Is it ok to write for a fashion brand – or any brand for that matter – and still call yourself a journalist? A profile of former Esquire editor Jeremy Langmead in The Independent prompted a follow-up article in the Press Gazette asking just such a question, under the headline: ‘Is editor of retail website Net a Porter Jeremy Langmead a journalist?’.
As someone who’s made the switch from journalist (in print, online, and a little radio stuff) to copywriter/content producer, I often find myself mulling over this very issue. Back in my newshound days, Lord Northcliffe’s famous quote gave me a pretty clear idea of what my job was about:
“News is what someone, somewhere wants to suppress, everything else is just advertising.”
Now that I work (predominantly) in the world of marketing and advertising – applying my editorial skills to copy that’s essentially about brand or product promotion – I’m clearly no longer practicing journalism as Lord Northcliffe defined it, and neither in my view is Mr Langmead, who now edits the Mr Porter website (part of the Net-a-Porter online retail empire).
But, as he suggested in his interview, it’s not all that clear cut: “I sometimes think ‘Am I a journalist or a former journalist?’ I suppose I would say I am a multiplatform content director – and journalism is definitely part of that.”
There’s always been a big crossover between the worlds of journalism and PR/marketing – I even remember at the Evening Standard working many shifts alongside the press officer of a national trade body, who moonlighted as a regular hack. I too have, at times, had a foot in both camps – during stints as a freelancer I’d happily turn out brand-related content one day, and an investigative piece about social workers the next.
Lots of the ‘storytelling’ skills I honed in my reporting days – like researching, finding a good angle, writing crisp copy and grabby headlines, proofreading – are still essential to the work I do for brands, whether that’s blogging or developing new product names. And there’s no doubt that Mr Langmead is applying his vast talent and experience of newsstand mags to the (rather good) multi-channel content he and his 33-strong editorial team are producing for Mr Porter.
This trend is only going to continue – good writing skills are in high demand among businesses and organisations in every sector, mainly because the surge in content marketing means it’s increasingly difficult to achieve all-important ‘cut-through’ on almost any channel. And as many – like Net-a-Porter – have discovered, there’s no better way of achieving that than giving consumers a compelling story, or offering them insights and information tuned to their needs and desires.
So the question arises, do we editorial types working in creative comms need a term other than ‘journalism’ to define the work we do when it goes beyond traditional, short-form copywriting? The simplest solution, it seems to me, is to take on the increasingly popular (in the marketing/PR world) title of ‘brand journalist’. No harm in that in my view – I suppose I already think of myself as a brand hack – though I’m not sure what Lord Northcliffe, or even Jeremy Langmead for that matter, would make of it.