On Tuesday night we hosted a PRCA discussion on the future of technology journalism, and the challenge of making money from it without compromising integrity.
There was a great line-up of journalists – Charles Arthur (ex-Guardian); Sam Shead of Business Insider; Alex Wood, editor-in-chief of Memo; and Hannah Bouckley from PA / BT.com. Our host for the evening was Ben Rooney, formerly of the WSJ and currently editor-in-chief for Informilo.
Integrity is a delicate issue, with all the journalists naturally very protective of theirs. Inevitably the discussion led to talking about whether it’s ever right to simply copy and publish press releases. The journalists said that stories based on press releases usually get the least traffic on news sites, which isn’t entirely surprising. We often encourage clients to try different approaches and really consider the newsworthiness of an announcement.
Charles Arthur went on to describe the press release as “silt at the bottom of the ocean” – they form a tiny part of the overall story, and very rarely area story on their own. Charles also reiterated the idea that PRs and journalists will always be at odds because (paraphrasing) ‘PRs just want a nice write-up for their client while the journalist wants a juicy angle’. That’s something we disagree with strongly – we have countless examples of relationships with journalists where both sides benefit, but each to their own.
The debate then moved on to Native Advertising and whether, if it is quality content, is there anything really wrong with it?
Alex certainly saw it as an attack on the integrity of journalism and made a fair point that sponsored articles often offer little balance for the reader. However, it all came down to monetising news sites and the challenges of this in the light of ad blockers becoming ever more prevalent.
Hannah was the only member of the panel to truly encompass both worlds as spokesperson for a business (PA/BT.com) and journalist trying to tell exciting stories. She has an especially challenging role because she needs to steer clear of anything that might be particularly damaging to BT, and it was clear the financial backers can always push on journalists to avoid heavy handed criticism.
That’s something which didn’t sit particularly comfortably with Alex and Sam. But it’s the exact issue countless newsrooms across the world face every day. And how many times do we see the opposite situation, where a publication charges headfirst into a story, only to issue a tiny retraction buried away, days or even weeks later.
So what was the result of the panel? Will PRs and journalists ever come to a comfortable middle ground on the issue of integrity? Will native advertising eventually take over news sites?
Having listened to the discussions around bias, advertising, sponsors and the murky reminder that we all need to get paid… the future is still unclear! The next few years will see the lines continue to blur massively, as everyone tries to become a ‘content producer’ – ultimately, does it even matter that much where it comes from as long as it has integrity?