Bad enough that marketers are increasingly creating branded (or custom, as they call it) content.

Now journalists are apparently creating it too.

From the (unabashedly) liberal AlterNet:


Scrambling for Profit, Media Slip ‘Custom Content’ into Mix

Some reporters resent rise of assignments born of deals with advertisers.

January 28, 2013   “I hate it. I hate doing it… It’s not what I signed up for.” That’s the lament of a former Postmedia reporter assigned all too often to write “custom content.”

Most of us assume that media outlets still go about producing their news the traditional way — a reporter sniffs out a lead or an editor assigns an evolving story or, these days, a columnist storifies a flurry of Twitter activity.

Increasingly, however, stories are put into motion differently. Referred to variously as custom content, custom publishing or directed content, Canada’s major broadsheets and newsmagazines are now speckled with content spun up by marketers and brand sponsors.


Exhibit Umpteen: This piece Postmedia reporter Jameson Berkow filed for Canada’s The National Post.


Lodging in luxury in an oilsands’ labour camp

It is a luxurious image of an industry known for some of the world’s harshest working environments that will undoubtedly help to tackle a mounting labour shortage, though it remains far from the norm.

CONKLIN, ALBERTA — No career opportunities were available to Melissa Udala in the Okanagan Valley region of British Columbia where she was raised.

So when her fiancé got a job cooking for hungry Statoil Canada Ltd. workers up at the Norwegian company’s Leismer Lodge near the tiny northern Alberta hamlet of Conklin, she decided to tag along, finding a job answering phones at the front desk. A little more than one year later, the 22-year-old is the front desk manager and has no regrets.

“This is a great place,” she said in between responding to requests from the 480 staff the camp houses. “They took care of me and helped me grow with my career. You can’t find that too much anywhere else, where people want to help you.”


Alternet: “Though the stories were not, to his knowledge, ever looked at or approved by the sponsoring advertisers, Berkow was uncomfortable with having his byline on content he did not believe could be properly considered journalism.” Worse than that, readers aren’t told explicitly that a marketer – in this case Statoil – paid for the piece.


On the day it was published Statoil advertisements could be found around the piece. But click on a link to the piece today and there is nothing to alert the reader of that relationship, nothing to tell the reader that Berkow’s story came from Statoil.


And it’s not only the National Post. The Globe and Mail plays the same game.


Custom content has become a rare source of revenue growth for an industry in upheaval, still struggling to replace disappearing print advertising dollars and frustrated with the peanuts they get from click-throughs from online ads. As yet, marketers are willing to pay a premium for custom content. In The Globe’s Report on Business section, for example, a single page of custom content costs advertisers a cool $40,071; a four-page spread clocks in at $132,586.


Hell, that’s just Canada, you say? Trust the hardtracking staff: This is coming down on us like an Alberta Clipper.

Bundle up.


John R. Carroll is media analyst for NPR's Here & Now and senior news analyst for WBUR in Boston. He also writes at Campaign Outsider and It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town.
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