The first and most important thing you need to understand about content marketing is that it is currently keeping the print medium alive. I don’t just mean news, I mean everything. This is the most important aspect even without knowing exactly what content marketing is, because it paints us a picture of how it all came to this.
“Disruptive innovation” is the industry buzzword for new cheap gadgets being pushed out of South Asian work camps that replace last year’s gadget everyone paid $500 for. There is a broader, more longer view to be had though – for sure, print wasn’t in so much trouble until tablets and blogs came along. Now, consumers of Vogue or The Atlantic can quickly block all the ads ruining their experience. I once asked my mother to buy me a ladies’s magazine. She bought one, sat me down at the kitchen table, and proceeded to rip all the ads out of them. By the time she was done, only about 20 or so odd pages were left in the 200 page magazine. I’ve never bought a ladies’s magazine myself. And nowadays, others can push away the ads in favor of Adblock Plus or a quick click on their Kindle as well. What’s more, most magazines and newspapers sell their digital subscriptions at a discount – as if the paper is what you’re buying for the money, not what’s written on it. Meanwhile, people from my generation are more likely to visit their daily blogs for free rather than shell out $7 for the latest issue of the Economist.
This kind of shift in medium coupled with the new hyperdrive crisis circuit of capitalism has resulted in a fatal blow for print journalism. What is the result? Step into any office and the desperation is thick in the air. I watched the publisher stand with his head in his hands: “Where are we going to find a million dollars?”
The answer is content marketing. Gone are the days of full page ads next to content, gone are the days of “sponsored messages” that run next to content, gone even are the days of embedding our journalists with the troops. Now the money that print makes is no where near the content, it’s as far away from the masthead as possible – GM can go to *INSERT POPULAR PAPER* and pay them to start a blog on behalf of GM, using house journalists and house researchers, not to mention house support resources. They will promote this blog using all sorts of sinister search engines – you might not even know this blog is sponsored by GM. The paper can write white papers for government officials, all with house PhDs and former lawmakers, they can shmooze with the fat cats on K street and no one will ever know that it amounts to financial propaganda.
Of course, the print sector is quick to cover their ass and claim this is about integrity. They keep it from the masthead to reserve their integrity. Fair enough. But what about the resources, the writers? Lois Lane can’t contribute to the Monsanto blog and then very well publish a story in the masthead blasting Monsanto, can she? It’s backdoor blackmail – you want your integrity so bad? Well just make sure you don’t look like a hypocrite when you publish your 4000 word expose on how Monsanto is poisoning our lakes and streams worldwide. Instead of avoiding Monsanto’s new scandal because of a simple and clearly visible sponsor conflict, which might cause eyebrows to raise, Lois Lane’s day employer avoids honest reporting and it seems spontaneous, even legitimate.
What’s really shocking is the number of bloggers caught up in this game. While print journalism seems at the very least slightly uncomfortable using their good names and resources passed around as marketing contacts, bloggers are clambering to finally get paid for what they’ve been doing for free for years. With no fancy j-school credentials, they don’t even have the slightest twinge of regret. Thousands of easily reachable social influencers, I Mean Bloggers, lie in wait behind expensive marketing paywalls, ready to shill for whoever will pass them a hundred bucks. This is not to impugne on blogging, or bloggers for that matter. I take issue with a market where millions upon millions of us are generating content that is eventually capitalized and we never see a cent for. I take issue with the death of journalism and with the death of print. As wages continue their freefall, the only journalists left to be hired at major papers will be from rich families and probably married into these scandals anyway.
The big problem–no transparency. It becomes harder and harder to get an answer to the question–“Who paid for this message?”
How can we judge the credibility, the veracity of a message without being able to answer that question?
It’s all quite infuriating.
I think the most important thing to consider is that this is the natural outcome of the state of affairs. When journalism is run as a for-profit venture under capitalism, this is the result. No matter people’s desires or higher morals, when the stockholders begin to clamor and your job is in danger, you will bow to capital’s demands unless you plan to risk & resist.
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