Last week I attended an explosive panel discussion at SXSW. With the mild-mannered title of “Debating Brands’ Role as Publisher” sparks flew as Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute and Lora Kolodny, a contributor to the New York Times and Money, sparred with the aggressive moderation of Tom Ashbrook , the host of NPR’s On Point, egging them on.

While there was actually five on the panel, the explosions between Pulizzi, Kolodny and Ashbrook made the highlight reels.

Pulizzi earnestly defended the growing corporate commitment to content as a viable marketing device — even filling the vacuum left by the declining traditional media. He said consumers don’t have three seconds for a brand but will have 30 minutes for a story. Kolodny lamented the trend and sneered at the idea of companies providing anything in an altruistic manner. Ashbrook stopped Pulizzi in his tracks when he asked him if companies would tell a story about killing babies with Bisphenol A

At various times both sides garnered applause but in the end the viewpoints remained far apart.

It didn’t have to be that way.  I think marketing professionals simply need to state the obvious: We’re not journalists, and we can’t try to be.  Similarly, Lora could probably admit that the plentiful corporate coffers are funding some useful and entertaining content.

As individuals and as a nation, we need fiercely independent journalists, It is essential to democracy.  And that role can never be served by public corporations and content marketing efforts. I think that is all marketing professionals have to say to take the emotion out of the conversation. There is no reason these disciplines can’t happily co-exist by simply acknowledging the limits and opportunities on both sides.

What do you think?  Are there threats presented when corporations try to fill the gap left by the decline of traditional media?

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