Commercial pressure means boundaries are being pushed to a dangerous extent for B2B journalists

A recent article published by Press Gazette, ‘Why journalists need to assert the importance of editorial material’, touched on several key points that hit home. While it ultimately came across as an advertorial, the observations it raised bear discussion.

Increasingly, journalists are being forced into multiple roles within their organisations. I’m not talking about multimedia content production, the acquisition of online skill sets or social media elan, but a fundamental shift in the role of the reporter. Nowhere is this more true than in the magazine industry, which is often overlooked in discussions of modern journalism but affects and employs many working reporters today.

Now, not only are staff journalists expected to produce content at a blistering rate of pace, but we’re also expected to be event hosts, marketers, spokespeople and salespersons all in one. And too often, reporters are being asked to accommodate commercial concerns in their day-to-day roles.

While advertising and editorial can work together for mutual benefit – the sharing of knowledge in a subject area, for instance – this is a difficult line to toe, and the demarcation is becoming blurrier by the day. At what point, for instance, does a journalist maintain his or her independence from the commercial process when they are asked to include coverage guaranteed by package deals, if only in presence rather than content?

When does promoting events to contacts, or convincing them to sign up for them, become a crossing of that line?

On a more sinister note, to what extent are reporters being forced subconsciously to consider advertising deals, sponsorships and other high-value revenue streams when they’re chasing a potentially negative story?

This is not to say that the motives behind this from management at the coal face are insidious, or in any way intended to rupture integrity. But for cub reporters, fresh into their careers, is the confidence there to stand up to experienced salespersons or haughty clients when editorial cooperation is guaranteed by contract? Not even veteran seniors are strong enough, at times, to withstand the unrelenting pressure to be seen as ‘helping the business’, sometimes at their own expense.

The magazine publishing sector, B2B, trade and consumer alike, is under severe pressure. We operate on threadbare budgets most of the time, revenues from print are shrinking month on month, and as a result, the immediate income-generating arms of businesses are often looked on favourably. It doesn’t help that line managers above editors, MDs, publishers and directors are almost always drawn from the ranks of salespersons, marketers and producers. Jokes from ad men and women about how their latest deal paid a journalist’s salary for the month are depressingly common refrains heard around newsrooms, and it reinforces the impression that editorial departments are seen as a necessary, but not valued, production arm to generate the pages that provide a platform for the real business.

Everybody in the media is experiencing a fundamental shift in the way they perform their roles. However, for reporters, this shift can present a distinct challenge to what we perceive our jobs to be as journalists. While the aforementioned article touched on this, it didn’t cover the dangerous extent to which boundaries are often pushed.

The author is a senior journalist on an international print publication, who has worked across consumer, B2B and trade sectors over ten years

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