Jessica Bennett went from being a reporter at Newsweek (among other outlets) to becoming the executive editor of the now-defunct Storyboard, “an independent journalistic platform hosted at Tumblr.” She talks to Ann Friedman about working at a “brand-affiliated publication”:
Consumers are getting smarter about traditional advertising and marketing, she adds, and some companies are taking the unorthodox approach of directly employing journalists—whose ideas and copy they don’t directly control—to cover their brand or community … For reporters and editors tired of layoffs and buyouts, these jobs offer a middle ground between journalism and copywriting, a way to take home a decent paycheck without feeling like you’ve sold out completely.
Whose copy they don’t control? Buzzfeed would never tolerate that. Despite the fact that many of the Storyboard pieces were published in other traditional journalistic outlets, she struggled with how her work was being perceived by others:
“There is a lot of crap journalism out there, so sometimes it bothers me when people get all high and mighty about branded content. I really think it’s the story, not where it comes from.” But it’s increasingly difficult to figure out where a story comes from. As sponsored journalistic content and branded advertorial and brand-affiliated independent publications proliferate, the lines are getting blurrier and blurrier. It might be helpful for media consumers to demand more up-front information on how a story was produced—who paid for it? And who signed off on its publication? The Storyboard editors never published a statement explaining their editorial independence or decision-making process, though Bennett says, “we probably should have.”