January 21, 2018

Why Brand Journalism Must Die

There is no such thing as brand journalism. I was a journalist for 25 years, so I should know.

I know what you’re thinking, “Oh here goes the burnt-out old journalist on a self-righteous rant about the sanctity of his beloved profession” (some prefer not to put journalism in the rarefied company of the medical or legal professions and therefore call it a trade; if you’d seen my SAT scores you’d probably agree).

But really, what people refer to as brand journalism really isn’t journalism or anything close to it. It’s marketing.

“It’s just an analogy!” you retort.

Well, okay then, it’s a terrible analogy. We don’t report on the state of the world, we don’t investigate corruption, we don’t take controversial positions, and we focus only on the subject areas that further the interests of our companies’ missions to sell stuff. That is marketing. It is branding. But it is not journalism.

Even if you do the heavy lifting, idea marketing kind of kind of stuff like the big services companies do, for example, where they interview people and do surveys, it isn’t journalism. You can say that you use journalistic techniques in order to create the materials, but it is still marketing.

Even if you interview external experts who don’t even work for your company and do not pay them and quote them word for word in your company’s materials just like a journalist does – no self-promotion at all. And even if you’re as objective and factual as all get out in what you produce, it still isn’t journalism because the intent behind the work is different. The intent behind journalism (in theory anyway) is to get at the truth, without commercial interests interjecting themselves into the process.

The best idea marketing is conceived, funded, created, and disseminated by a commercial interest in a commercial goal. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Just don’t call it journalism or put that word anywhere near what you call it.

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  • JeanneBrown

    I always thought brand journalism sounded like a marketing term, anyway.

  • Michael Selissen

    A former journalist-turned-marketing-writer I spoke with recently remarked that her biggest challenge was going from writing the news to making it. Goes to your idea of conceive and create.

  • Hi Michael,

    Good point. I think that in idea marketing you have to devote much more time to conceiving ideas than in journalism, where things fall into your lap.

  • I’d argue that instead of dying, it should adopt the principles of true journalism. And journalists are the ones who should teach us how. Might not work for big companies or those who are actively covering up corruption intentionally. But as an entrepreneur I don’t use that data just for marketing. Most of it never makes it there.

    But I’m one of the marketers who is trying to make marketing serve the customers. So what do I know.

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