When I started as a journalist in the 1990s we had an unusual job come our way. Every day we were to unload a sack of VHS cassettes, for that’s how video was shared in those times, mostly. On these tapes would be recordings of TV shows. We would watch these six or seven shows and then write blurbs for them. The copy would appear on an accompanying website, ahead of the shows’ broadcast the following week.
I didn’t know it at the time but our publishing house had done a deal to create custom content. The two or three of us who’d spend an hour a day away from our usual duties quite enjoyed the work. We also assumed it was financially worth it for our employer.
Was it ethically dubious? There was no crossover between the copy we created and our usual reporting beats. We liked that we were experts in new categories like ‘the Web’ and could add some value to 20-word blurbs about a new segment with Douglas Rushkoff, for example.
Your job or your career
Journalists today work in a far more confusing and ethically fraught landscape. We have written on this blog about working journalists being forced to write copy for advertisers – often the same companies they are supposed to be grilling the next day. Church-state divisions crumble in such situations.
In our research last year about professionals who create content for brands as part of a publisher’s usual editorial teams, one respondent told us such writers “must choose between their job and their career”. What this person meant was that these writers could lose their jobs for refusing to unload their modern day sack of video tapes and writing them up… but they could also damage their future employment prospects if people decided their work had crossed an ethical line.
Those sourcing bespoke content for brands today have a better idea of how to do it than they did 20 years ago. And reporters are not as often asked to blindly create content for brands – though it still happens.
Brand marketers have an interest in knowing how things should work. Creating content in-house is different from working with an agency, and not just content agencies like us. It’s also different from working with a media property, which today is likely to operate a ‘lab’ or ‘studio’ or equivalent that is staffed by those who are no longer traditional journalists.
If you don’t know the pros and cons of all those approaches, you need to find out.
What became of the shows and TV channel I opened with? The channel was Sky’s Computer Channel, which had a good run back in the nineties. You can even find an old press release about the launch of the whole endeavour online still. That was in 1996, with programmes made by Hewland International.
The shows included programming for just about anyone interested in technology or gaming. And at least one star was born from this: Kate Russell, who in more recent years has been a host on BBC’s Click, as well as a popular author and speaker. I still remember ‘reviewing’ shows like Chips With Everything and cult stars such as Big Boy Barry, who has turned expertise from back then in playing Sonic and the like into a modern video games consulting business.
Enjoy an old episode of Games World here, from 1998. I might have helped get people watching it.
photo credit: Tapes via photopin (license)
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