Brand Journalism: Just Go With it

Recently the term “brand journalism” has drawn a lot of attention in the realm of content marketing, and experts can’t seem to agree on whether or not “journalism” appropriately describes the pieces published by brands and businesses. In an article for Contently, journalist Sam Petulla argues that brand journalism cannot exist because journalism is independent; he claims that using the term is harmful to a brand and can seem deceptive or confusing to consumers.

On the other hand, Sarah Mitchell, director of content strategy for Lush Digital Media, counters that this perspective is pointless because no journalism is ever entirely objective. Mitchell claims that brand journalism provides “the opportunity to keep the public better informed and better entertained” (Lush). Thomas Scott, CEO of Brand Journalists explains that brand journalism is a type of journalism, like sports journalism or political journalism (Brand Journalists).

My position falls somewhere in between. I think brand journalism exists, but may be a slight misnomer. However, I don’t think there is an alternative word that explains the purpose as well as “journalism;” people will probably just have to develop an understanding of the differences between brand journalism and journalism. I, like Mitchell, expect most people will be able to without too much confusion. Ideally, a separation between independent journalism and brand journalism would exist, but in many cases this line has already been blurred anyway. In addition, brand journalism is almost exclusively referred to as “brand journalism;” it has it’s own phrase, and it is almost never just called “journalism.” If something is labeled brand journalism, it’s difficult to confuse it for independent journalism.

Similar to Scott’s opinion on brand journalism, I feel that it’s not much different from pitching press releases to journalists with the hope of positive media coverage. On the other hand, cutting out the middle man — the media gatekeeper — creates the opportunity for ethical problems. If you’re publishing all your own content, readers may end up with a heavily biased, one-sided view of situations if brand journalists do not maintain high standards for ethics.

I feel brand journalism has an important place in the evolving area of content marketing, regardless of whether or not experts agree on the name choice. Using “journalism” to categorize a type of marketing may not be an entirely accurate use of the word, but unless an alternative phrase comes along that works better, I believe we should embrace brand journalism for what it is, rather than arguing about what it’s not.