Co-Founder and Managing Editor of INDVSTRVS Joanne Leila Smith discusses why Content Marketing is highly lucrative for digital news brands yet damaging for ethical standards in Journalism – and why we all have a stake in the fall-out.
The digital publishing revolution gave unknown voices a platform to ‘speak back’ to propaganda in mainstream news.
News aggregators like Facebook and Twitter have been powerful tools for independent news to reach larger audiences with minimal capital expenditure.
Under Government pressure, organisations like Facebook are pushing back on independent media citing fake news and redirecting traffic back to legacy news brands.
The reality is legacy news brands sustained significant losses due to the rise of independent digital media, which fragmented the market. Competing for eyeballs has become a major challenge in an already hotly contested space.
The digital revolution in publishing cannot be understated. It’s important to understand why legacy news brands are increasingly viewing content marketing as the means for their survival in a digital landscape. Here’s some context:
- Global newspaper advertising revenue is declining at 2.9% compounded annually
- Changes in consumer expectation means readers favour free content from both digital first and traditional print publishers
- In the United States alone, newspaper newsroom employees dropped by 45% within a decade
- Legacy news brands invested heavily in digital, but ad revenue has not yielded corresponding growth
- Content marketing is increasingly becoming the key source of revenue for many publishers, with major legacy news publishers investing heavily in content marketing businesses globally to leverage trust equity in their brands
If we want to see where Content Marketing ends – watch TV news. This is where written Journalism is headed.
Why we should care
Written journalism is the last bastion of ethical news reporting. It is the beginning and end of the entire daily news cycle, informing all channels. This is why written Journalism must be held to the highest ethical standard.
The increase in Content Marketing in Journalism has created a fall in ethical standards because publishers are now being paid to publish content or are given it free by content marketers, which creates a conflict of interest.
It is not in the publisher’s interest to fact check third party sponsored content, so we are seeing a rise in publishing disclaimers.
If we visit any news brand landing page, it is self-evident how much clickbait is juxtaposed with real news, making it hard to distinguish between editorial and advertorial.
We are increasingly seeing bloggers write outrage content – to attract a social media following – some of which are then elevated as columnists by news brands which add to the clickbait phenomenon. This legitimizes poor standards in journalism because these writers are often unqualified or are simply unaware of professional industry standards.
As digital publishing steadily erodes margins, we are seeing an increase in gated news communities which compounds partisanship, as news brands increasingly align content to targeted market segments in order to attract greater content marketing opportunities! This practice alone, makes the claim by legacy news brands to be ‘trusted’, ‘independent’ ‘balanced’ news sources clearly disingenuous.
What the public ends up buying therefore, is less transparency of sources. Less accountability of publishers. Less exposure to meaningful content and less qualified journalists. But don’t worry, we get more pay-walls. More mis-information. More advertising content and more propaganda through ‘trusted news brands’.
The rise of Content Marketing in Journalism is not just concerning in terms of value-for-spend for consumers or the decline of journalistic standards.
It is a grave moral issue that affects everyone.
Content Marketing may be as benign as selling you a fad diet or a holiday on a remote island. However, it can also serve very sinister agendas. From allegations of influencing Government elections, to inciting hate crimes against targeted groups or individuals, it appears that everyone understands what the core problem is, but the vast amounts of money made, in the so-called value exchange, is seemingly too tempting to overcome.
To cite one small example, within a period of five years, over USD 205 million was spent on anti-Islam propaganda in the United States alone (University of Berkeley/CAIR Report 2013-2016).
Make no mistake.
This is also Content Marketing.
We don’t have to step too far into modern history to understand that atrocities do not happen overnight. It is the result of sustained, consistent messaging through targeted channels over time that mobilise people to act accordingly.
To combat the fall in ethical standards in written Journalism, we think it is important to lead by example. To this end, in 2017, we launched our world-first, FreelContent Journalism Movement.
Freel Content means that content should be free and real.
At INDVSTRVS, we say no to all forms of content marketing.
We are 100% editorial and do not publish any advertorial.
We celebrate high achievers and elevate unknown heroes with a business-for-purpose focus.
We never publish hearsay or unverifiable gossip as ‘news’.
We recognise that we are a global community and share the latest in cross-industry and regional innovation, international development and opportunities from around the world – with a focus on emerging economies.
We say Kindness Matters. Because of this, we have partnered with the World Kindness Movement by providing a free platform to all its affiliates to promote stories that advocate the kinder option in business, always.
We think it is great that the internet has connected the world to free content but, it should never be at the expense of being real.