A publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

Where does editorial end and branded content begin in the digital age?

The ANZ Bank’s head of digital and social media has called for clear guidelines for marking branded content on websites.

Words by Karen Coombs
Storify by Krati Garg
 

Amanda Gome, who is also the associate editor of the bank’s online publication BlueNotes, said that “ultimately it is all about credibility”.

“I think the industry really needs to come up with ways in how we are all going to describe this,” she said told a forum at the New News conference at the Wheeler Centre. “We are happy for people to know that BlueNotes is there to advance ANZ’s reputation.”

Guardian Australia editor-in-chief Emily Wilson said the issue was more complicated than using labels such as “supported by, sponsored by and brought to you by”.

“Sometimes the money comes from foundations, sometimes it’s completely editorially independent, sometimes it isn’t — so it is a really complicated area.” — Guardian Australia editor-in-chief Emily Wilson

“Obviously everyone in-house says ‘we really clearly label’, but the labels are confusing,” she said. “We work hard at The Guardian to have really clear labels but it gets complicated.

“Sometimes the money comes from foundations, sometimes it’s completely editorially independent, sometimes it isn’t — so it is a really complicated area.”

Wilson said that in the US, where The Guardian is a larger operation with a big editorial bureau, the publication is debating whether to use terms such as “paid-for content” or “made possible by”.

Gome added that some publishers made no mention that their editorial was sponsored and that the practice was rife throughout the beauty industry.

“I think in some industries it’s just the way they do things,” she continued. “It’s not only about it being unclear, it’s just the way they operate.”

She said there was still a lot of confusion about what branded content actually was and that it was far more than merely sophisticated advertising, a point with which Rakhal Ebeli, the founder of the global journalism agency Newsmodo, agreed.

“The credibility question comes down to the nature of the people working in that particular branded newsroom.” — Newsmodo founder Rakhal Ebeli

Ebeli said branded content was owned by a company, while native advertising was when a company paid for space with a media publisher.

“[Branded content] is where we sit more comfortably in the owned media space,” he said. “The credibility question comes down to the nature of the people working in that particular branded newsroom.”

Matt Pinkney, who is the head of content for the AFL’s online publication, a partnership between Telstra and the AFL, said that the site’s audience was very good at spotting if something was advertising, as opposed to untainted editorial coverage.

“If we start pushing stuff [the audience believes is advertising] we will hear through social media, which is a great feedback channel for us; if we are doing stuff the audience doesn’t like.”

But Pinkney said he took offence when people labelled what is produced in the AFL Media newsroom simply as branded content.

“And I get super offended and angry if they say that it is native content,” he added. 

“Sometimes I feel we’ve nailed it and we’re virtually independent and other times I feel we’re being lent on.” — AFL Media head of content  Matt Pinkney

“I said [to Telstra] if we want to build a massive audience, we have to be authentic and we have to be able to criticise ourselves, so if someone is not doing a good enough job, you have to let us say that.”

Pinkney said that the dynamic between editorial and management was constantly changing.

“The [editorial] charter, which I wrote, had to be so broad because I wasn’t going to pin us down to anything in particular, and management didn’t want to be pinned down either,” he said. “A lot of it was about tone, and I described us as being closer in that sense to the ABC than to the Herald-Sun.

“That’s how we’ve handled stories about players taking drugs and all sorts of things the players do.

“Sometimes I feel we’ve nailed it and we’re virtually independent and other times I feel we’re being lent on.”

Pinkney said he told his staff that this was not unusual in journalism, and that during his time with News Corp the editorial team often felt pressure from the advertising department and managment.

“Our aim is to do deeper stories and inform the conversation but everybody always knows it’s from the ANZ perspective.” — Amanda Gome, associate editor of ANZ online publication BlueNotes

He gave the example of a sexual harassment case that was brought against a former chief executive of David Jones, Mark McInnes, and explained that News Corp faced some “very difficult decisions” because the department store was a million-dollar advertiser.

“How we covered that story was absolutely affected by organisational dynamics,” he said.

The panellists agreed that providing their audience with credible content was paramount to their success.

Gome saidthe ANZ Bank, through BlueNotes, was responding to the shrinking pool of specialist journalists in the field of finance.

“There used to be four journalists at the Australian Financial Review who might have covered the area, but now there might be one,” she said.

“Our aim is to do deeper stories and inform the conversation, but everybody always knows it’s from the ANZ perspective.”

About The Citizen

THE CITIZEN is a publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism. It has several aims. Foremost, it is a teaching tool that showcases the work of the students in the University of Melbourne’s Master of Journalism and Master of International Journalism programs, giving them real-world experience in working for publication and to deadline. Find out more →

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