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Since returning in late 2014 to journalism, strategic editorial content writing and copywriting full-time, I have asked been several times to use my byline and media connections to get articles about organizations “placed” in trustworthy, high-readership publications or blogs.
Several prospective clients have wanted to pay me a fee to use my byline to get paid assignments from their target news outlets to write stories about their organization that are entirely favorable.
They would pay me to write the story exactly the way they wanted it to read and expected me to make sure it got published in that form. I was stunned the first time someone asked because I thought the individual asking should know better.
But, since that time, I’ve had discussions with other journalists who have been asked to do paid “media placement” and who wondered if they should. I told them I’d turned down just such an “offer,” even though I knew I could charge at least a few thousand dollars per single article placed.
Why Saying “No” Is the Right Thing to Do
Just as I did the first time, when I’m asked to do this now, I decline instantly. I decided that while revenue generation is important, I don’t need badly enough to sell my integrity.
I know can achieve revenue goals honestly with hard work and focus but without compromising my hard-earned reputation as an honest journalist. My byline is not for sale, and I won’t use it this way.
Here are five other reasons I gave both that organization’s leader and other journalists why I refuse to accept this kind of ‘project’ at any fee.
Frankly, I’d be lying to editors by telling them this was a legitimate story I was pitching and urging them to publish, as written, knowing it was not. I also would have to work “both sides of the table” by being paid to by both the client and the publication. (A journalist of my caliber lacks credibility when we write for free or close to free so I would have to be paid something by the media outlet to write the piece.)
It is dishonest to take the money of publication or blog knowing I also was being paid by the source to get their story placed in that new outlet or blog. Legitimate journalists don’t do that which is disreputable at any price.
It would be ruin my credibility and the client’s reputation.
These days, readers and editors see through these veiled attempts to pass off what is, essentially, promotional content as a legitimate story. To do that, I might have to fabricate some aspects of the content to make certain it got published and read.
If I were caught doing this, my professional credibility would be permanently damaged and so might the client’s reputation. No one would hire me to write because they’d consider me dishonest. And, few would trust the client going forward, either. It’s just not the right way to get good publicity.
It’s not genuine news.
When I’m asked to act as a bylined journalist, I’m a reporter. I’m writing real news or useful, well-researched, sourced content with objective sources and a variety of voices that provide the piece with a balanced perspective, where that’s necessary. An article that is ‘placed’ for a client is not genuine news.
Such pieces, bylined or not, are more commonly called “advertorials” or native ads, sponsored or custom content and, while there is nothing wrong with writing that kind of copy (it’s an un-bylined paid service I offer), it is a mistake to pass it off as ‘real’ story. Again, if your audience finds out this is what you’re about, they won’t trust you, either.
You’ll lose clients, donors or other stakeholders because faked stories from your organization make you look like a fraud in other areas. I only do what’s in the best interest of my clients, my readers, my editors and my journalism career. This strategy is not in the best interest of anyone involved.
I’m a strategic content writer and journalist, not a publicity consultant.
While I write press content on behalf of publicity consultants or agencies that is more likely to be placed because I wrote it like the journalist I am, legitimate media placement is done by PR professionals. And, like my digital content writing or copywriting, my name will not be on most press content I’m paid to write.
Where it is, it’s because I’ve volunteered to write the content for one of the nonprofit organizations I support. (But, the latter is not a way to get me to write the press content so expect me to decline such an offer.) Therefore, your organization should have an effective PR professional get you in the news legitimately.
It’s inappropriate to ask a bona fide professional journalist like me to write a fake story for a real news outlet or blog.
It diminishes the value and credibility of the news media.
From plagiarized stories to those that aren’t fact-checked properly before publication, news about poor journalism practices abounds these days. How do you feel when media dupes you with such a news story? Exactly. Then, ask yourself, “Do I want to read content that has been misrepresented as news when it’s advertising?”
Would you trust the organization that paid to have it placed, the news outlet that published it or the reporter who bylined it if you learned that it wasn’t real news? Probably not. Again, I care about my readers and editors, deeply.
It’s important to me to uphold the integrity of the industry with my work. I fact-check my pieces and make certain not to plagiarize other writer’s work (which is an intentional act of theft). I certainly am uncomfortable writing content or stories I know to be less than authentic. So, I can’t, in all good journalistic conscience, accept such projects.
Journalism and Marketing Remain Two Different Tactics
I understand how difficult it is to get attention in a noisy marketing environment that is flooded with new content every minute of every day. I also know how challenging it can be for an organization, including my own, to generate revenue. But, as a journalist, at the end of the day, what I have is my reputation for integrity that I’ve built over many years.
So, while much has changed in mass communications, I don’t confuse actual journalism with marketing writing. They are not fungible. They are distinct, and I act with integrity when offering those services and executing projects on behalf of clients.
I know some people believe my journalist’s scruples won’t pay the bills, but there’s still plenty of work for honest writers. Therefore, I won’t do paid media placement for any price because the cost is too high for me, the news industry and you, the client.
(c) 2015-2018. Dahna M. Chandler for Get Money Moxie, Inc. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in whole or in part without express written permission of the author.
I’m an award-winning finance journalist with marketing expertise and business acumen. I offer engagement-generating, personal finance and small business development content writing services to thriving—high growth or established—blogs and media outlets. My passion is to help your consumer readers make their dollars make sense and operate their business with growing wealth as their focus.
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