Sponsored content: is orange the new journalism?

July 8, 2014

Image source: Netflix

Everyone and her mother is obsessed with “Orange Is the New Black” right now, and apparently The New York Times is no different. Earlier this month, the paper’s internal ad department put out a post sponsored by the Netflix hit titled, “Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work.”
This post is not your average marketing tactic. Mentions within the piece to OITNB are infrequent and subtle. The article is extensive, well researched and well written (by a bylined author), not to mention gorgeously laid-out. It even features infographics, pull quotes and videos. It’s a well-done piece of multi-media journalism – or is it?
That question sparked a debate at Metis, and a major PR-intern-versus-journalism-major argument in my own head. The PR intern side would say that I learned something about the issue in an unbiased way, which is the ultimate goal of journalism, brand-sponsored or otherwise. The journalism major, on the other hand, pictures every professor I’ve ever had scoffing at the idea of anything remotely sponsored being called journalism. I’ve been taught not to let an interview source buy me a coffee; what if they offered to pay for my whole article?
My schizophrenia aside, I don’t think there’s a clear answer to that question – but that’s okay. Like it or not, media is shifting away from the traditional model in favor of one where sponsored and contributed content is more abundant. With that being the case, I think the most we can hope for is that that articles, sponsored or not, are produced with the right goals in mind: to educate and entertain, not only to sell and promote.
In the end, I don’t think I, or most people, will ever trust something paid for by Netflix as much as something produced by a news organization with minimal bias, but that doesn’t mean there’s no value in it. Perhaps we shouldn’t be asking whether something is journalism or not, but simply whether it benefitted us in some way by having read it. In the case of this article, I think it did – it just happened to benefit Netflix, too.
Do you think brand journalism has value for the reader?

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