The conflict of journalism
Social media is a troubling concept. It has its benefits, like being able to connect with others worldwide, or catching up with old friends. People can do things in seconds that would have taken other generations hours, or even days. With millions and millions of people online and even more on the way, the push for media control has many companies in a rush for advancement in order to meet the ever expanding demands of the consumers. Because of this, there have been many changes made to our media outlets and types just to try and keep up.
Journalism is one such venture, with many adjustments and changes being made in order to maintain its standing in the world. The impact social media has had on our culture has caused companies to take a look at demand and come back with new, clever ways to spread messages. With these environments changing and adapting to the ever evolving atmosphere of technology and human interaction, journalism must be equally as fluid in its adaptation, as it has little to no room for error in order to keep themselves afloat and keep relevant in an age where anyone can share news with others worldwide.
Social media is not the cause of this, per se, but the amount of users makes brand journalism very effective. Brand journalism, by definition, is the use of a brand in order to drive home a “single, repetitive message” (AdvertisingAge, para. 2). While it seems like putting one message in a multitude of different means could be detrimental to delivering said message, companies who have implemented it are reaping great successes. By keeping it short, sweet, and to the point, messages become easily recognizable and memorable to consumers, which what really matters in the long run. A memorable, driven statement that echoes with people in different ways around the world, spreading the message to as many people as possible in order to keep going.
With just a simple message, companies can explore different storytelling styles that relate to any walk of life. For example, McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” is a phrase known worldwide, and they could create content that follows people in whatever lifestyle they lead, simply because they love what they do; they’re “lovin’ it”. This method of blending journalism and marketed storytelling helps to spread this message to anyone who finds familiarity with the story. Thus, the more relatable it becomes, the more it spreads like wildfire through social media networks via shares and retweets. There are additional ways to spread beyond shares and retweets, though those help. Sites have trending tabs, showing users what stories are popular in the world, and tags that allow people to search for specific keywords in order to find what they are looking for faster, much like a boolean operator in 140 characters or less.
Social media allows these company-promoted stories to take a firm hold on consumers, with many social media platforms using paid promotion options for companies and individuals alike that will spotlight their stories. Anyone can promote on Facebook, just by paying a fee, and Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are following suit. With the rapid advance of technology that comes with the time we live in, social media has to take these extra steps in order to keep up. Right now, brand journalism is what’s keeping journalism afloat. By having a sponsor, the funds to create the next big video news article just became a lot easier, as well as finding the necessary people and equipment in order to bring it to standards set for both the individual and the whole.
However, that’s where the downsides come into play. How much can someone trust a written news article sponsored by a corporation; how much sway do they have in this article? When brand journalism comes into play, there is a reasonable doubt. A question of validity will be at the front of consumers minds, and when it comes to social media, doubt can spread just as quickly as the story itself can. With that said, misinformation is a byproduct of the ability to share. The spread of misinformation throughout the internet is detrimental to both forms of journalism discussed. People spreading around news on social media in order to get attention or for fun, in their eyes, leaves people with a sour taste in their mouth, or worse, people believe these falsified stories and take them as the truth. An example of this would be fake celebrity deaths; a big popular person passing away and many people would be sure to see and hear about it.
Using journalistic techniques to push a brand or anything similar to that could blur the lines between traditional journalism, that is, written pieces that have no affiliation with a sponsor, and the journalism written through corporate means. With a growing distrust between news sources and its viewers/readers, this acts as a great time to step in and help out. Admittedly, it does sound somewhat like a conspiracy theory, which is understandable, but it ends up feeling dirty; like something is being kicked while it’s down.
Where traditional journalism shines, however, is in a more human way. These media outlets tend to write the stories to the fact, in plain detail. For example, NPR tells the story they think is interesting, beginning to end in a way that is detailed and researched so well one may feel like they know the person. The only advertising done is at the end of the piece, where the sponsors are listed off. Branded journalism is quick, and the promotion is everywhere, hints and nods and allusions to the brand throughout.
Credibility is also an important factor. Possessing a name that can be trusted or a certain note of professionalism to the author(s) is helpful. In a study published by Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, when asked between a magazine with both branded and traditional, the test readers found the traditional magazine more credible than that of its counterpart. Making sure that the message is less consumer driven, and possesses more of a focus on humanity is something that many people value. When it comes down to it, they would rather have an identifiable face to relate words to than a nameless, faceless corporation. Having a “real person” behind the writing makes it all the more relatable, even on the most basic human level.
One of the major downsides to being a traditional journalist is the time and cost of creating stories. Writing or producing content can take weeks or months, depending on the story. In the case of Serial, a podcast produced by NPR, it can take up to a year in order for interviews, research, fact checking, and recording to happen. Editing takes place on a week to week basis, with the uploads moving to bi weekly in order to complete the episodes. Even then, there may be additional content they find necessary to collect for the website, as well as updates to to previous stories that need to be created from scratch. Overall, traditional journalism tends to lack in the rate in which content is produced and uploaded for the audience. Given the fast-paced time we live in, it would be easy to call this a “fault”. But, really, the time investment put into the stories keeps it on a level playing field by being keeping said stories highly accurate and engaging.
In the end, despite both being journalism, they have their distinct differences. Branded journalism is journalism fully supported by companies and sponsors. Traditional journalism, on the other hand, is by-the-books, with no corporate interaction. Much in the same, both have their benefits. They both operate in much the same way, in that a story is found, researched, shot, edited, and brought to fruition by hard working people who have similar goals, but different means of going about them.
Branded journalism gives people a chance to tell a story they may not have been able to, or to give people a chance to show off what makes them unique by giving them the necessities needed to fully create the desired outcome. Traditional journalism gives people a more down-home, by the people, for the people feeling of a story. It’s fully fleshed out and researched, one that they know people worked hard and labored many hours over because they wanted to.
Putting the two side-by-side allows consumers to get a better grasp on what they’re consuming. At their cores, Branded and Traditional journalism serve the same function – collect and relay information to an audience. But, either way, it all comes down to the content, as they both have the things that make them unique. Whether it’s the tone and the voice of the story, to giving people a different outlook on something they may not know much about, they’re both still forms of journalism, and both ways to tell the stories that people will want to read.
Brand Journalism Is a Modern Marketing Imperative. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2016, from http://adage.com/article/guest-columnists/brand-journalism-a-modern-marketing-imperative/294206/
What is Brand Journalism? | Franchise Lead Generation |. (2012, August 27). Retrieved May 22, 2016, from http://brandjournalists.com/what-is-brand-journalism/
Cole, J. T., & Greer, J. D. (2013). Audience Response to Brand Journalism: The Effect of Frame, Source, and Involvement. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 90(4), 673-690. doi:10.1177/1077699013503160