Trade Journalism: Be Intelligent, Not Provocative

I love a good exposé, drama-filled piece of journalism. The New York Times, WSJ, and even Upton Sinclair all hang their hat on blowing the lid on a major issue. The problem I have with our industry doing these provocative pieces is two-fold: 1. they’re ill-informed. 2. they make a mountain out of a mole hill. It’s time we get back to writing pieces that the industry can have solid debate about and not bash for its blaring lack of research.

Confessionals are only beneficial if they truly are confessionals. Journalists have a heavy hand in these confessionals rather than led by the practitioner. A Q&A of an account coordinator at some ad network is not a confessional. You can sense the angst from these posts due to the anon’s lack of industry and insider knowledge to the real conversations going on behind closed doors in board rooms. Exposés are powerful when they pull back the curtain, not give an anonymous worker bee in the industry a platform to whine about an industry that they’ve had no impact in shaping.

The issues ‘exposed’ in trade confessionals are not monumental. The industry is constantly debating over difficult issues, but these issues have real people tied to the debate. In order to have serious conversations, we need to understand who we’re arguing with: background, bias, etc. It’s also easier to take credit for smart points and get credit for not-so-smart points. We’re not talking about Bernie Madoff types; it’s Media – not the Mob. I highly doubt anything someone posts regarding our industry will put them in the witness protection program.

If you ask someone in the industry, “Hey, remember that panel on trading desks at OMMA with Zack?” It was cringe worthy.  It was fantastic.  It was a CEO of an ad tech company against a major trading desk exec. It wouldn’t have been as powerful if you didn’t know the names and titles of both gentlemen and what platform they were shouting from. Both parties had a solid background to the issue, credibility within the industry, and sparked a conversation well after the panel among ad folks.

I was a big fan of the confessional pieces until I realized how underwhelming and downright angry I got reading them. I feel like I need botox after the prolonged eyebrow furrowing while reading the points anon tries to make in these types of posts. When I read Perez Hilton I expect to get the rumor mill – no substance, just juicy gossip. If I read a confessional in a trade, I expect some level of investigative reporting. It’s upsetting to see the true thought leaders of our industry either totally ignore these confessionals or go on the attack and call out these posts, which totally discredits any future confessionals.

I’d like to see more posts done by practitioners and not just journalists. Practitioners shouldn’t be limited to confessionals and Q&As. Industry people should write more posts with a focus on the industry folks who provide commentary and analysis that challenge the thought processes. Insightful, thought provoking posts can be written by all levels in our industry – applauded, discussed, and challenged. Let the account coordinator, ad exec, sales guy, social media guru, and media planner all write pieces on areas they’re exposed to in the day to day. However, let’s not call it investigative journalism if it’s just an opinion piece.

  • Nyoheleven

    Very well said, but is appears the anonymous confessional is becoming a staple at several trade pubs, along with exposes of booth babes and HuffPo like slide shows. All the easier to rise above I suppose.

  • Brian Morrissey

    I think you’re talking about Digiday’s Confessions series. The idea in starting this series is I noticed a real gap between the conversations people have in private in this industry and those they have in public. Much of what is said at industry conferences and in industry publications is just fluff. We felt there was room for what people really think from their vantage point in the industry. In that sense, you’re correct that this isn’t investigative journalism but more opinion. It’s the viewpoint from a particular person. To get that, we make the trade of anonymity for honesty. If we don’t get that honesty, we’ve failed, and that’s totally on us. Readers are smart, so they make their own judgments about whether to totally discount a confession because there’s no name attached. Others will weigh whether the points are valid or just mountains out of molehills. My promise is that every single person who has participated is who we say they are. I wish everyone in this industry was like Zach and Mac, willing to publicly disagree and air issues that deserve it. (A plug: that session debate was sparked by a story Digiday did on the conflicts inherent to the trading desk model.) I’m happy that our Confessions series has sparked a fair amount of discussion of important industry issues that often go unaddressed.