Smudged Lines: The Journalist vs The Influencer
By Genevieve Raveau
Something showed up in my social media feed a few weeks ago which made me pay attention to a trend I already saw happening – journalists turning into paid ambassadors.
The Canadian media landscape is largely characterized today by the decline of traditional media and the growth of digital media. Despite hopes they may recover, media outlets are witnessing the move to more modern alternatives. The good news is that even with this change, according to a PwC report, the modern Canadian entertainment and media market is expected to be worth 64 billion Canadian dollars in 2020 as compared to 56 billion Canadian dollars in 2016. With this increase in usage and value, the rise of citizen journalism and the demand for free content, here lies the question – where are consumers going for news and whose voice will matter to them – the journalist or the social media influencer? I say, both.
The Era of Audience Democracy
In an age of audience democracy – where the public chooses what news they hear, when they hear it, how they hear it and from whom they hear it – both journalists and influencers will have to merge roles to thrive. Media consumers are not just going to traditional media outlets for their news. They find it from their friends and family in their social feeds and on their favourite websites. They pay attention to what celebrities and experts say and seek them out for recommendations. It comes down to understanding the role of news as content which is why marketers need to think that way too. How do they create news that leads to content that can be served directly to their consumers. That is why, at Republic, we say that PR no longer stands for press release. It stands for Publish and Rally.
In the past, I have been tasked with either sourcing the right journalist to pitch a story or identifying the best influencer to represent a brand. I have always viewed media relations as a separate entity from influencer relations. The fact is these two tactics are merging as consumers’ news sources merge and organizations need to adapt their thinking to this new approach.
The Journalist and The Influencer
Let’s look at the role of the journalist versus that of an influencer today. A journalist shares a story and presents the truth without bias, while an influencer is paid to advocate for a brand. A journalist knows how to tell a compelling story and connect with a large audience, while an influencer is adept at grabbing the attention of their audience with attractive content. Both journalists and influencers have one big thing in common: they are storytellers.
In the 2017 Reuters Institute Digital News Report, 51 per cent of Canadians consider that news media helps them distinguish fact from fiction and 24 per cent think that social media is useful for this purpose. Journalists still hold a higher caliber of truth, but as truth continues to be a critical element in the media and content landscape, I see the line between journalists and influencers beginning to smudge.
The Role of Truth
Authenticity and honesty is now expected not just from reporters but also from influencers. While journalists are expected to be predominantly unbiased in their reporting, they have started coming out of the shadows and sharing their own opinions. On the other hand, influencers crafting their own story to promote a brand are expected to be honest in conveying their opinions, or they can lose their credibility with their followers for being a shill.
The new trend of influencers turning into reporters isn’t as huge as one might think. Arguably, influencers are already brand journalists by definition. Hiring an influencer as a reporter could be a smart move by traditional media outlets considering the viewing habits of young people. In June 2018, eMarketer released a study claiming that Millennials consume less traditional media daily as compared to social media. Today’s biggest player in the market is YouTube with an average of 8.1 hours spent per week, followed by Netflix (7.4 hours) and Facebook (7.3 hours).
While we have seen influencers morph into reporters, can it be possible for reporters to be influencers? In my opinion, reporters were the first influencers. They have already built their credibility and their power to influence through reporting for media outlets. It then becomes easier for former journalists, such as Michelle Jobin to leverage her reporting identity and take on an influencer presence on her social media channels.
We see journalists now broadening their reach by sharing news frequently using their personal Twitter handles. To compete with the saturation of news, journalists are required to not just stick to their medium of writing. They are expected to join the millions sharing news on social media. As known credible sources of information, journalists have the opportunity and advantage to re-invent themselves as a brand in the social media market.
Smudging the Lines
A recent example of this trend is Kevin Frankish. On May 29, 2018, Toronto was saddened to see Kevin Frankish saying goodbye to Breakfast Television after 27 long years of being a beloved host. “All good things must come to an end… eventually, and so sadly has my time here on Breakfast Television,” were Kevin’s departing words. It was time for something new for Kevin. On August 29, 2018, in an interesting turn of events, Kevin Frankish announced through his Instagram channel that he would re-invent himself by entering the world of social media influencing.
In Kevin’s own words, “I have always shared products and services with you in the past but have never been paid for it or retained by any business.” As already having a big social media presence and sharing his opinions on things with the world, would it be so bad if he now got paid to do the same thing? It is still reporting, after all.
Canada still needs journalism and great stories. Canadians are becoming smart on who they trust and instead of being blindly influenced, they are choosing who they want to be influenced by. Wary of fake news, Canadians are now seeking truth over fame. The ones who tell an honest, great story will be the ones who hold the influence. While influencers have broadened their roles to reporting, do I think that reporters like Kevin Frankish can also smudge the lines and successfully re-invent themselves to be great social media influencers? Heck, yes!