Column: When companies venture into journalism

Some brands need to create content to attract potential clients since news can be used to
engage an audience.

It has become increasingly difficult for companies to communicate their everyday activities since they are compelled to compete for limited spaces in the media and their audiences do not often attend or read traditional media; also, because some of the topics or issues that need to be addressed are so complex that even specialized journalists find it challenging to cover them.

Formerly, companies were just objects of the news, now they make news too. Corporate communication has gone from press releases and inward publications (what is called house-organs) to having to create their own content and platforms to spread them, matching up with conventional media. Nowadays, most companies have some sort of business blog that basically replaces press releases. However, these sites may often have limited editorial capacity and are insufficient for certain types of business or messages.

Corporate blogging is somehow a form of public relations; media may even reply and release their own version of the content seen on a company’s blog. Indeed, sometimes companies are forced to cover the news related to their sector, simply because it is poorly covered or not covered at all by the conventional media. Far from being
transitory, this tendency will surely continue to spread due to the deep crisis affecting the media that was commonly used by companies to communicate.

A deep editorial crisis is affecting big newspaper presses, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, or El País, causing several staff downsizing; the same is happening in most Latin American countries. This is a result of a drastic drop in advertising investment, as well as the troubling need to adapt to a digital media
ecosystem full of overabundant information.

The few journalists remaining in these traditional presses end up fixating on covering the big brands, supposedly more interesting for most readers; the result is less rich and more redundant content. For instance, the traditional coverage of technology news focuses on announcing the latest gadgets or features, other than showing the uses and effects of technology itself; true analyses of technology’s possibilities and impacts on individual, social, and corporate levels are hard to find.

Some brands need to create content or news to attract new clients because it is useful for building and engaging an audience that could eventually choose to hire their services or buy their products; others produce news as an additional service for their customers, which does not imply an expectation of direct investment returns but probably the aim of storytelling and brand awareness for disclosing the brand’s identity and creating connections that could be monetized in the future.

Historically, the publishing business was based on companies paying for advertising, and it is the same in the digital world. Therefore, the more traffic and audience you attract, the more valuable your ads will be. The easiest way to attract visitors to a site is by writing about Apple’s rumors or the new social media platform, founded by a 22-year-old and valued at millions of dollars.

Content related to the internet and new technologies is full of commonplaces, while the need for analysis and deepening prevails. The most usual excuse for not responding to this demand is that this type of content is “boring” and fails to catch very few editors’ attention.

You would expect it to be chipmakers like Intel, IBM, Qualcomm, and Nvidia (companies that don’t generate the headlines they do get from Apple, Google, or Facebook) who led the way in creating media systems. Facing the need to spread promotional content about themselves, companies end up hiring their own journalists. They end up being the companies’ last resource to fill the void left by traditional media.

In the United States, the ratio of public relations professionals to journalists was 1.2 to 1 in the 1980s; three decades later, there were four public relations professionals for every journalist in the country. Although such statistics do not exist for Latin America, the situation is probably very much alike.

The media, sometimes lacking the proper resources for editing and publishing, is overwhelmed and simply can’t keep up with events. Too much to cover and not enough journalists.

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