Content Marketing & Journalism: Theory vs. Practice

Paul Conley has written another one of his all-too-rare blog posts, and as usually happens, he has motivated me to get off my own long-dormant blogging butt. It only adds to my motivation that he mentions my year-old interview with him here on B2B Memes.

Back then, he surprised me with a pessimistic assessment of the state of content marketing as a home for journalists. Companies whose main business is not publishing, he said, are simply unwilling to take on serious journalism.

A year later, he’s reversed course. The time is ripe, he nows argues, for companies to jump into true, investigative reporting. Brand journalism, dead a year ago, is now ready to be reborn.

Conley’s money quote from last year’s interview laid out a compelling-sounding reason that content marketing and journalism can’t mix: lack of courage.

The overwhelming majority of . . . companies don’t have a culture that is open to journalism. These companies don’t have the stomach for news and the confrontations it can promote. They panic when someone complains. They’re afraid of controversy.

Now he sees things differently. More companies are now willing to court controversy, he says, and he boldly predicts that in 2013 at least one non-publishing brand will do “solid, hardcore, investigative” journalism.

It’s not often that I can feel safe disagreeing with Conley. But here I have the perfect opportunity. Clearly, the Paul Conley of 2011 and the Paul Conley of 2012 can’t both be right. But which Conley shall I contradict?

I want to agree with 2012 Conley. The spread of journalism beyond its narrow, professionalized confines is to my mind a good thing. One version of this expansion, citizen journalism, is for all its imperfections a democratizing, humanizing, and liberating trend. Brand journalism should be as well.

But so far, brand journalism that is worthy of the name is just theory. Until there is some evidence of it in practice, Conley and I may postulate all we please and it will mean nothing.

A year ago, I might have been satisfied with theory. But my recent re-entry into the real-world practice of journalism (more on that in another post to come) has made me more sensitive to things like facts and proof.

There is nothing to say that 2012 Conley’s vision for content marketing as fertile ground for journalism won’t come to pass. I hope it does. But until this year’s Conley can point to evidence that proves the theory, I’m inclined to side with last year’s model.

2 thoughts on “Content Marketing & Journalism: Theory vs. Practice

  1. Hi John,
    Good to see you posting again! And I’m looking forward to your upcoming post on your new gig.
    In the meantime, let me try to clarify: I’m PREDICTING that some brand will do hardcore investigative work this year. I haven’t seen anyone do so yet.
    You’ll have to check in with me in a year for evidence that I was right (or wrong.)

  2. Understood. And I do hope your prediction is correct. It will brighten the future for all journalists.

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