My friend Sam Wood works at Philly.com. While many of his colleagues have been laid off, Sam is still typing away and churning out news stories. He’s been at Philly.com and the Philadelphia Inquirer for 13 years, during which time his title has evolved from straight reporter, to social media and online news desk editor, to Editor/Writer/Producer.
Sam and I have had a series of lively discussions, both when I was a member of the press, and now across the permeable membrane that separates journalism and marketing, about what constitutes quality content. Sam gets what I’m doing at Scribewise, and understands that the divider between the two fields is largely philosophical.
When seasoned journalists cross over to create content directly for businesses, bringing all of their journalistic ethics and skills to their output, it isn’t a question of a different level of quality anymore. High quality is a given. Instead, it becomes a matter of who is signing the paycheck. In the case of online journalism, that check won’t be enough to pay the rent. The numbers simply don’t add up.
Before the rise of content marketing, the simplified financial equation was this: newspapers ran fair and balanced stories about businesses; businesses advertised in the papers, and writers got paid, in large part, by ad revenue.
Ad revenue has plummeted. Sam agrees that it’s time to take a serious look at content that is generated on other sites by credentialed writers (in an increasing number of cases, on the payrolls of former sponsors). For example, Philly.com recently ran a piece penned by Scott Bomboy, now Editor in Chief at the National Constitution Center, and formerly employed in various editorial capacities by CNBC, The Wall Street Journal and Interactive Week. Sam also points to several pieces funded by nonprofits that made the online edition of his paper: a Factcheck.org story about a botched attack on the IRS budget, and an investigative piece from The Sunlight Foundation about the new farm bill and its benefit to the pesticide industry. There are fewer chairs than ever available for straight up old school journalists; most media types are left standing (without a dime) until they move into sponsored content.
All this hybridization of content has spawned a new trade mag dedicated to content marketing. The Content Strategist, from Contently, even has a limited edition print version. The circle goes round and round. Commenting on the magazine’s launch in Pando Daily, Hamish Mackenzie writes, “If you’re a journalist who cares about the increasing commercialization of the inverted pyramid, it’s a punch in the guts. If you’re a journalist who cares about making money, it’s an interesting sign of the times.”
And if you run a company or its marketing department, the signs point directly to you.