BlueNotes Debate: Brand journalism – what's the problem?

BlueNotes Debates brings together important voices across the business, economic and social spectrum to thrash out crucial issues of the day. To celebrate BlueNotes' first birthday, we asked a collection of Australia's most-respected journalists if corporate reporting can ever win one of journalism's highest awards.

Good stories can come from anywhere and quality journalism can be found in any quality source as long as all interests are declared, the latest BlueNotes Debate has found.

"Corporate journalism will never replace traditional media, but it is now a part of it."
Catherine Fox, Journalist, author and public speaker

BlueNotes Debate: Brand journalism – what's the problem?

A crowd of about 120 at ANZ's headquarters in Melbourne were treated to a passionate and informed argument from high-profile and decorated journalists boasting multiple Walkley wins on both sides.

The formal question was “Can corporate journalism ever hope to win a Walkley Award for Excellence in Journalism?”

Both sides tackled their arguments with great fervour, with the negative defending traditional media's independence and values while the positive cast light on the realities of the modern news machine.

Arguing for the statement, ABC journalist and multiple-Walkley winner Virginia Trioli said not only could corporate journalism indeed win such an award, but it eventually would.

“How on earth could it not with the extraordinary exodus from traditional media of some of the best and brightest of our generation of journalists?” she said.

When some mainstream media is indistinguishable from corporate journalism in its intent, why should awards differentiate, she asked.


Opinions on the debate question were split across Twitter.

Patrick O'Beirne ‏(@patrickobeirne)
Sponsorship is only way @ANZ_BlueNotes will get its hands on a @walkleys says @MayneReport #corporatejournalism

Stella ‏(@stellaswalsh)
Transparency, full disclosure & being as independent as possible can be great journalism worthy of a @walkleys @ANZ_BlueNotes #bndebates

Glen Frost (‏@GlenFrost)
@ANZ_BlueNotes it's PR not 'Corporate Journalism' - @mediaalliance @strom_m pls tell them

“What you're reading [in some cases] is corporate journalism, and corporate journalism of the worst kind – undeclared and laden with agendas,” she said. “It's wolf reporting in sheep clothing.”

On behalf of the positive, journalist, councillor and founder of Crikey Stephen Mayne turned the credibility argument back on the corporates.

Quoting famed QC Julian Burnside's line “whose bread I eat his song I sing”, Mayne said brand journalists would never dare criticise their masters unless contemplating career suicide.

“The credibility of corporates getting into journalism frankly is a bit of a joke,” he said.

In support, News Corp journalist and multiple-Walkley winner Rowan Callick said the ability of corporate journalism to produce excellence was hampered by its role as a mouthpiece.

“It's inherently contradictory,” he said. “Either the role is fundamentally corporate, or it's journalistic. Either you are promoting a corporation (however subtly or brilliantly), or you are writing without fear or favour.”

Speaking for the positive, Catherine Fox said as a journalist she would happily write for any organisation that was transparent and aligned with her values.

"Corporate journalism will never replace traditional media, but it is now a part of it,” she said.

The final word went to Trioli, who argued full disclosure to the audience removed any ambiguity around the morality of a message.

“If someone reading BlueNotes is fully informed about where it comes from, who funds it, who owns it and who its paymaster is, rather than it being hidden… then what's the problem?” she said.

The vote, perhaps influenced by the partisan crowd, in the end went in favour of the positive. But all in attendance were left with new insight into exactly who good stories belong to – everyone.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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