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Should Paid Media journalists be credited as copywriters?

31st January 2018


At the onset, I should mention that the views in this article are my own and the website may or may not agree with them. I am starting with this disclaimer because what I am about to say could ruffle feathers. And if it doesn't, then a lot of media people should delve into their conscience.

Journalism, like PR, is turning into a business
We all know that in the advertising, marketing and PR agencies, copywriters write phrases, articles and catch-lines in favour of clients who pay them. In contrast to the copywriter, the more ethical profession of journalism has always attracted a lot of respect and privileges.

However, in recent times, most top newspapers are officially selling editorial space under what has come to be known as Paid Media or Paid News. The profession of journalism is turning into a business; just like my PR business. It's simple -- the client pays and in return, good things are written about and publicized, mostly in a glorifying and exaggerated manner. The moneyed people and projects get premium coverage, while others, more than often, are treated as not important; however credible their news might be.

Be a thought leader, not a policy follower
What I am about to ask now, is a very difficult question to ask. A painful one too. But someday soon, someone or the other is gonna ask it. So I thought to myself, why not me and why not today. Now the tricky part here (or call it irony) is that I am a publicist. And publicists are supposed to be media manipulators, spin doctors, schemers. Yeah, of course I am all that and more. I do plan, plot and plug content all the time.

Just like the old-school journalists, PR guys are the ones who build perceptions, remodel and remake them. Which makes them no less than thought leaders. And from this perspective, I feel I am equally suited to ask this question: Should Paid Media journalists be termed and credited as copywriters?

Wither credibility!
When it all started a couple of years ago in the print media, it began with one paper beginning to charge for articles and editorial space. Over the years, when it met success, one by one, other print media began charging for articles. They began competing in best pricing for articles and features in bulk packages. Patronising the payers and giving second-hand treatment to the non-payers became management policy. And now a time has come when it is difficult for the reader to differentiate news from promotional pieces. More than often the advertisement departments dictate terms to the editorial departments.

Print Media losing its spine
How ethical is it for a journalist (one who is expected to be fair in reporting news) to write an objective piece when his/her publication is busy patronising the paying clients? Of course, it's not possible and many-a-times, ethics are dammed. And since quite a few media are involved in this whole process, the remaining ones stay quiet about it. I'd say, both Paid Media and their silent watchers have lost their spine. It's just a matter of time and a spark, when some top celebrity, politician or business tycoon points fingers at them, followed a national controversy about it. 

Print journalists turning into puppets?
When a journalist echoes the sentiments of the paper's advertising department, or of the owner of the publication, one does wonder if the journalist is actually a copywriter... or maybe, even a marketeer or publicist. And the list of such articles and journalists is growing.

A wake up call
If the Paid News trend goes on, the day wouldn't be far when there will emerge a lot of Donald Trumps in India, crying foul and screaming, 'Fake News, Fake News' for what he calls "dishonest and biased media." Let this article written by a PR on a PR website be a wake-up call for print journalists.

Last but not the least, do note that this piece is not written to make any scribe feel bad. Its written for the sake of insight and introspection. Take it in the right spirit. If you are a journalist and can't change the industry, maybe you could change yourself or the job. After all, self-esteem and pride has been synonymous with journalism and I am sure every aspiring journalist gets into the profession to enjoy that pride.

After spending your years in journalism, when you grow old and your grand-children ask you, 'how did you contribute in the great information and communication age?', you don't want to say, 'I pushed articles for those who paid'.

Dale Bhagwagar is a Bollywood publicist and the founder of Dale Bhagwagar Media Group www.dalebhagwagarmediagroup.com


Comments:

Wow, what an exposing article. Mr Dale Bhagwagar is what PR legends are made of. He talks about things no PR ever dared. Super entertaining fellow too. Talks as if he is narrating stories. I have him on my google alert from where I got this article. Follow this guy like a bhakt. Once he came to my college for a guest lecture. Before the lecture our coordinator said she will show a video of Mr Dale before he comes in to talk. Lights went off and someone entered the classroom and sat besides me. When the video was playing the guy told me this speaker in the video is talking bullshit. I said yes and wondered who this colleague was. When the lights came on I realised that it was the speaker sitting besides me. He cheekily smiled at me and went to the podium to begin his talk. I was so so so embarrassed. He turned out to be mind blowing in his lecture. Best part was when he was asked about PR fees. All wanted to know what a Bollywood PR charges. He told us his fees bindaas. That was something no one had told us earlier. We also never knew Bollywood PRs were so well paid. Some decided on our profession only after he spoke at my college. But throughout the talk, I was only wishing he wouldn’t mention about that yes I’d said.

By Pragati Naik on 31st January 2018 - 2:43PM

Hopefully your spark of idealism will trigger a few fires and spread more light in a grey world of media/ journalism

By Sam Mohan on 31st January 2018 - 10:01PM

Yes. Paid journalists should be called copywriters   But TOI Where the practice of paid news began, has done the reverse . In the good old days the bylines of the journalists would be followed by Times News Network   And that of the writer reporting for the response department would have No Such tagline. This would at least differentiate between a journo and a response department writer. But now that distinction has been removed: so now response writers bylines that say ABC@timesgroup.com the same as that of a journalist.

By Kingshuk Nag on 31st January 2018 - 10:10PM

Dale has been the most famous Entertainment PR man from almost two decades in Bollywood. Plus, his website says, he was a journalist for more than a decade before he turned PR (something I wasn’t aware about earlier. I know Dale personally but he never mentioned that). I guess that also makes him the longest surviving journalist-publicist in Bollywood. No wonder he writes with so much depth about journalism and the malice of paid news. Top class analysis for the best in the business. You got an ace, PR Moment. This article is indeed a revelation for all those you do not have the privilege of knowing how corrupt journalism is becoming.

By Pramod Muntashir on 1st February 2018 - 9:29AM

the difference between dale and other bollywood publicists is that dale is fiercely loyal to his clients, even to the extent of defending them publicly and so many times in media. he is fearless. this has been his nature from many years. and that is why “ironically” (as this article says, he is also the one to point out media’s follies in paid journalism. sach bolna koi dale se seekhe. journalists have a lot to learn from this publicist.

By Ritwik Banerjee on 1st February 2018 - 11:56AM

I have know Dale from the days where he started his career in journalism. I remember an occasion, where I was alone with him in the editors cabin. He said, you know what I will one day be on the other side of the table. And surely he has come a long way. He has the guts to go ahead and voice his opinion. Well Dale, paid not paid, journalism will always have a grey side to it. It has been for decades, the growing technology of media and the medium, no one will have any control on it whatsoever. The upper hand will always be with the one who will negotiate well, how glorified it projects the news and last but not the least protects well if backfired. And don’t worry about the grand children as they will be much much ahead to all of us, to even question such credibility of ours.

By Vineeta Banerjee on 2nd February 2018 - 4:25PM

Good going Dale! Since we also worked together so you know I was a Journalist in the era when we worked for RP (Reader’s Pleasure) & not PR.
I left journalism the day I was asked to write a ‘positive’ article about an actor who was also a criminal & a bad human being.
Then I was on the other side, as a Film Producer/Director & I was asked to pay for every word that was printed. Couldn’t afford so my films suffered because of lack of promotion.
Today “Twitter” is Journalism, paid or otherwise! Every tweet makes a story for a journalist & sometimes its retweeted for publicity. Either way nothing is believable anymore!

By Pammi Somal on 2nd February 2018 - 6:49PM

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