Feeling homesick for the prairie town you grew up in? Write a thought piece on it. Went back to blonde? Tweet it. Indulging in the wonders of a Starbucks frappucino? Instagram it.
It’s true that the social media age has made content wellsprings of us all: Instagram celebrities and YouTube phenomenons owe their fame entirely to the digital-humanist revolution. So what part should respected journalists take in personal content creation? These are professionals whose sole passion and responsibility used to be “the scoop”; they were taught to strive for facts and objectivity. Today, we can easily hear all about Anderson Cooper’s aching tooth or help him find a late night watering hole in Oklahoma City through his Twitter.
But it’s Woodward, Bernstein, and the Watergate scandal of the 1970s that helped to launch the era of journalist as celebrity. Hunter S.Thompson’s gonzo journalism denied objectivity entirely, placing the author’s individuality at the centre of the story. The personality of the piece became just as important as the coverage it was providing, and so did the personality of the writer.
So it’s not surprising that in an exclusive interview with Atomic Reach, Jeffrey Dvorkin (director of the journalism program at the University of Toronto and ex-news manager of both the CBC and NPR) was unfazed by journalism traditionalists who bemoan the “new era” of journalism. “This is not a new phenomenon. There is, in fact, an "I" in journalism. Always has been.”
But in a bid to attract and sustain the attention of readers who’ve got lots of options for content on the web, a growing number of journalists can now be likened to pop stars when it comes to personal content creation and sharing. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive in the journalism industry and writers are also unyielding self-marketers.
Content marketing, at its most basic form, involves the sharing of media content with consumers. Social media has altered the way in which content is created and shared. So what happens when the media shares media?
Hip hop journalist Elliott Wilson is a master of content marketing. He used to edit the celebrated hip hop publication XXL Magazine before he successfully transitioned to the world wide web with RapRadar.com, now nominated several years in a row for Best Hip Hop Blog at the BET Awards. Wilson’s blog boasts some of the most sought after interviews in hip hop and often breaks hard-to-get stories first.
But what makes RapRadar so successful is the Elliott Wilson brand. He’s got over 23,000 followers on Instagram and 140, 000 on Twitter. He propagates nearly every aspect of his life through numerous social media channels (his curation of the “most important tweets in hip hop” via his personal Twitter account and his prolific Instagram photos have earned him the title of “oversharer” in more than a few circles). He also hosts the semi weekly video show The Truth With Elliott Wilson on Jay-Z’s Life+Times YouTube channel. The channel features exclusive video content, music video premieres, and other highly shareable things Jay-Z wants you to see.
Elliott Wilson’s savvy content marketing strategy means more readers, watchers, followers, and fans meandering back to RapRadar. His publication’s superiority is hammered into your head every time your favourite rapper mentions Elliott Wilson’s name and every time a behind-the-scenes Instagram photo leads you back to a RapRadar interview. Plus, for a long time the guy was one of only seven people Jay-Z followed on Twitter. That’s called brand appeal.
But it’s not just new generation journalists that are milking the content marketing boom. Chief correspondent for CBC News and The National anchor Peter Mansbridge, a household name in Canada, has developed a content marketing strategy of his own. When Mansbridge began hosting The National in 1988, cardinals tweeted and only kindergartners were regularly encouraged to share. In the digital age of journalism, when audiences for nightly broadcasts are in rapid decline, Mansbridge and his team have had to adapt. By simple virtue of their early evening air times, nightly newscasts are usually woefully behind in their coverage of the day’s news and infusing the news with personality is one of the only ways to ensure an audience.
CBC has done just that with the launch of Inside the News with Peter Mansbridge. It’s an online forum for Mansbridge to aggregate his columns for other publications, his favourite content from around the web, behind the scenes footage and pictures, and his answers to personal questions from his fans across the nation. A recent story called “Peter Mansbridge: Rock Star” has the veteran anchor musing on alternative career paths he considered once upon a time.
A bio for Inside the News penned by Mansbridge himself reads, “I'm not a rock star. I'm not a movie star. I'm not even a TV star. At least I don't want to be. The notion of being a "star" or even worse a "celebrity" makes me cringe.” But exalting Mansbridge to the level of celebrity through content sharing, even if he doesn't particularly like it, might be essential in prompting people to start watching nightly broadcasts once again.
As a regular blogger on media ethics at Now the Details, Dvorkin is well aware of the need for journalists to split their efforts between perfecting their craft and marketing themselves. Journalism isn't just a mediator of information and a purveyor of justice; it’s a business. In the social media age as much as any other, journalists have to be comfortable with that. In our interview, Dvorkin noted that “the challenge is how to make journalists more aware of the business side of the media, without being limited by it. Managers need to fight for more capacity for their journalists but still please shareholders.” He invoked Bill Kovach (former Washington bureau chief of the New York Times) and Tom Rosenstiel (of the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek), and their words echo the concerns of hip hop bloggers and Canadian broadcasting companies alike: the challenge in journalism is how to make the interesting, important and the important, interesting.
The challenge of digital journalism is the same, it’s just that the tools to meet it have changed.