July 20, 2016
Not too long ago I worked on the UK’s leading IT trade publication. We had an editorial team of 27 people back then. Astonishingly good editors, reporters and subs that together produced the best IT trade publication in the UK, if not the world.
Today, that publication has a single full-time, in-house journalist. It, along with many other titles at the same publisher has joined the growing ranks of media outlets in the UK and around the world switching to an outsourced editorial model. One where a single editor with a fixed ‘wage’ budget coordinates entirely freelanced copy to fill the paper or web pages of one or more publications.
Why is this happening? It’s the result of a difficult but necessary reset of publishing industry economics. Having struggled with the transition from print to multi-platform, and even more with the total movement from print to purely online, the established publishing sector is feeling the pain of embracing new revenue models.
Classified advertising has completely gone, while display advertising spend and volume has been cannibalised by the web. Brands are excited by highly measurable, low-risk, payment-by-results models for online display advertising. The hope-and-pray print display advertising model is no longer enticing in the face of digital alternatives.
While publishers grapple with the task of replacing lost display revenue with online advertising and other monetization activities, new business models have been employed to ensure the longer-term survival of today’s publications. For most, this has required reducing permanent staff numbers as well as freelance budgets and rates. For all, there’s a significant shortfall between the money and resources on hand to create content, and the sheer volume of quality content needed to ‘feed the beast’.
That is why Brand Journalism and authored content is a critical part of the everyday editorial mix. It is affordable, reliable and high-quality content for publications, not marketing or sales content. It conveys useful information, opinion, analysis, insight and debate.
It is also something that a growing number of publications rely on in order to stay active and relevant in the eyes of readers, search engines and advertisers.
Demand for content has never been higher, from the media as well as from vendors looking to broaden their opportunities to engage with readers. From rapid response comments and viewpoints that support breaking news coverage and commissioned articles, through to fully developed and written short and long reads for print, web, social and mobile. High quality thought leadership content is a powerful marketing tool that elevates brand values and public perception based on the same intelligent debate and knowledge sharing attributes of independent journalism.
However, it only works for both vendors and the media if we produce content on behalf of our clients to the same standard, if not better, than the publications that we hope to place it in.
That means employing journalistic standards, practices and training to ensure that content creators maintain the highest standards. We must ensure content is above reproach and that it complies with all legal mandates of the day, regardless of whether it’s appearing in print, online, via social media or for placement within a blog or other form of user-generated content.
At LEWIS this starts every morning with a daily press briefing – as a team we examine the papers, social media and broadcast for the breaking stories, trends and issues of the day. We debate and explore the stories to understand what is driving the news and to explore the directions we can take a story on behalf of our clients. This session provides the basis for many of the ideas that drive high quality content production. It allows us to take stories forward, not repeat what is already in the public domain. From there it’s about running content production the same way we would in a commercial publication environment. Attention to detail, adherence to style guides, meticulous fact checking, peer review and a tireless commitment to quality journalism, not just hitting an arbitrary word count.
Brand Journalism is not inferior, unless you want it to be. It is largely produced by professional journalists employing best practice and newsroom practices for research, fact checking and audience engagement. Even when a non-journalist content creator is responsible for creating the material, there is no reason why the highest standards and practices cannot be maintained.
The media as we know it will not disappear. However, the scope for producing and sourcing compelling content has evolved. The question is, do you want to be part of telling the story, or just read your competitor’s views?