Valuing quality journalism in corporate publishing

Two events in the past week have had me thinking about journalism and the new world of social, digital and mobile. The traditional homes of journalism are being eroded while new opportunities in corporate publishing and the collaborative economy are yet to establish sustainable funding models for quality journalism.

One event was News Limited announcing its mX commuter newspapers in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane will close.  While you can argue the merits of the mX newspapers, their closure sadly means another voice in the media has gone silent and yet another traditional employer of journalists is gone.

" If part of the future of journalism is corporate, companies need to play their role in supporting the profession in a sustainable way."
Paul Edwards, Group General Manager Corporate Communications, ANZ


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Yet while social, digital and mobile are challenging traditional media distribution and business models, we now have more publishers than ever before using blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram to create and share content. And companies are also getting in on the act with digital publications like ANZ’s BlueNotes or GE’s GE Reports.

Although there are strong views about the merits or otherwise of corporate journalism - indeed it was the subject of a passionate BlueNotes debate recently - there’s no question non-traditional media companies are an increasingly important source of employment for journalists. And if you think about the investments companies are now making in content creation, it’s clear they will be a major source of employment for journalists within a few years.

The other event was on Twitter when a well-known Australian journalist, Tracey Spicer, used 140 characters to express outrage that she’d been offered 14 cents a word by The Guardian to write for a new publication being developed by one of my company’s divisions. I was surprised and I promised I’d look into it. 

Turns out it was a mistake by The Guardian. It was supposed to be 60 cents a word which apparently is the “industry average”. It still struck me as quite low and it got me thinking about remuneration for freelance journalists as more corporates shift to content led digital and social communications and marketing strategies.

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), the union and industry advocate for Australia’s journalists, has guidelines for freelance contributions. The rates I found on their web site are dated 2011-12 and they set out a recommended rate of around 93 cents a word. 

As a rule, for ANZ’s BlueNotes, which is positioned as a thought leadership publication and for which I am the publisher, we pay $1.20 a word for traditional, long form journalism. Such journalism is not all we need though – we also want infographics, chart essays, lists, photography and video, which all needs to be appropriately remunerated.

The important thing here is that as companies seek to establish more digital publications with great content that engages audiences and drives great conversations, we have to think carefully about what genuine collaboration looks like.

This is not just about paying people reasonably; it’s in our self-interest. Although we are playing a very different role to traditional media, we also need skilled, trained journalists, photographers, illustrators and video producers who want to collaborate with us and produce quality content. 

I have worked with journalists for more than 30 years and I have several great journalists working on my team including the Managing Editor of BlueNotes Andrew Cornell and the head of social and digital media Amanda Gome. And if part of the future of journalism is corporate, companies need to play their role in supporting the profession in a sustainable way.

And again, there is a commercial imperative for this: if we are going to engage an audience, our content needs to be compelling. If it is going to be compelling, there needs to be a population of quality content creators like journalists and photographers and designers. And they need to make a living.

At ANZ, across our business divisions, we have existing, strong relationships with content producers and overwhelmingly our interest is in having mutually beneficial arrangements – which in reality usually means journalists tell us their rates. But the issue with Tracey is a reminder for all corporates involved in content creation that we need to be paying journalists appropriately for their craft whether we are working with them directly or through third parties like The Guardian.  

Companies need to build new partnerships to work successfully in the collaboration economy. While new technology platforms facilitate collaboration, at its heart the collaborative economy relies on trust and the individual reputations of all parties – whether that’s guests and property owners in AirBnB or journalists and companies in corporate publishing.

By creating sustainable ways of working with content creators we are going to support a pool of talented journalists and creative specialists for corporate publishers to draw from. This issue becomes increasingly important as traditional roles for journalists, such as newspapers like mX, close or shrink and the future of the profession tilts toward new corporate users of content.

The shifts being created by social, digital and mobile are challenging for all of us working in the collaboration economy - for companies, agencies, publishers and journalists. If we are serious as corporates about publishing compelling journalism, we must recognise that requires talented journalists with the resources to produce it. We do see increasingly good journalism from corporates – and remember Kurt Vonnegut wrote for GE Reports – but if we step back, such quality is independent of the nature of the publisher but far from independent of the quality of the journalist or photographer or graphic artist or film maker.

While I accept this kind of pragmatic discussion on the future of journalism may antagonise media purists, many journalists previously employed by traditional media organisations want to continue their careers and working with companies in a freelance capacity is a natural (and necessary) step for many. 

Given these shifts, we do need to have a more transparent and realistic conversation about how journalists and corporate publishers are going to work together and how journalists are going to be appropriately rewarded for their craft.

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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