Paid Journalism, What’s the Big Deal?

I attended a conference recently which talked about the ‘reality’ in media or perhaps the lack of it. It was pretty interesting to see people from all kinds of media come up and talk about there area of expertise. There was a session on print media, TV, movies and online.

The most interesting session however was  on Paid Journalism which had an interesting panel which consisted of

  • Ms. Geeta Seshu, Journalist and Researcher who also moderated the discussion.
  • Mr. Milind Kokje, Asia Media Forum
  • Ms. Gehna Mehra, Journalist and PR Professional
  • Ms. Meena Menon, Deputy Editor, The Hindu
  • Mr. Arun Ohri, Director, Adfactors

One of the reasons why I really connected with this discussion was because of the sheer importance it has in today’s world. All the panelists other than Mr. Ohri, are experienced journalists from the print media and have seen the gradual shift from passionate journalism to paid journalism.

Some of the issues highlighted on this were:

  • Times Private Treaties
  • Misuse during elections
  • Censorship of Media
  • Using the editorial for advertisements
  • How eventually the management has taken over the editorial team.

Being a marketer, I tend to disagree on the last two points primarily because; it’s not good to always hold on to what was good in the past. It’s similar to the arguments we have with the Test Cricket romantics with the T20 fans. Every business needs to grow, and so do newspapers. The very same newspaper which is getting into advertisements on editorials is also paying the journalists right?

How many newspapers in the eighties had a sales or a marketing team? They need it now, because very simply put we cannot hold back aspirations of growth. Not for the sake of romanticizing the past.

The private treaties by Times Group was the other big discussion and the panel overall concluded that they are a bane and should be stopped. It’s also leading to censorship of news to prevent any highlight to their own investments.

Before I put my thoughts on those, here is what it’s about (You can read more on their website)

“Times Private Treaties invests with potential, emerging or established brands with the objective of building brand value by advertising in BCCL’s media properties”.

So why big deal?

  • Potentially damaging news about these companies will never surface on BCCL’s media to safe guard interests
  • Others could soon get into it, and very soon we will be reading only censored news.
  • It’s unethical as per a lot of journalists including the panel, which I would however like to debate.

I am not against it much but the reason why I think it makes sense is because

  • It gives a chance for other smaller companies to grow and compete with bigger names. Getting more companies into the market also opens up jobs.
  • It’s a brilliant business plan from BCCL’s point of view. Should be made a case study.
  • Eventually the right news is going to reach people, so why worry so much. Times is not the only media house we have in India
  • People give very little credit to the average consumer who has a mind of his, and can think for himself.

The last point about the discussion was something I raised and we were not able to discuss it in detail. What I pointed out was very simply related to trust. Today, the average consumer 14% people trust advertisements, around 50% trust newspapers and over 80% trust their peers.

So what does this have anything to do with the discussion? Oh yes, it does!

If I could start a paid word of mouth campaign would that not create more carnage? Imagine, creating a network of just people across the world or India. Pay them on a ‘project’ basis. Just for starting conversations and generating word of mouth! PAID WORD OF MOUTH!

And that’s true not just in the offline space, look online. What is social media all about? Word of Mouth. If I could start paying people to say good things about you, wouldn’t that be something?

The thing about media is, no matter how good something is, people are going to find ways to work around it. We have to move with the generations to keep up. People like reading only tabloids so be it. News won’t stop, especially when we have online community which is much more aware. Sooner or later, the community will stand up.

Times Treaties has all the good intentions and they are pretty transparent about it. But there are vested interests. Who doesn’t?

If Paid Journalism is in right now, but Paid word of mouth will become bigger than paid journalism in a 5 years’ time. 5 Years! I will put my life on this. It will happen.

3 Responses to “Paid Journalism, What’s the Big Deal?”

  1. RidhimaNo Gravatar says:

    I really appreciate that article. I have been reading on this since long about paid media , earned media and WOM… D debate is surely interesting… M damn sure this will take up the lead in the time to come… aren’t people paying each other to comment on their blogs.. So many of my known pals are practicing it. So why not a WOM….
    Procter & Gamble reportedly has 250,000 teenagers on its WOM payroll.
    The only thing is we must protect is the integrity of word of mouth marketing lest it develops like email marketing did with the onslaught of spam.
    Ever thought wht after Paid WOM??

  2. Rocky AlisonNo Gravatar says:

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