By Christopher B. Daly
In his latest weekly column, David Carr identifies a growing trend: the paid creation of “content” (formerly known as stories, pieces, etc.) for clients who want to “tell a story” that also happens to advance their commercial interests. He highlights a leader in this new mutation, a website called Contently, which functions as a kind of dating service for journalists and companies. If you visit
the homepage, which features a full-screen background image of Edgar Allan Poe in aviator sunglasses, you are invited to proceed through one of two portals: “Journalist” or “Company.” In the “manifesto,” the founders explain their win-win proposition:
Those who tell and promote the best stories—in the best ways—will increase in reputation and trust, fans and influence. Journalists will build their personal brands. Businesses will make a difference. Media companies will thrive.
In writing about this phenomenon, Carr shrewdly sidesteps a category problem: what is this kind of material, exactly?
It’s not journalism, that’s for sure. It’s not journalism because it is not produced by independent people who are working for the good of their audience. They are hired guns working for the good of whoever is paying them.
It’s not P.R., exactly, either, because it appears in disguise — sporting a trenchcoat and a fedora borrowed (or stolen, if you will) from journalism. The reason to look and feel like journalism, of course, is to try to cadge some of journalism’s credibility, to bolster the sales pitch buried in these messages. I suppose it is the inevitable result of an over-supply of writers and the ceaseless demand for material that can fool people into buying stuff.
I am inclined to say “Judge not” when anybody can find a way to get a paycheck into a writer’s hands, but I have to say that I don’t have a good feeling about how this story ends.