In the past few weeks, The NYTimes, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic have all made public cases for people to pay more attention to their journalism. The NYTimes and The Atlantic went so far as to hire some of the top ad agencies to help craft their pitch.
It’s easy to link these campaigns to post-election scandals of fake news, information bubbles and general media bias.
But news publications face bigger problems than a loss of public trust. They also need to redefine their value in the face of a growing competitor for attention: brands.
Some of the biggest responses to Donald Trump’s immigration ban came directly from companies including Lyft, Starbucks, and AirBnB who made public statements and helped people understand what Trump’s directive meant for the economy.
The media covered these brands’ actions, but these brands also made use of their own websites and Twitter to engage directly with the public.
The ACLU also posted their updates directly to Twitter, while affected travelers and protesters provided quick on-the-scene updates.
In the past, the media offered impartiality and fact-finding to big events like the immigration ban. But with that impartiality in question, it’s possible to imagine a world where the news media doesn’t exist, and information becomes dispersed solely via direct channels from brands and affected individuals.
In addition to hopping in on the news cycle, brands are hoping to become content producers in their own right to better compete for consumer attention. Ad agencies are hiring journalist talent, brands have created real-time news rooms to create content for big events, and, when given the time, brands have the financial wherewithal to invest in beautiful, feature worthy content with a point of view on current events. Check out Nike’s recent ‘Equality’ video for instance.
Hence, the recent campaigns by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic to convince the public why their brands of journalism still deserve our attention.
Will they work?
The New York Times launches their campaign ‘Truth‘ during the Oscars this Sunday, spending around $2 million for the media buy alone. Their video shows some self-awareness of media bias on the part of the Times, with a run through of subjective quotes including “The truth is the media is dishonest.”
It concludes the stream with three statements: “The truth is hard. The truth is hard to know. The truth is more important than ever,” before closing on the NYTimes’ logo.
I love the NYTimes, but this ad leaves a lot to be desired.
Such as, why is the truth more important than ever? Sure, bias is a rampant problem. And there are often multiple ‘truths’ that deserve to be reported on. But social media habits during this election revealed that people care about one version of the truth: theirs. The most common response I have heard from friends in regards to people who post opposing views on Facebook is to unsubscribe from their content. The bubbles aren’t just a media problem; people are choosing to live in them.
Instead of just saying the truth is hard (which we all know), how about the NYTimes tells me why I need to look for it anyway.
The Washington Post does a better job of this with their new tagline: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”
People on twitter mocked the seriousness. Steven Colbert ripped on it. Slate penned a response titled “15 classic metal album titles less dark than the Washington Post’s new motto.
It’s brave. It’s succinct. Placing as their subheader probably cost a lot less than the NYTimes’ hiring of Droga5 and buying an Oscars spot.
But most importantly, the Post’s tagline gives us a reason to keep following the news. It appeals to deep American pride for our democracy. If the truth is uncomfortable, the death of democracy is worse. Like a good brand, the Washington Post’s new tagline espouses a belief that we can get behind.
Instead of lecturing readers about the nebulous nature of the truth and why we should make time to read about it, The Atlantic starts within us to reveal that on the inside we question the truth. Where NYTimes and WaPo tell us what to do, The Atlantic shows us they understand us.
The video stars Michael K. Williams, of The Wire and The Night Of, questioning himself about whether he is being typecast. Williams is vulnerable and refreshingly human.
Question your answers’ ingeniously makes viewers reach the conclusion of why getting out of our silos matters. It gives us permission to question current events, and to not just fall in line with what our friends/race/gender/political affiliation/favorite brands/favorite publication tell us to think. And it shows that The Atlantic understands us beyond what we’re willing to say outloud.
The video is not as short and punchy as WaPo’s new tagline or the NYTimes’ truth ad. You have to watch the full video to get it. But, like the nature of the video, news today requires deeper introspection and research into multiple sides of issues.
Perhaps the most strategic part of ‘Question your answers’ is that is gives us a reason to value journalism beyond what brands can provide. Journalism is not about just reporting on the latest news (which Twitter is made for) or selling a point of view that makes us feel good (which brands can and will own).
Great journalism should make us think.