Media

Why journalists are the original influencers

By Ben Gunn |

May 17, 2021 | 6 min read

Long associated with power, influence and professionalism, why aren’t journalists being heralded as the original influencers and if they were, would this make them a better option for brands looking to align themselves with the 'right' type of people? Co-founder of Fabulate, Ben Gunn explores.

From unearthing false tax returns by politicians and exposing shocking working conditions in China to exploring racial bias in courts and sparking global conversations about workplace sexual harassment, the enduring power and influence of journalism cannot be underestimated.

From The New York Times and The Washington Post to Australia’s very own Four Corners and investigative journalist efforts on some of the nation’s national newspapers, the ground-breaking reporting from entities such as these lay bare the many truly dogged journalists that go that extra mile.

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Be it a news item, photojournalism, a film, TV docuseries or even a book, the effort put in by journalists and the impacts of various media deep dives can have a huge impact on society, culture and of course, history.

Yet with such power, professionalism and due diligence, why aren’t journalists being heralded as the original influencers and if they were, would this make them an option for brands looking to align themselves with the “right” type of people?

Looking for the angle

When it comes to campaigns, brand messaging and content, using the correct language to turn something into a compelling story is no mean feat. Having that skill is one thing, but being able to humanise it is another. By leaning on journalists in this way, brands could be surprised to learn just how much can be humanised in order to have greater appeal to customers.

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In addition, with front-page stories not being handed out in newsrooms, by the very nature of the role journalists must have that nose and vision to dig and extract more from the intel they have.

It can be challenging as a marketer pushing new tariffs, loans or product lines month after month, but being given a dud story or not much to go on to find an angle is a challenge many journalists relish.

Also known for turning heavy going or complicated issues into reader-friendly versions, the knack a journalist has for simplifying and punching up content could well benefit brands that offer more complex and intricate products and services.

The issue is, brands typically don’t look to pursue a journalist in this way and many journalists perhaps haven’t thought about applying these skills to more commercial and brand-related endeavours.

The power to influence

Having a skilled journalist help with a campaign or with storytelling may not sound as sexy as a social media or celebrity influencer, but be it B2B or B2C titles, if anyone has the power to influence and educate, surely it is these accountable, unbiased wordsmiths who know their sectors and readers all too well?

This desire for decency and trust from brand ambassadors leans into the commentary in a recent Forbes article which spoke about the rise of “genuinfluencers”. The author describes this as “those who are on a mission to fight misinformation and facilitate legitimate awareness around the key issues we’re dealing with as a society and more”.

If we scrap the genuinfluencers buzzword for a minute, surely this matches up with a journalist’s mission?

Having the power to influence public conversation so much that it could become a topic in a presidential debate or be addressed by a Prime Minister on live TV is one end of the spectrum when it comes to journalistic influence, but equally, those writers that know their niche markets in mining, media or tech, for example, also have loyal and powerful followers in those respective sectors.

Journalists can help change not just thoughts and opinions, but also the world. They can take down leaders and create widespread reform.

Whether trained in media law and defamation or being across the technical minutiae of fintech, there’s also an element of brand safety that you have with a journalist as they’ve had to do their homework and skill up in the areas they write about.

For a lot of brands, being the expert in their sector is an important, if not a vital, trait and the same goes for journalists.

If, for example, a business was launching a superannuation product, surely working with an expert writer in this field who has written about superannuation for the last 15 years, who understands what customers want to read about what myths need busting, would be the most beneficial? Yet how many brands are thinking this way and are seeking out these original influencers and the benefits they bring?

With the scale and value of journalism under threat, now more than ever is the time to recognise the power and talent that this profession has and to think about how such a skillset could be adapted.

The rise of social media and celebrity influencers certainly has its place, but so too does honouring those that came long before - the truly original influencers - journalists.

Ben Gunn is chief revenue officer of Fabulate.

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