If money is made between the content, what happens when the content is gone?
I can report with relief that I don't write this column for a living. The going rate is fifty cents a word. I spelled out fifty cents, rather than offering the numeric version, because a fellow has to eat—or at least enjoy the occasional trim flat white. The astute among you will observe I chose trim flat white as my caffeine of choice. Clearly the words trim flat white are worth almost a half of the actual beverage, while a latte … well, let's just say it’s a poor cousin.
So spare a thought for those who ply their trade as journalists or content creators for media in its myriad forms. Year upon year their craft has been debased. Meanwhile I write three smartarse words for a client, attach a 5,000- word strategy document of little consequence and receive payment that will assuage my children’s taste in private schools and petit fours for several months.
That’s the difference between editorial and advertising. I think it was created by Lewis Carroll, Hunter S Thompson or someone with an equally perverse capacity for inverting sense and sensibility.
I met Kiwi journalist Jon Stephenson at the taping of a recent interview for the excellent Media 7. At the intermission he told me terrible things about his experience as a journalist. Not the hardships and dangers of embedding among the people of Afghanistan in order to report more than the ministrations of mainstream broadcasters donning flak jackets: Stephenson paid his own way. Here is a fellow who puts his life on the line to be an independent witness for you and me. He gains access to people and places we would never dream of attending. He expresses a creative courage that I can’t imagine mining (given that I ply cheesecake and toe-jam ointments). And he’s not doing it for the money, as there is little to be had.
But I’m glad I am facile and he is not. Let’s not forget that advertising is, by and large, an interstitial institution. We exist between the content.
Having met Stephenson, my realisation is that advertising plays a crucial role. It supports and funds the media that brings us his stories (or rather, should). We are there for it—not it for us.
The pap press and shallow media are all well and good. But we have an obligation to quality media and quality independent reporting of matters that matter.
I know Lindsay Lohan’s travails are endlessly fascinating and that Brangelina’s battle to raise their six children is an epic daily struggle, but without journalists and reporters who will delve to find the stories that give context to the big, obvious stories that fill media, we are all poorer—including Brad and Angelina.
Without rich, well-researched content, why advertise in ‘quality’ media? (And I am not talking about the quality of paper stock or graphic design.)
Advertising has a role to play in the social tryst that is modern media. But if media owners won’t commission and employ heroes like Jon Stephenson then maybe advertisers will pay for it directly and attract an unmediated audience.
This is already happening. Publicis Mojo Sydney recently shot three films for a large client. One is a silly piece of escapism masquerading as a ‘gritty’ short film. The other two are billed as documentaries—and they deserve the label. One introduces “all-girl hardcore snowboarding film collective” Peep Show and the other follows Philadelphian rapper Lyrical God. That large client? Coca-Cola Europe. (You’ll find the documentaries at www.youtube.com/burn.)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5ladRbeygshttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dz372gmHwRI
Which sounds promising. But while Lyrical God might be palatable to Coke, I can’t imagine it paying for Stephenson’s despatches. Perhaps it’ll require a much braver brand.
Failing that, you’ll be stuck with me—padding my polemic for fifty cents a word. [Note to self: change MacGregor’s rate. –Ed.]