Is the future of serious journalism in the hands of corporate media?

Is the future of serious journalism in the hands of corporate media?

Summary: Corporations are beginning to produce serious journalism. Is this the funding model for the future of high quality journalism?

TOPICS: Great debate

As the business models for serious journalism continue to erode where will we get the quality media we need as a society to make important decisions about our future?

I've been warning people: "Special interest groups will gladly pay for the media they want you to read, but you won't pay for the media you need to read."

Software engineers have a saying: GIGO, garbage in, garbage out.

If you start with garbage data you will get a garbage result. That's the future we are heading towards, a future where our media is corrupted with information that serves the goals of special interest groups.

Take a look at Australia where multi-billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart has been trying to acquire Fairfax Media, publisher of top newspapers, in a bid to counter anti-mining forces. We'll see more of that as newspapers and other traditional media continue to weaken.

Without our gatekeepers, able to spot corporate spin and BS, how will we make the right decisions about things such as the economy, environment, education, energy, ecology, elder healthcare...

And that's just the issues that begin with the letter 'e.'

Could corporate media be the answer to the funding problem for serious journalism?

My fellow panelists at the recent Holmes Report Global PR Summit were John Earnhardt, head of corporate communications at Cisco (Cisco is my original inspiration for 'every company is a media company'), Jesse Noyes from Eloqua, and Simon Sproule, head of global marketing at Nissan Motor Co., with Morgan McLintic from Lewis PR as the moderator.

Morgan had chosen the panelists well because Cisco and Nissan provided two contrasting models of corporate media producing great journalism.

Cisco has a large team of journalists producing articles about the tech industry for its online magazine "the network." John Earnhardt said that the reporters have just two rules to follow: "Don't write about competitors, and don't write anything that could harm Cisco."

At Nissan Motors, the company has built a full scale TV studio and produces a news program with veteran journalists from the BBC and elsewhere.

It produces news stories that sometimes feature its competitors, and it doesn't shy away from controversial subjects such as Chinese protestors smashing up Nissan cars and other Japanese cars, in response to the dispute over the nationality of remote islands in the South China Sea.

It's an extremely bold move for corporate media to engage in highly charged, highly controversial subjects. And because of that, Nissan represents the leading edge in the rise of corporate media.

Its news programs are designed to be indistinguishable in content and quality from that of traditional news organizations.

Mr Sproule admits it is hard work," We are building the plane as we are flying it."

I asked Mr Sproule, why does Nissan want to get into the business of serious news journalism? Why not sponsor an existing news show?

His answer was surprising. "I don't have the confidence that traditional news organizations will be able to survive the transition to the new business models. Why should I invest large amounts of money over the next few years in a failing enterprise?"

Taking Nissan marketing money away from traditional media will surely hasten that decline but I can understand his position.

Despite the steep learning curve, Nissan is pleased with the audience it is attracting and it plans to expand into sports coverage next year.

Ultimately, both Nissan and Cisco will be judged on how many cars or network equipment they sell. And here, there is a very important distinction to be made compared with traditional media.

Earlier this year when I asked John Earnhardt how's the traffic to Cisco's "the network" online magazine? He said it was good, but that he would be happy if it made a difference to just one person.

I was incredulous, one person? Yes, he said, if that person controls a $100 million budget and chooses Cisco then that will more than pay for the costs of its corporate media venture.

(Nissan says it measures its news program success in audiences of millions but it acknowledges it ultimately is judged by how many cars it sells.)

This made me realize that the business model for corporate media has a massive advantage over traditional media where success has to be measured in an audience reach of tens of millions.

Media is a loss leader, you need something else to sell. If all you have is media to sell, then you will have losses.

That's why traditional media has large losses, it has nothing else to sell.

We are moving into a world where corporate media is on the rise because of the decline in traditional media businesses.

Corporate media is dabbling in the production of serious journalism with an important advantage: it just needs to reach enough people that will buy its products, and that will more than cover its operating costs.

- How can traditional media businesses compete? How will they finance their operations from digital business models that require massive audiences to be viable?

- Can corporate media can generate serious journalism? Yes, we've seen it can. Corporations have valuable brands to protect, they will be highly motivated to produce high quality media.

- Could corporate media win a Pulitzer prize? Why not? I can easily imagine a world where corporations compete with each other to produce great investigative journalism.

Clearly, it would be preferable if we our serious journalism originated from an independent third party but that's not looking like an option. Traditional media organizations continue to struggle to transition to the digital economy.

Cisco, Nissan, and a few others, like Intel, could very well be the early prototypes for the future of high quality journalism, and provide an extremely valuable service to society.

Topic: Great debate

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  • Serious journalism died decades ago.

    These days all media is owned and edited with severe bias. There are no true unbiased sources for news or information these days. The fact is, the public is spoon fed information which is specifically designed to help the causes of the rich owners of the media outlets. Most of the sheeple on this planet base their beliefs entirely on this controlled diet of pseudo facts presented by the elite. Finding the truth these days takes a lot of digging through propaganda from numerous different sources to find the tiny thread woven through all of it.
    • Agreed

      I know people that run the political gamut, and many increasingly feel disenfranchised by the media. Those that don't often find one pet issue and then blame one party or another for everything they personally disagree with...
    • It was always so

      Money and power has always controlled media.

      Most if the whinning today is because the control is shifting.

      Australia's Fairfax would be one of the most biased media source and bleeding readership as a result. Yet look at how Rinehart's investment is presented. Thankfully the AFR was pulled back from its Decent into Leftist groupthink.

      Thank goodness for the internet and the alternatives offered by the lowering of barriers of entry. Truth was never easy; neither was finding someone you could trust.
      Richard Flude
  • Serious, Journalism?

    Whenever there is the appearance of a conflict of interest, the end-product is going to be forever suspect, no matter what sort of internal firewalls are in place to discourage bias from other corporate entities.

    On the other hand, fewer and fewer people are willing to spend their own money on non-biased, objective, QUALITY journalism. Many are just as happy with lesser quality "journalists" , and many more still haven't the time for anything but the headlines and good journalism is simply lost on them.

    Corporations are snapping up people that we'd prefer to be gainfully employed elsewhere, but since these jobs no longer exist, their marketing departments are all the stronger for it.
  • Oxymoron

    Serious Journalism doesn't exist objectivity doesn't exist only indoctrination into leftist group think starts in school and is maintained via Big Media throughout ones lifetime. A high degree of critical thinkning is required to sift through the cruft and frankly most people are not equipped to do that.
    • Ironic, your bias...

      Only lefties lie and spin? Do you think we will blindly believe you?
    • No, just "moron"

      You mean critical thinking like that from the fundamentalist Christian right? Like creationism etc.?

      Is that where you learned YOUR "critical thinking skills"?
    • REALLY?

      I suspect that grammar might also figure in there somewhere :)

      I don't know where you got the indoctrination thing from perhaps you'd qualify that statement with some examples?
      • Reading and comprehension

        Wow paranoid much? not sure how a state fact can be misinterpreted to be some type of statement on religious values or that somehow I am referring to spin. My statement was about a specific issue with our society; that being the lopsidedness to one type of ideology over the other in our society. As far as providing examples, frankly I am kind of astounded! it’s like asking me to provide examples of the sun coming up(where would I start?) The preponderance of left wing media bias is common knowledge!
  • The US is perhaps the worst of all countries for this

    As a frequent visitor to the US and a journalist by trade, I am often appalled at the shonky standard of US mainstream media. TV networks and print media in particular seem to have biases that reflect the interests of their owners.

    Unfortunately as online advertising continues to devalue advertising revenues and blogs continue to devalue journalism the trend is set to continue.

    A growing number of journalists are fleeing the trade as it continues to implode in slow motion. it is sad but to a degree is inevitable
  • serious journalism has been dead for years in the U.S.

    Tom I'm not sure where you have been hiding for the last decade but serious journalism was dying a slow death for years in the U.S., and it drove over a cliff after 9/11
  • The "corporate media" described by the article, is not "journalism".

    It's more like a marketing and sales tool, not much else.

    Journalism is about reporting the news and information to the masses, and not about catering to a very specific kind of clientele.

    But, journalism, in today's world, is also not about "reporting". Today, it's more about advancing selected agendas, and thus, we have ended up with journalism that advocates for political parties, and for agendas, with very little regard for the facts and balance in coverage.

    True journalism is very hard to find, and corporate journalism is not it either.
  • Corporate media has to be credible to work

    A very good blog post on an interesting topic and trend.

    Personally, I struggle to see what the problem is with corporate media. Whereas traditional media has been struggling to be true for ages (if not always), corporate media has the opposite starting point.

    Corporate media is untrue right from the outset and will therefore need to be self-critical in order to be seen as anything but a new form of marketing.

    Luckily, marketing doesn't work in the age of social media. Credibility is needed in order to engage people, whether it's the masses or very specific audiences.

    In Maersk Line, where I work, we've had good success with publishing negative stories via our social media channels. It makes us trustworthy and it makes people listen.

    And so, last week the news came out in the shipping industry that we in Maersk Line now have the most influential online presence, even surpassing the media outlets (the trade press, e.g. Lloyd's List, Journal of Commerce etc.).

    That's quite interesting if you think about it. But we can only maintain that position if we don't shy away from also telling the negative stories.