Can corporate journalism work?

Read an interesting post by Ike Pigott today (thanks Amber) suggesting that as mainstream journalism continues to shrink, struggling journalists should consider jumping to the dark side and plying their trade as corporate journalists.

Ike distinguishes his notion of the corporate "embedded journalist" from the age-old tradition of reporters simply leaving the newsroom to go work in corporate communications. What's new, he says, is that the decline of mainstream journalism means that companies increasingly are going to forgo pitching stories in hopes of coverage and just start publishing themselves.

To some extent, this isn't that new. Even before social media, smart companies have worked to bring  their message directly to customers and others through thought leadership and other publications without the filter of earned media. And for journalists, it may simply be a matter of survival. A job is a job, after all. As traditional journalism jobs and news outlets decline, companies will step in even more to tell their own stories and take up the slack.

Can this really work on a large scale?

Well, maybe. I have little doubt that some companies will make the effort -- and I think it's important to try. I agree with Ike that if companies do indeed hire real journalists and (this is crucial) give them the support and leeway to tell real stories instead of marketing puffery, then people will respond positively.

Even more, I believe that companies, customers, and other stakeholders could all benefit if companies shifted substantial marketing resources away from their minimally effective promotion efforts toward more thoughtful and independent coverage of the industries and issues their customers really care about.

But will they? I assume Ike chose the term "embedded journalist" deliberately in reference to the Pentagon's similarly named and quite controversial program to "embed" journalists with military units during the Iraq War. That program did lead to some interesting inside reporting but whether the program overall actually served the public interest in terms of independent coverage is far from clear.

For now, B2B companies are mostly still struggling with how much to allow their own employees to go beyond strictures of message control and engage freely in social media and networks. If they can't even do this, it's hard to believe they'll turn trained professional journalists loose in an even more ambitious effort to provide "accurate and fair" reporting with all the risks this may entail to their own reputation.

For companies willing to try, and I hope there are many, here are a few suggestions:

  • Good journalism is, first and foremost, about reporting, not making product pitches or solutions delivery examples sound better. Focus on the issues your customers, partners, and employees care about and then go do some digging to cover and analyze what's really happening. Talk to the experts, interview customers and your own employees, crunch some data...be a real resource for news you can use.
  • Good journalism has (or should have) real standards for accuracy, quality, and fairness. Notwithstanding the endless blather that fills so much of both corporate marketing and social media, most people can still tell the difference. Take standards seriously and don't skimp on quality.
  • Good journalism takes time and is ongoing. If you're going to do it, have patience and keep at it. Like social media, positive results will not come overnight. But becoming a trusted source for customers and others will pay dividends for years to come.

B2B marketers know that the demand for content is growing every day, and that thinking like a publisher is increasingly central to making marketing work. Corporate journalism can make a huge contribution as we move in this direction. And if we can save the jobs of some worthy journalists along the way, so much the better.

What's your take? Can corporate journalism work?

Photo credit: Valeriana Solaris

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