Hey Journalists: Content Marketing Is Not Your Enemy

The benefits of content marketing

Since I recently left newspaper journalism to become a content marketing writer, I’ve had to listen to grumbling from the news industry about content marketing ethics.

Stalwart news reporters say content marketing has too many gray areas. They claim marketers make their branded copy look like real, objective news then sneak in bias without disclosure to hapless readers who absorb all that information like sponges.

Here’s some breaking news: Not only are naysayers insulting the intelligence of the average reader, they’re failing to appreciate the reality that content marketing is supporting the same free speech and investigative reporting they hold in such high regard.

The same people up in arms about the inability of the media to hire enough investigative reporters are the ones failing to support traditional advertising models. And now that marketers have found a partial solution to that problem, the naysayers are complaining content marketing isn’t journalism. Well, duh.

A compromise between consumers and advertisers

I’m absolutely biased on the benefits of content marketing due to my joy in my renewed career prospects after working for two dying newspaper outlets. I see it as an effective compromise between consumers and advertisers. So the public is unwilling to waste time on highly branded ads that offer no value and are full of schlock? Marketers feel your pain, and that’s why they’re turning to ad copy that’s informational and far less apt to annoy the reader. That end goal is why content marketers hire seasoned journalists who know the difference between highly opinionated schlock and useful content.

In my view, the new model is a win-win for all. Journalists displaced by the failure of old-school advertising models turn their talents to creating ad content that’s likely to attract readers. Media venues stay afloat by selling space for that content. Readers access both the objective journalism and the branded-but-still-informative content. Then the cycle starts again, with content increasingly tailored to what audiences want to read as digital feedback rolls in. That’s capitalism as its finest.

Naysayers would have you believe readers are too dense to notice the difference between news stories and branded content. That’s just insulting, and frankly the cleverest content marketer can’t pull off that kind of magic. The American public is way too savvy not to apply a grain of salt to a blog that appears on a company website, or a tip sheet in a newspaper that recommends brands by name. And most media outlets impose specific standards on how content marketing pieces can appear in order to eliminate any confusion among their readers. There may be exceptions, but by and large the players in this industry see little value in irritating readers with smoke and mirrors.

“It’s all about not deceiving readers,” writes Shane Snow on Poynter.org. “Brand publishers should make clear who is behind a piece of content and why.”

Neither is the new model an affront to real journalists, who sometimes refer to reporters-turned-copywriters as having “gone to the dark side.”  On the contrary; the model is funding the hiring of dedicated news reporters who can seek out the truth, question authority and ask the questions that need to be asked. It’s a boon to free speech, not an attempt to undermine that principle.

“Journalists like to think of themselves as protectors of the public interest, intermediaries who police both fact and rhetoric,” writes Michael Meyer in a review of content marketing in the Columbia Journalism Review. “The truth is, we (consumers) have always been out there in the information landscape on our own, choosing what to trust and what to ignore.”

Journalists and consumers need to start looking at the big picture here and realize that unless someone comes up with a better idea, objective news reporting and the advertising that funds it must go hand in hand. It’s the same battle being fought with the onslaught of ad blocking, which a recent New York Times story called a clear threat to the $50 billion online ad industry. Adobe and PageFair estimate ad blocking led to almost $22 million in lost ad revenues worldwide in 2015.

As Procter & Gamble exec Jim Stengel noted in Advertising Week last year, “People are spending too much time talking about ad-blocking and not enough time figuring out why people want to block ads.”

The content marketing industry knows the answer to that question. Now it would be nice if the editorial end of the news industry would step up and stop questioning its integrity.

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