Reputation pitfalls of demand-based journalism


A Ketchum colleague recently shared this post from the Chief Product Officer of Forbes Media.  In it, she describes the Forbes new model of “Entrepreneurial Journalism,” where freelance writers are paid by the size of the audience they attract.

I’m a loyal Forbes subscriber, but I’m disappointed with the direction here.  I believe this will have negative implications for crisis management.

Why?  Several reasons:

  • Demand-based journalism encourages sensationalism.  By tying compensation to the size of the loyal audience, it could incentivize these writers to write eye-catching headlines and have fairly dramatic POVs.  Sometimes, this will be with a disregard for some of the deeper business analysis and fair reporting expected from Forbes.
  • Demand-based journalism encourages populism.  Writers may be additionally encouraged to focus on topics that are already generating high search traffic results.  This could add to a “pile-on” mentality when companies face a crisis and have not yet had a chance to respond thoroughly and credibly (which often requires due diligence).
  • Define “knowledgeable experts.”  A news publication’s editorial process has a common denominator – everyone in the room is typically schooled in journalism.  This approach attracts “experts” from all walks of life – who may be the loudest voices and best writers on a topic, but may not have journalistic integrity or an appropriate amount of subject-matter credential.  Who knows if a self-titled “retail expert” is nothing more than a former industry analyst with a bone to pick about a certain company?

At a time when journalism is still recovering from some trust issues (according to a 2009 study by the Pew Research Center), this move by Forbes may to be in the wrong direction.

For crisis managers, it could add even more sensationalist and opportunistic reporting than we’ve already seen since the introduction of 24/7 news networks with time to fill and when social networks have forced newsrooms to put speed above accuracy.

One thought on “Reputation pitfalls of demand-based journalism”

  1. Great comments, J.D. At least partially explains some of the stories coming out of Forbes that look more like anti-business muckraking than their more traditional coverage.

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