journalism inc.?

In Uncategorized on November 10, 2010 at 7:58 am

Dan Mitchell, a friend and my editor at 944 magazine, guest lectured in my JMC 313 (intro to editing) class yesterday, and the thing he said that perhaps most caught my attention was about the future of funding journalism.

Specifically, he mentioned Incword, a London-based co-op of dozens of journalists who think of remarkably creative ways to earn money while writing fantastic stories, such as how Jeremy Hart participated in the Ford Fiesta World tour, which was featured in 944 and a number of internationally recognized media outlets, such as Wired. The gist of the proposal was this: A few Incword journalists contacted Ford and said, “If you donate a few of your new Fiestas on each continent, we’ll drive them literally all over the world, and they’ll be featured in the background of photos and casually mentioned in stories that actually have nothing to do with Ford.” It’s not exactly like Snapple’s being pimped on “30 Rock,” but it’s close. Ford agreed.

From a return-on-investment standpoint, Ford couldn’t lose, considering the cost of full-page print ads (often as much as $200,000 per page, per month in a national magazine) compared with financing the Tour, during which the journalists would take breaks from driving to file reports for media outlets that paid them for their copy and photos and video. (Additionally, much of that media will remain online for a very long time, while, say, a print ad for the Fiesta probably ends up in your recycling bin after a few days.)

“If you really don’t care who signs the check, and it doesn’t actually affect telling a great story, well, some people are OK with that,” Mitchell told my students, later adding, “Pretend you’re an editor, and your publisher comes to you and says, ‘Hey, we just got this huge Ford account, including a big ad that cost $250,000, so let’s consider giving them some editorial space.’ Maybe you tell the publisher you’re not OK with that. That, ethically, it bothers you. That’s perfectly fine. But what if your publisher then says, ‘OK, well, if we don’t do this, you have to go lay off three people.’ It’s a real-life situation.'”

And more and more media outlets and corporations, in an effort to save money and reach more potential customers, are going to start teaming up and cutting out advertising firms and p.r. agencies, Mitchell added. Young magazine writers and editors will adapt or perish.

This all begs the questions: At what point is it OK? Or, perhaps a better question, at what point are you, as a journalist, OK with it?

  1. For me it depends how much focus will be on the Fiesta in these stories. What exactly does a casual mention to it in an unrelated story look like? There’s a fine line between using Ford to fund journalism and being used to sell Fiestas.

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