Why journalists need to embrace brand journalism

After a spate of criticism around brand journalism Tracey Fitgerald argues journalists need to be part of the solution, not the problem.

Having just returned from a week working on a client project in Nepal, I cannot explain how frustrating is to read articles by fellow writers and journalists who are quick to criticise the term ‘brand journalism’ and pick holes in what they deem to be a contradictory term.

Once such article I read recently referred to a brand journalist role as “diluting what the term ‘journalist’ means”. The author even went so far as to question the integrity of anyone interested in this ‘ridiculous oxymoron’.

What I see here is far too much attention on the definition and zero focus on the solution – which is that journalists could actually help shape this industry into something that creates a really positive impact.

I care about integrity, I care about the truth, I care about stories and I care about giving people a voice – and I still do all of this as a brand journalist.

For me, the issue is that brand journalism is being influenced by people with no experience in journalism – people who want to create a label and make it work for them in whichever way generates the most money. This is the problem, and this is where we should place our attention.

In Nepal, I helped my client report on the poor working conditions of firefighters and can wholeheartedly say that brand journalism is just as journalistic in nature as traditional journalism – and it certainly doesn’t mean waving goodbye to your integrity.

If you deem journalism as being the practice of gathering and reporting information and news across a platform to a particular audience, then the only real difference is the platform.

My client (who admittedly works in the field of firefighting and firefighting products) felt an affinity to the brigade in Kathmandu and wanted to bring me and a videographer to Nepal to implement brand journalism techniques. The client trained the firefighters and we created the stories based on what we saw and learnt while there. These stories then went out to the client’s audience – an audience extremely aligned with firefighting and therefore very affected by what we had to show them. The results being that an otherwise voiceless group of professionals now had a voice within their industry.

So what’s the solution?

Journalists need to take charge of the changes happening within the industry and play an active role when it comes to educating brands on how journalistic practices can be applied to what they do.

We have a massive opportunity to not only make this industry work for journalists, but also for the greater community – and that’s something to celebrate. Brand journalism could subsequently create accountability within the business word by making brands and businesses more concerned about corporate social responsibility and what they actively do within their fields. By enabling businesses to produce journalistic style content we are placing greater emphasis on how they actually conduct themselves as a business.

My point is, that it’s down to journalists to shape brand journalism into something that works more like journalism. The change is happening whether we like it or not – time to educate the brands on what it really means.

  • Tracey Fitzgerald is managing director of Brandalism

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