Young journalists have been told to get over their cynicism about native advertising, as it’s one of the few ways for them to stay in work in a declining and ever-contracting media sector.

“It’s really in your interests as writers not to be cynical about this,”Broadsheet editor Tim Fisher told a crowd of mostly young journalists and journalism students at the New News conference in Melbourne. “If you embrace its challenges with an open mind, you’re always, always, always going to be in work, if you can do that well.”

Fisher acknowledged it might not be exactly what journalists wanted to do with their lives, but Steph Harmon, the editor of Junkee, said that wasn’t necessarily the case. She said many of the pieces commissioned as native advertising or “content marketing” were pieces she wished she had the budget to commission anyway. “We pay triple [for native] than we do for editorial. You could find both a living, and creative fulfilment, if you find the best brand and the best outlet to do it for.”

She nominated “Why We Travel”, a creative piece written by Sam Cooney forJunkee, which was produced for Contiki Travel. She said Junkee’s editorial budget could never have covered the long-form, extensively reported and produced piece.

Content marketing, where brands pay for what looks like editorial content that depicts their brand in a certain way (but doesn’t directly sell a product), is one of the few advertising channels booming for smaller online media players. Fisher said that provided it was clearly marked, readers were more forgiving of it than you might expect.

“They know they’re getting your work for free. They understand websites need to pay writers and staff somehow. But those stories have to work twice as hard as normal stories. You have to put something your audience is interested in, while shoehorning the brand objectives into a piece the brand would be willing to pay for.

“What keeps me awake at night is the concern someone will read through one of our native stories and think, ‘Why is Broadsheet publishing this?.’ Then they’ll get to the bottom and realise it’s an ad.”

Peter Fray

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