By Matt Isaacs
“Full disclosure.” While this phrase is normally followed by an admission of bias, in today’s media landscape, it’s too often overlooked or left out altogether.
Here’s my disclosure: I’m going to tell you why you don’t need to be wary of articles from business leaders, entrepreneurs and other non-journalists. That’s alright with you, isn’t it? It’s probably a fair assumption that a post on The Dialog Lab blog will offer ideas in support of the work we do, but what if you were reading this on a news website? Would you feel uncomfortable if my byline read “Matt Isaacs helps create conversations through press releases, social media and targeted content contributions”?
You might laugh knowingly to yourself, thinking that I’m writing just to protect my livelihood, but you’ll probably also keep reading. Nobody can deny that the Internet is crammed with articles advancing this or that position. But that doesn’t mean we can’t trust non-journalists to contribute thoughtful articles about topics important to the audience they’re trying to reach. After all, writing is one thing, but finding the best outlet for your words is something else entirely.
Everyone Has a Soapbox
Despite the organic nature of the Internet, there is still protection against untrustworthy content reaching wide audiences. Some of this protection is organic – poorly designed websites make us question the credibility of the content within – while some is institutional, grown out of the traditional journalistic ideals we all reminisce about (but don’t really want – more on this later).
The process of reaching a well-defined, real audience is more involved than writing and posting. Forbes.com and The Huffington Post are great examples of how content in the digital age can still meet relatively high standards. While both sites will accept articles from a wide pool of contributors, they also have strict guidelines for those contributions that keep self-promotional pieces or outright dishonesty from reaching trusting readers. By enforcing strict editorial guidelines for contributions, news websites can maintain integrity, and readers can explore ideas with the people who work in the space between those ideas and reality.
Experience vs. Knowledge
Many journalists say they love their work because it forces them to constantly learn and deeply understand new topics all the time. But there is still a limit to how well a technology writer can grasp the concepts of complex emerging tech. This makes contributed content desirable for readers and publications alike, because an expert may be able to discuss tangentially related topics from a stakeholder view that journalists don’t quite have.
Yes, sometimes a contributor may alienate parts of their audience as they dive into jargon-filled explanations of how A will impact B. But that is arguably better for readers overall than a journalist oversimplifying an idea in order to make it more accessible to more people. Let’s not forget that journalists are meeting metrics too, and a “shareable” piece is just as valuable for them as it is for a company.
Why you don’t really miss pure journalism
Scoff all you want, but it’s true. In the age of Facebook, Buzzfeed, Twitter and Periscope, you really don’t miss the heyday of journalism. You want your news now. Yes, inaccuracies and corrections are an issue in the 24-hour news cycle, but it can be argued that they’re actually less frequent against the total volume of content available. And corrections are easier to spot on the Internet than they ever were in paper, whether they’re issued by publications, or made by commenters with a keen eye and sharp tongue keyboard.
The fact remains, however, that access to contrasting viewpoints is greater than ever. At this point, you really don’t need to be apprehensive about contributed content on respected news sites, or even on many of the smaller sites you visit regularly, because you have at your fingertips the power to support or refute almost any idea. In the past, an op-ed or letter to the editor may have introduced an idea that benefited one group, and it was up to their competitors to get the contrary take in ink. Today when we read a contributed article, if it piques our interest, we dig deeper.
For that, we should be thankful. Digital media and the incredible access we all have to engaged audiences gives us the ability to converse with experts in any field. Sometimes they’re writing to support an idea they truly believe in, sometimes they’re arguing against a trend. But contributed content should not be feared or mistrusted. If you disagree, just gather your facts and get on your soapbox. You can contribute to any conversation too.