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Making journalists write native ads is a ‘mistake’ Mandarin editor warns publishers

L:R Nicole Sheffield, Kylie Rogers, Ian McClelland, Jason Whittaker

L:R Nicole Sheffield, Kylie Rogers, Ian McClelland, Jason Whittaker

The editor of new online publication The Mandarin has argued at a forum in Sydney that allowing journalists to write branded content is a “massive mistake”, which runs the risk of undermining reader confidence in publications and mastheads across various segments.

Speaking at during a sometimes heated discussion on the separation of sales and editorial at yesterday’s Publish Conference in Sydney former Crikey editor Jason Whittaker said he did not believe journalists should be allowed to write brand content or native advertising.

“Readers have to trust the byline,” said Whittaker. “If I have to figure out the byline and if there is a sponsor behind it then I am going to have a lot less trust in the byline.

“We did it initially and looking at content marketing, we had journalists writing some of the stuff, and we realised that it was a massive mistake. That said as the (journalism) job market gets increasingly harder people will put up their hands for those sort of roles.”

However Kylie Rogers, sales director of Mamamia, which allows journalists to write branded content, told the room it was something their writers were comfortable with doing.

“We work hand in hand and we have a core purpose in mind,” said Rogers. “When Mia wrote our first native post in 2009, native as a term didn’t even exist and we are really passionate about ensuring that our writers write that native content. We absolutely work hand in hand – we treat native in the way we treat editorial.

“The best for clients come when they come in and talk to the editorial team. They say this is what I want to achieve and I am handing over to you because you know your brand best.

“People used to want media firsts, now they want to create owned media and understanding what you can and can’t do and also what works for the consumer. The worst thing is when you have something and sales is excited, the client is excited and then you look at the traffic and no one is looking at it.”

Guardian Australia managing director Ian McClelland said he agreed with journalists not writing branded content, but noted that brands were increasingly looking for help with creating content for their owned media channels.

“I’m noticing more and more brands coming to us and saying can we do brand partnerships,” said McClelland. “They are interested in putting their brand on our site but they are just as interested in creating content for their own sites.

“That is a really new thing,” he said. “Take NRMA who we work with they have  six million unique audience a month going to their social channels, website and newsletter. We are two million Australians a month – that brand’s reach is actually greater than our media and it make you go ‘hang on, you’re a bigger media company than we are’.

“What they are interested in is the high quality content that we can create.”

Whittaker argued that clients were increasingly demanding of publishers.  “The clients are smarter too,” he said. “I think there was a period where they would just throw something in a mag and it would just get results and there was some dumb lazy advertising happening.

“What has changed is that this has gotten so much harder. You can go two ways with that: you can get increasingly desperate or the other route which is to be more innovative and work with clients to actually provide a solution.”

Fellow panellist Nicole Sheffield, CEO of NewsLifeMedia said so-called “lazy advertising” was no longer an option. “I think it has come about because of the fragmentation of media,” she said.

“In the past it was a reach game… now largely because of fragmentation we have a lot of specialisations, we have got a lot of information available on the different brands. I think you have interact differently and I think that make everyone a lot more informed.”

Sheffield also defended her editors from suggestions that commercial prerogatives were often at play in the women’s lifestyle and beauty titles. “News.com.au is the same set up as The Guardian,” she said. “The editorial reports to (News Corp editorial director) Campbell Reid and the commercial side reports to me.

“The rest of NewsLifeMedia portfolio, be it Vogue or Kidspot is similar to how Kylie described Mamamia, they are all one team but at the end of the day the editor is actually the custodian of the consumer. They are the one leading the brand and how much trust they have.”

Whittaker told the room that his concerns about journalists writing branded content came down to issues of disclosure. “I work for a company that does native content that does client solutions that look a lot like editorial,” he said.

“The reason I am comfortable with it is firstly is that it is always disclosed, two is journalists should not be writing that content.”

Nic Christensen 

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