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Will Brands Be the New Source of Award-Winning Journalists?

Companies have started turning their content marketing resources to investigative journalism — but will readers buy the messaging?

In the current media landscape, more and more major news publication have embraced sponsored content. But branded features don’t just come in the form of funny listicles (although, God bless each and every one of them).
Rather, as the content marketing industry continues to evolve, more and more brands have begun to embrace investigative journalism.
For example, Amazon Studios worked with The Guardian to produce a four-part series called “How to Solve a Murder,” an investigation that aimed to shed light on a 35-year-old unsolved murder, to promote Bosch’s second season release in March.
“Investigative brand journalism…was a unique and exciting project for us here,” Guardian Labs’ branded content strategist and reporter Jill Hillbrenner told Neiman Lab. “We needed to find content that supported the second season of the Bosch series, but we could do that in a very Guardian way, with all of the same empathy and human interest components we’d do with any other Guardian storytelling.”
And Amazon isn’t alone. A few months ago, the coffee brand Kenco sponsored a Telegraph investigation into the Honduran drug trade in a series called “Coffee vs. Gangs.”
Considering that a recent Pew study found that 88% of investigative journalists identified their top concern as decreased resources in the newsroom, brands could provide some much-needed funding.
But it might not be that simple.
The real question is whether or not the public can take investigative journalism seriously if it’s sponsored by a brand, that isn’t seen as a neutral source.
Although Neiman Lab reports that Amazon didn’t make any changes to the “How to Solve a Murder” series, it did get to look at the articles before their publication.
And fears of impartiality were actualized in 2014 when Verizon had to shutter its online publication, called Sugarstring, after The Daily Dot alleged its reporters weren’t allowed to write about surveillance or net neutrality. The site, which aimed to emulate Motherboard and The Verge, closed mere months after its launch.
Of course, journalists and newspaper owners’ impartiality are regularly called into question as well. During the Democratic primaries, Daily Kos accused various outlets of spinning Clinton vs. Sanders polls to be pro-Hillary. Mediate described Breitbart as “Donald Trump’s PR Firm.”
Pando Daily speculates that branded investigative journalism isn’t as revolutionary as we might think.
“Investigative journalism in particular has never been able to pay for itself – it has always been subsidized by the more lucrative sections of newspapers, such as business and real estate, which deliver targeted, moneyed-up audiences and therefore larger ad dollars,” Pando’s Hamish McKenzie wrote back in 2013. “[This] would be a similar case of subsidy in action, but its business section would literally be a business – and one kept at a further remove.”

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