to speak directly to consumers. The advertising industry commonly refers to it as content marketing, brands disintermediating news professionals by writing and distributing thought leadership content. It’s one of the most quietly talked about areas in the media industry today, ultimately destined to shake up 100 years of journalism.”

Lewis DVorkin, Forbes

Purists, looking to respect hard-won journalistic principles, worry that the co-mingling will result in an accelerated march to the lowest common denominator. The resigned public suspects that media has already been gagged by corporate owned news outlets… which may explain why this issue isn’t generating public interest. I don’t know if brands recognize this dimension of journalism has the potential to alienate customers, users and readers directly impacting products, services and revenue streams.

“Brand journalism” doesn’t exist. It’s a contradiction. It’s either marketing or journalism.

– Steffen Konrath

Futurists, emboldened by cheap platforms that amplify the growing cacophony from the Internets, position this blending as the inevitable next step for both brand and journalism. They argue that organizations can, and should, provide information, facts and even news, regarding their brand. And they believe that journalists must adapt or risk being displaced (a reality not a threat).

Soon there will be list of “content marketers to watch in journalism.” And some of those content marketers will be on that list because they have proven themselves to be investigative reporters.

Paul Conley 

The issue isn’t that this is happening. The challenge is that it is happening without open dialogue or rigorous debate. We haven’t openly acknowledged that we are melding two interests with very different agendas. We should not allow brands or journalists to determine their conjoined fate, as the consequences have the potential to significantly impact us culturally.

“The media has been in transition for a while. There is only going to be more content produced by other sources. I’m not saying we’re the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. We’re producing content that we care about.”

– John Earhardt, CISCO

There is a “dialogue out there” and you had better get in it. If you “care about” it.

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More Stories By Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the host of NBC Universal’s Live Digital with Shelly Palmer, a weekly half-hour television show about living and working in a digital world. He is Fox 5′s (WNYW-TV New York) Tech Expert and the host of United Stations Radio Network’s, MediaBytes, a daily syndicated radio report that features insightful commentary and a unique insiders take on the biggest stories in technology, media, and entertainment.