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Beware the Rise of Crowdsourced Content Posing as Journalism


By Philip A. Nardone, Jr.

The New York Times recently announced its “Full Content Studio,” a stable for storytellers that will sit completely separate from its editorial team. Its job will be to ensure rapid growth of quality content for the website library, all as part of a larger push to resuscitate Times’ digital advertising revenue. If this sounds familiar, you may recall Forbes‘ hiring of 1,200 bloggers and the launch of the BrandVoice platform. The same person, Meredith Kopit Levien, is behind both.

At a time when transparency and “too much content” are under the microscope, where does the increased call for less editorial and more crowd-sourced content leave the PR professional? It used to be we pitched an editor who made the call on whether or not to write a story. We’d provide him with the information, coordinate interviews, and answer questions, and a reporter would write a balanced story however he or she saw fit. So where does the push by those very same media companies for more outside content leave us or editorial departments?

This new focus on quickly amassing high-volume content libraries only makes the job of the PR professional or marketer more difficult. The topic continues to be brought up at industry gatherings I attend, whether it’s the Council of Public Relations Firms, the Public Relations Society of America, or a Newhouse School of Public Communications advisory board. Agency leaders have expressed concern, as they are presented with a grim situation: contribute content to such crowdsourced forums, or fight for the dwindling editorial opportunities. Sites such as The New York Times want their readers to know (full transparency) when content and stories on its site are coming from a marketer (or PR person). If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.

Here are my biggest concerns: 

1. Timeliness. Are traditional journalists in a position to succeed and provide consumers with fresh, compelling content that addresses a need?

2. Relevancy. How can PR pros compete with native advertising, and contributed and syndicated content? How do we make sure that the story stays on message and hits the points our customers want to see?

3. This goes to show that PR pros need to do more than media relations. Influencer engagement, social/creative/digital, and campaign development are very important parts of today’s business.

As someone who firmly believes in transparency and ethics, I’d rather leave it up to the journalist to write the story. That’s the person readers trust most to write an unbiased article. But the shrinking of newsrooms and opportunity for submitted content makes it more difficult. We therefore must challenge ourselves as content creators and opinion influencers to ensure best practices of fact-based, transparent authorship. We must keep going back to our editors and journalists with opportunities so that their readers get the best informative and balanced content there is.

What do you think of the rise in crowd-sourced content platforms? Do you like where this trend is going? Leave a comment below or tweet me @PAN_ACK.

Philip Nardone is president and founder of PAN Communications.


This article originally appeared in PRWeek.

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