What Does Good Brand Journalism Look Like?

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Throughout my entry-level career in journalism I have apparently done “Brand Journalism” on some levels. However, I just barely learned the term itself this week. I am familiar with content marketing, but apparently there is a difference between the two.

So, what exactly is Brand Journalism, then? It was defined in class as “the act of doing journalistic and creative work for a brand or company, writing advertisements and product marketing in traditional or innovative journalistic styles.” It is a growing industry that offers the possibility of more steady work and reliable pay for journalists as opportunities in traditional journalism have begun to dwindle. 

The article that my classmates analyzed focused on a handful of reasons why journalists should pursue brand journalism, but I found another article that provides examples of what good brand journalism actually looks like in practice.

According to Powerpost, Red Bull, Airbnb, and Patagonia are killing it at brand journalism.

Red Bull has used brand journalism to successfully tap into the world of action sports and motorsports with high-profile event sponsorships as well as their Red Bulletin magazine which is geared toward young adventure-seekers. Red Bull also produces original series’ on YouTube that follow real athletes. By going above and beyond to connect with a specific community, they have essentially made their brand synonymous with these thrilling activities.

Patagonia’s blog, The Cleanest Line, speaks directly to their active and outdoorsy target audience by providing content that stimulates dialogue around their products, outdoor sports, and environmental issues. Additionally, the Patagonia catalog goes much further than your average piece of marketing literature. It includes informative essays along with striking images from around the world. Airbnb has a similar strategy with its own branded magazine, Airbnbmag, which focuses on experiencing the world through the perspectives of locals and hosts. They also have a blog that promotes traveling tips and hosts a series called “When Strangers Meet,” which tells real stories about couples who met through Airbnb.

From what I’ve gathered from these articles, brand journalism is essentially a marriage between marketing and journalism that draws people in because the content feels personal and direct. It’s also a more engaging way to educate consumers on what you’re selling as opposed to boring product descriptions and ads littered with marketing jargon that most people don’t understand.

For a journalist who may pursue this career path, one challenge that could present itself is feeling trapped by these brands and the obligation to promote their goals, which could feel like a threat to the creative process. However, this is why it would be important to work with companies whose values align most closely with yours and whose products you can confidently and firmly stand behind. This may mean turning down work here and there, but if it really means a lot to you and you’re losing sleep at night, then you’ll have to prioritize your morals over money.





They Say Journalism Is A Dying Industry, Here’s Why They’re Wrong

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Journalism has changed quite drastically in the digital era, but it is not dying as some may have you believe. What the future looks like for journalism may be uncertain, but one thing we can count on is that there is a future for it.

The Media & Culture textbook describes several valid obstacles journalism faces in the age of digital convergence. How the industry approaches these challenges will ultimately determine its fate going forward.

One of the biggest problems facing journalism is the fading of investigative journalists from print and broadcast newsrooms. As Media & Culture notes, investigative reports are time-consuming and expensive. At a time when these traditional mediums are battling to keep up with the fast-pace internet, they simply don’t have the time and resources to unearth these stories.

“Kicked out, bought out or barely hanging on, investigative reporters are a vanishing species in the forests of dead tree media and missing in action on Action News. I-Teams are shrinking or, more often, disappearing altogether. Assigned to cover multiple beats, multitasking backpacking reporters no longer have time to sniff out hidden stories, much less write them,” wrote Mary Walton for American Journalism Review in 2010, according to the textbook.

In recent years, the investigative reporting has largely been left in the hands of grassroots organizations and Watch Dogs. While they may not be journalists by occupation, they are doing important journalism work.

Someone in this category that comes to mind is activist Shaun King, who uses his large social media following to call attention to injustice and corruption. He came to prominence as a leader within the Black Lives Matter movement and is still widely recognized as a social justice crusader. But, King is also a journalist with published works in The Intercept, The Appeal, and The Daily Kos. His official website, however, explains that he was actually a teacher prior to becoming the public figure we know today. Would King have veered toward journalism if he had never taken this path of activism? I can’t say. But, as long as he’s using his passion and gift for writing for the greater good, I’m all for it.

Another challenge for journalism is the fact that technology has opened the floodgates for information overload. An article we were assigned to read titled, Here Comes Somebody: Journalism and the Trust Economy dives into how journalism is impacted by the overwhelming amount of unchecked information and data that exists on the internet.

Every day, Americans consume five times more information than they did in 1986. There is simply no way the human brain has the capacity to process that historic surge, without falling back on the cognitive shortcuts that fuel our biases.

The article explains that social media is where this information overload phenomenon frequently occurs as, “the very best and the very worst in journalism gets bundled together in one demoralizing scroll optimized for a laugh, cry, scream, and ultimately share.”

The article adds, “Journalism is no longer the solution to the information overload. It is just another source of distraction. Rather than relieving the burden on our brains, it adds to it.”

While journalism has no choice but to evolve with the times and embrace digital culture in order to survive, the industry must find a way to get back to its roots as a trusted medium that aims to “provide information that enables citizens to make intelligent decisions.” This will also be important to combat the “Fake News” epidemic.

An aspect of journalism that may actually die eventually are physical newspapers. The obvious fact is that people are reading less and less, but even most of those who do read often and thoroughly are doing so on a digital screen.

But, it’s important to remember that journalism, itself, is not just about news in the way that we typically think of it. At the core of journalism is storytelling, and that is a historical tradition that isn’t going anywhere. As long as there is curiosity, intrigue, and even turmoil in our world, there will be stories to tell and journalists will be there to tell them.

Big Media Shoved Women & Minorities Out Of Ownership Roles

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The textbook case study, “Minority and Female Media Ownership: Why It Matters” dives into the reasons why there are so few women and minority TV and radio station owners compared to rich white males.

Based on my understanding of the case study, the short answer is these groups were essentially pushed out after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)  relaxed ownership regulations and allowed big media companies to consolidate by way of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Although big media conglomerates already dominated the mainstream industry, the lenient ownership rules allowed them to buy out smaller stations in various markets, many of which were owned by women and minorities. To put things into perspective, the case study noted that in 2014, the FCC reported that racial or ethnic minorities owned only 41 (or 3.0 percent) of the 1,386 full-power commercial broadcast television stations in the country.

This goes without saying, but that is a very sad and dismal disparity.

Unfortunately, this cycle resembles many industries in America. It’s not just media, there is a lack of diversity in all of corporate America and Hollywood. This is an issue that has been recently addressed with social movements such as the ongoing fight for equal pay largely being led by female celebrities and athletes, including tennis star Serena Williams.

The media ownership case study we were asked to review did a nice job of breaking down the complex topic in a concise, digestible way. However, I took note of the fact that it was slightly outdated so I did some additional digging to see if any notable improvements had been made since the case study was published.

I found that in August of this year, the FCC adopted an “incubator program” to essentially undo what they had already done. The program focuses solely on radio, for now, and is designed to help small companies break into radio by hitching their wagons to bigger companies, so to speak.

The program pairs existing, thriving radio station owners with new, small, or struggling broadcasters that have an annual revenue of $38.5 million or less. After successfully certifying that they need the help to carry out their ownership goals, the small station owners will be approved by the Media Bureau to receive support from the bigger, more established station owners. In exchange for their participation in the program, the big companies get a waiver from the FCC exempting them from adhering to local radio ownership regulations.

This move has received criticism, however, for not being bold or progressive enough to have a real impact and reverse the damage that has been done to minority and female media ownership. “Its scope is too narrow, its consequences too small, and its impact on markets too muddled,” said Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel, who was the only member of the FCC to vote “no” on adopting the program, according to Inside Radio.

Ultimately, it appears that increasing diversity in media ownership is still an ongoing issue and not much has changed since the textbook case study’s findings. However, the incubator program serves as an indication that the FCC recognizes on some level that there is a problem and something needs to be done to fix it. Hopefully, the incubator program is just a baby step (pun intended) that will eventually lead to more momentous and significant efforts. That may be wishful thinking with Ajit Pai at the helm of the FCC, which is rather ironic considering he is a minority himself.

Is It Ethical For Artists To Block Trump From Using Their Work?

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First thing’s first, allow me to begin by saying our Intro to Digital Communication class discussions are pretty lit. Each week, we embark on a different topic related to, well, digital communication (obvi) and on Monday, we discussed internet regulation and ethical issues.

One of the talking points was related to an incident from last week in which President Donald Trump was called out on Twitter by the official HBO account for tweeting a “Game of Thrones” themed meme that referenced the network’s trademarked material.

Trump was accused of using the meme in a threatening manner directed toward Iran. As a result of the controversy the meme sparked, HBO responded by suggesting Trump was committing trademark misuse. This opened the door for criticism from many folks on both ends of the political spectrum who felt HBO was just being petty.

Memes have become ingrained in our digital culture and people typically use material that they do not own to make them. Therefore, calling out Trump for doing what millions of Americans do every single day without any consequence was a bit of a reach.

However, there is the argument that Trump’s platform as the president of the United States is much more significant to be addressed compared to the average civilian who may make or share a meme.

In a statement obtained by Entertainment Weekly, HBO said they “would prefer our trademark not be misappropriated for political purposes.”

Talking about this issue in class made me think of two other current events involving Trump and artists who have taken legal action to prevent the president from using their work. Within the last week, Pharrell Williams and Rihanna have each sent Trump cease and desist letters after learning that his campaign was playing their music during rallies.

Although I don’t blame HBO, Pharrell, or Rihanna for not wanting to be associated with Trump, their actions create a muddy perspective on protected speech and regulation  — which are really confusing issues as it is.

When you share your work with the public, is it morally or even ethically appropriate to place limitations on who can enjoy your art based on whether or not their beliefs align with yours?

Trump’s campaign clearly did not receive permission from the artists themselves to play their music, so the cease and desist requests are valid from that standpoint. But, are they thoroughly checking and regulating all of the events where their music is being used? I can’t say for sure, but probably not. Are they sending these letters to YouTubers and social media celebrities who make viral videos using their songs without permission? Again, I don’t know…but my guess is that they are not.

Alas, because Trump is Trump, they are making swift and stern efforts to stop him from using their work to help push his political agenda. Personally, I’m 100 percent OK with this. But, from a larger ethical perspective, it does seem like an unfair targeted initiative.

Unfortunately for Trump, though, the benefit of trademarked and copyrighted material is that those who have ownership of it get to decide who can use it and for what purpose. The law is the law — and as Trump should know firsthand, the words “legal” and “fair” are not synonymous.

Am I Addicted To Technology?

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I’m aware that I use quite a bit of technology on a daily basis, but I always thought I had a pretty good handle on my digital media consumption compared to Gen Z’ers who were born into this digital age. That is, until I completed my digital diary assignment last week.

My classmates and I were asked to keep track of how much digital media we each consumed in 24 hours. I found that in just one day, I spent nearly 12 hours total looking at either a laptop or smartphone screen. That was a huge wake up call. Spending almost half  of a day on the internet is ridiculous and absurd, to say the least.

Granted, much of that time on that particular day was spent completing Asynchronous homework for school. However, I’ve been monitoring my digital media consumption ever since and even on days when I’m not knocking out homework, I’m spending a lot of time online whether I’m browsing social media, streaming music from my phone, or binge-watching Netflix. Those things are like second nature to me to the point that I’ll pick up my phone and start checking notifications without even thinking about it.

And I know it’s not just me who falls into this. When we all take a hard look at how much technology we’re using and digital media we’re consuming, whether intentionally or otherwise, it is actually quite scary.

I even started analyzing my behaviors more closely and I’ve come to notice the mini panic attacks I start to have whenever my phone is not in arm’s reach. I’ve also caught myself becoming extremely agitated if my WiFi connection is unstable and heaven forbid I have to actually wait longer than 5 seconds for a website to load. How did I ever survive the dial-up era?!

Let’s just imagine that I consistently spent 12 hours every single day online, that’s 84 hours a week! And let’s say that about half of that is just spent being idle, not completing anything for work or school. How much productivity am I depriving myself of by aimlessly surfing the net or falling down a social media rabbit hole? How many of life’s moments am I missing while my eyes are looking at a screen instead of the world around me? I’m truly bewildered at the very thought…

It would probably be a bit of a stretch to proclaim that I, myself, am totally addicted to technology, but I think our society most certainly is and therefore, it’s tough to avoid being sucked in on some level. I just hope that as we continue to move further and  further into this digital space, that we don’t completely forget how to experience life outside of the web. I hope that real life interaction and social engagement remains paramount to likes and comments overall.

This is What Really Draws Us to Social Media

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In my Intro to Digital Communications course last week, we were asked to define social media in our own words. This was my response:

I define social media as a form of digital communication comprised of various social networking websites which allow users to create and distribute their own content in addition to other media products. Social media also allows users to socialize, collaborate, and interact with other people across the globe in real time, and it is a resource for businesses and advertisers to allow the public to engage with their products by sharing comments, reviews, tutorials, and ratings with their peers.

I stand by my above definition; however, I believe that the popularity social media has gained over the years is really rooted in the fact that these platforms allow us to be social without actually being social at all.

Case in point; when I’m commenting on Instagram pictures or retweeting tweets I am more than likely alone, laying in bed or lounging on the sofa. If I do happen to be in public, then I am probably still alone, but doing a mundane activity such as waiting in a line at the grocery store or some place. In the physical sense, I am being introverted and reclusive with my eyes glued to a screen. But, in my digital world I am actively engaging with others, oftentimes holding multiple riveting conversations simultaneously.

Sound familiar?

If you can relate to the scenarios I’ve described then you, too, use social media to be social without actually being social. This phenomenon is what I believe to be the real hook that pulls us into social media. It allows us to engage with others as more of a pastime than an activity that demands  a lot more energy from us.

Getting together with friends requires turning off Netflix, changing out of your pajamas, transporting yourself to whatever trendy hangout you all have chosen to meet at, and interacting with not only your friends, but complete strangers including the server who got your order wrong, or the random intoxicated woman on the street who swears you look like someone she knows, or the creepy man who will not take “no” for an answer after you’ve declined to give him your phone number.

Who wants to deal with any of that? No one. We’d all much rather just pull out our phones and exchange memes and GIFs in the group chat we have with our closest friends.

Of course I know that people aren’t completely avoiding going into the real world, but I’m sure we can all recall more than one occasion when we could have made the effort to get out, but opted to stay in bed with our phones instead.

There are plenty of great uses for social media which make it extremely appealing to the masses and are important factors in why it has been so successful — many of which I mentioned in my initial definition. But, above all, social media offers us the best of both worlds by giving us complete, autonomous control over our social interactions.

Looking Ahead To The Future Of The Internet

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Change is inevitable, especially with the ever evolving internet.

Where the internet is today was surely unfathomable to the Baby Boomers and even to Generation X. I say this because I see my own parents and grandparents continue to be awestruck by all the wonders of the World Wide Web.

I’ll never forget the first time I Skyped my family from college. My grandparents, my mom, and my little brother who was only about 7 years old at the time were completely fascinated that they were seeing and hearing me in real time through the computer.

However, that memory is from about 9 years ago and, although it feels like just yesterday to me, the internet has changed drastically even since then. Because of this rapid evolution, it would be difficult to predict what the future holds for this space as I believe my children and grandchildren will be using the internet for purposes that I can’t even fathom right now.

Alas, in the more foreseeable future I anticipate the fight for net neutrality to remain a hot-button issue. The activists and tech companies who have been leading the charge to save net neutrality are not going to give up anytime soon and if (heaven forbid) we end up with another four years of the current administration, it will be a long battle ahead. The future of net neutrality will certainly shape the future of the internet as we know it.

The issue of censorship has also become increasingly prevalent in the era of “fake news” as well as the reemergence of hate groups/white supremacists that are taking advantage of current racial tensions and using the internet to spread vitriol, foreign adversaries (allegedly) using the internet to hack and meddle in U.S. politics, and the pervasiveness of cyber-bullying.

In the midst of all of this, social networks and websites are being pressured to ban toxic people from their platforms, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does prompt questions as to how we can make the internet a safer space in the future without violating laws and people’s constitutional rights.

Because of these issues arising now, I can confidently say that moving forward, tech giants must prioritize safety, privacy, and transparency to retain the public’s trust in the years to come. Otherwise, people will hesitate to embrace the next phase of the internet, or Web 3.0 as it’s been dubbed.