Media’s Fate: Platform or Publication?

PandoDaily’s intrepid New York reporter Erin Griffith set Twitter tongues-a-waggin with her piece drawing a journalistic distinction between news “publications” and content “platforms.” She questioned the editorial integrity of news sites that accept or are fueled by content from outside “contributors” (with supposed hidden agendas):

“A platform which allows anything to be published with no oversight, such as Buzzfeed, Medium, and yes, Forbes, can push responsibility to the poster when there is an issue. Not our problem. We’re a platform! The platform-publisher problem is a sticky one which content companies will continue to grapple with, particularly as more publications turn to native advertising and sponsored content to replace dwindling revenue.”

Pando’s Erin Griffith

As a regular contributor to one of those sites (one of 1200), I understand where Ms. Griffith is coming from, but have to disagree that contributions are without editorial oversight. In fact, my editor has contacted me on many occasions to modify how I have characterized something or someone, and in one case, spiked a piece altogether calling it “strident.” (That post looked at the PR considerations in how SCOTUS announced two recent controversial rulings.)

Secondly, I personally have never used the platform to advance a client’s agenda. It would be an ethical breach. My main motivation is to share my observations on business, politics and culture through the lens of a seasoned PR professional, and by doing so, open the curtain on an industry that remains an enigma for most. With that said, there is a growing movement in the profession wherein “expert” by-liners or outside produced pieces are submitted for free (or paid) to a growing number of established news sites.

Raju Narisetti

The issue of which models can best sustain quality journalism in an era of decimated ad CPMs and fragmented readership continues to consume the most esteemed media brands. I touched on this with Forbes’ Lewis D’Vorkin recently.

Also, this week News Corp’s Raju Narisetti weighed in at Nieman Journalism Lab with a piece that challenged the holier-than-though news side of the legacy church-state model to take more responsibility for the business success of the organization. In his piece “Loosen the newsroom’s chokehold on the brand,” he writes:

“If publishers are to build sustainable business models through a combination of advertising dollars, reader revenue, and smart adjacent businesses, then one of the biggest stumbling blocks will be this prevailing, meek public acceptance of the newsroom’s primary ownership of the brand by those in product, advertising, circulation, marketing, public relations, and indeed by many publishers.

MIT Tech Review’s Jason Pontin

Just because a news “brand” was almost never leveraged for anything other than journalism for decades doesn’t entitle a newsroom to its veto-proof card, especially when such power currently comes without real accountability to help sustain the brand, not just the brand’s perceived reputation but also its financial health.”

Digiday’s Brian Morrissey
GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram

I’ll end with a few of the notable Pando-catalyzed tweets from GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram, MIT TechReview’s Jason Pontin and Digiday’s Brian Morrissey on the subject of journalism, content marketing and media sustainability – all of which are works in progress:

Well, @techreview doesn’t “run guest posts from industry executives.” … Because that’s not journalism.
— Jason Pontin (@jason_pontin) December 18, 2013

@jason_pontin: and yet magazines and newspapers have always done that kind of thing, no?
— Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) December 18, 2013

@mathewi They have, Mathew – but less in the Anglophone world than elsewhere, and as op-eds. It was not the strategy for content creation.
— Jason Pontin (@jason_pontin) December 18, 2013

@jason_pontin: I suppose — but the op-ed page was a strategy for content creation and marketing. It’s a difference of magnitude not quality — Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) December 18, 2013

@jason_pontin most ‘industry viewpoints’ are thinly disguised marketorial written by PR people. But pageviews at zero marginal cost.
— Brian Morrissey (@bmorrissey) December 18, 2013

@bmorrissey Yeah. That’s why they do it.
— Jason Pontin (@jason_pontin) December 18, 2013

@jason_pontin in the end, bad business strategy. As my mom would say, ‘why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?’
— Brian Morrissey (@bmorrissey) December 18, 2013

@bmorrissey Yes, well, I agree. As I once remarked to @alexismadrigal about Forbes, in the long run, quality is the only thing that “scales”
— Jason Pontin (@jason_pontin) December 18, 2013