There was a time when, on their first day at journalism college, wannabe hacks were told two things by any lecturer worth their salt. First, they were advised to read Stick It Up Your Punter! immediately and, second, warned that they would need a neck like a jockey’s bollocks to survive in the business.
This was 1996 and Stick It Up Your Punter! had been causing a stir for a few years. The book charts the rise of Rupert Murdoch’s business empire, the anarchy of the Sun newsroom and the genius/disgrace of journalistic practices under editor Kelvin MacKenzie.
Now, despite spending 15 years working for newspapers in Ireland, I can’t say I’ve experienced anything quite like the bin-rummaging, donkey-saving, hamster-headlined madness of The Sun in its heyday.
Yes, boozy, four-hour Tuesday lunches (from which we didn’t return until the following day) were common. There was that time we left a stuffed, six-foot toy panda (sent in by a film company) in charge and nobody noticed. Or the night when one Guinness-infused backbencher tried to direct a senior newsman in the direction of an open fire as they disagreed over the placement of a story.
There was that time we left a stuffed, six-foot toy panda (sent in by a film company) in charge and nobody noticed
So now that brands such as Adidas, Puma and Nike are flirting with the concept of the ‘brand newsroom’, it’s worth raising an eyebrow, Paxman style. Paddy Power has employed journalists for years (separately from the PR team, of course). There’s a newsroom with integrated social and editorial teams, which operates alongside a ‘mischief’ department and the brand marketing, design and product teams, among others. Our goal is to produce original content that engages fans and converts them to our Sportsbook. We want the pace of a great traditional newsroom combined with digital marketing brainpower and resources. We’re getting there but what do these developments mean for others?
Fight against dandruff
Could the Twitterati handle it if they discovered an online journalist working for Procter & Gamble had tapped the phone of a TV presenter in the hope of getting the lowdown on her fight against dandruff?
What if a Ralph Lauren newshound were caught taking upskirt pics of the girls from Made in Chelsea just to confirm that transparent underwear really is in this season? Obviously, in the post Leveson-era, we have moved on from the muckier tabloid tactics of the past and media organisations have adopted smarter tactics (or click bait) to drive traffic. Brands have also exploited weaknesses in traditional news models to deliver credible content to consumers.
So can ‘brand journalism’ work? Of course. For years, newspapers peddled beauty products, cars, music gigs and holidays via PR companies. Some might call that ‘native advertising’ these days, rather than disguised advertorials. Wolf in sheep’s clothing territory. At least with ‘brand journalism’ it’s clear that you’re being sold something, right? But, come on guys, employing real journos? Be careful what you wish for.