He said he is a ‘powerful tool’, in the media and yes, he is a tool.
‘I have an article on drink driving that I reckon would fit great on the pages of The Echo,’ was the email opener, and that seemed innocuous enough.
It was a ‘cold call’ email from an Australian public relations company spokesperson, and he offered at first glance what looked like a news item. And when I checked his website, the penny dropped. I had wasted my time: the opening paragraph said they spread ‘a brand’s message through creative and colourful content strategy’.
Indeed one of the ‘articles’ posted gushed in support of the fossil fuel industry. So I asked, ‘Are you shilling a product in the guise of it being “content”? Just a thought – no accusations here, just curiosity.’
While it seemed slightly antagonistic to keep questioning his integrity (he eventually had enough of me), it is reasonable to be fiercely protective of information. After all, we live in an age where there are more employed in the public relations sector than journalism. It’s a recent tipping point, and one that many people would know. But not everyone.
Which leads us to the US news and entertainment website, BuzzFeed.
The Guardian last week reported that it is swimming in cash, raised primarily from presenting advertorial, or advertising that looks like news editorial. It strikes at the heart of ‘old’ news media because the two have always been separated. And for good reason: journalism that operates without fear or favour is the most valuable.
Anyway, the point is that there is a push, through newly discovered social media principles, to encourage us to interact with products so we might end up buying them. It’s a clear departure from traditional news gathering and makes the credibility of news unclear.
On the bright side, a new journalism venture worth a reported $250 million has been launched between eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald is one of the few voices that question the powerful and elite, so let’s hope he has the courage to ask whether eBay should be taxed more in light of the effect eBay has on traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers.
Hans Lovejoy, editor