Follow that path to its logical conclusion and you'll discover that we really are witnessing the steady decline journalism in favor of special interest advocacy that masquerades as valuable content while being fueled by any number of organizational agendas. We now live in a world where even science becomes a public relations battleground to win over public opinion — a throwback to the era of a yellow press when news was less important than eye-catching headlines much like today.
New media has been reformatted for a new master. So now what?
Unless you live in a vacuum, you already know that the changeover from old media to new media is a pejorative concept. The media had been consolidated for some time, mostly among six media giants that once controlled about 90 percent of the media. Want to know who owned what? Look here.
This suggests that the transition from corporate-owned media to corporate (or special interest) generated media is largely lateral. Except, it's not. Even when corporations owned the media, they mostly left management alone, which left the reporters alone in turn. That isn't the case now.
When corporations and special interests decided to stop funding somewhat objective news outlets in favor of more advocacy eyeballs and carefully controlled content marketing, they created a fiscal rift that made owning a news organization an investment liability (unless that outlet earned eyeballs too).
That in and of itself accelerated a growing problem. For about 100 years, reporters only had to tell the truth or shame the devil to be successful. But with the advent of click counts and page views, the journalist started facing a very different job description. Each story has to stand on its own eyeball count and each journalist became responsible for developing his or her own niche following, which (sadly) continues to be defined by eyeball counts over professional prowess.
Under these conditions, telling the truth (or shaming the devil) really isn't enough. You have to tell the truth people want to hear and shame the devils that the public doesn't like. And you have to do it for a fraction of the cost because journalism hasn't kept up with scalable salaries.
Nowadays, only news commentary consultants and talk show hosts command real income-earning potential as they deliver the goods that people either love or hate. Call it biased infotainment — news adorned in a "what to think" packaging — sound bites that sum up most of it.
On the other side of the fence, brand journalists are attempting to do the same. The modern special interest gatekeepers — professionals who once catered to the journalists — are increasingly interested in spinning their own never vetted musings of content marketing as news, which maintains an objective that is the polar opposite of journalism. The new job is to add perspective and praise the internal angels, with budgets that eclipse what journalism once spent tenfold.
The budgets don't only make the output potentially more infectious but also make these new brand journalist/content marketing positions slightly more fun, significantly more visible, and reward with substantially better salary caps — at least enough to lure away the very people who used to be considered the fourth estate. All that is required in return is that the one-time-journalist see the world thorough the lens of the organizational perspective first. That isn't so bad. Or is it?
Earned media has become an archaic term. It's all pay, up front and often.
There is no question some of it will be useful, even if the next generation will likely be lost in a world with no truth tellers. They'll be left in a place where everything is an opinion. Moral facts will all be optional — except when they are decided en masse by a simple majority that changes with the tides.
On the surface, content marketers seem relatively happy with a growing share of the communication landscape (over public relations, which is over journalism). But over the long term, no one should be too happy about it. Whereas journalists had a loyalty to citizens and public relations practitioners had a loyalty to both the organization and the public, content marketers serve organizational interests.
And when only the readily available content comes from an organizational perspective, then we've lost something as a thinking society. The content we will believe will largely be owned by whichever organization has the dollars to convince us as all of the others are drowned out by multi-channel repetition, with the only real irony being that most people will prefer it over time.
What do you think? Will there ever be a miracle resurgence in people being willing to pay for valuable, truthful, and objective news? Or will organizations simply fill the void with advocacy news, well-funded stories and slants that serve up "value" as long as it produces other outcomes too?