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?
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