Corporations have several spheres which they try to influence. One of them is the government, the other the public. Just as big business lobbies the government to obtain preferential treatment, so to they try to massage their appearance with the public. Lobbying is generally apparent; the person twisting your arm or trying to change your mind is pretty direct. When corporations influence their own media coverage they do so in more subtle ways.
The Company Paper
Any successful business will want and need to promote its own interests. From advertising to press releases to word of mouth, businesses have always had multiple outlets for their interests. The digital era of communication has just made it easier for the company to promote itself through direct connection to consumers. Emails, tweets, and newsletters can be sent electronically to any pretty much any market a company desires.
Newspapers owned by a business are not new either; Hershey’s, the chocolate maker from PA, published a newspaper over one hundred years ago. Owning a news outlet gives a company a great deal of control over what information the public gets. In Richmond, CA the local Chevron oil refinery owns a news site called The Richmond Standard. It states on the main page of the site that Chevron maintains the site for important Richmond information and to give the company a voice in civic issues. The site includes local and regional news, lots of feel good stories, and articles about the good things Chevron is doing for the community.
As this Quartz article mentions, storytelling is becoming a new way for companies to promote themselves and their products. Chevron Richmond is doing just that with their news site. People connect better with stories than with advertisements or news blurbs, which is great for the company. They can highlight their good points and put the spin they want on anything negative that might happen. The company no longer needs to rely as much on advertising or publicity through traditional news outlets. Now they can increase the amount of positive press by being their own publisher.
The downside of that for truth-telling and the public is that everything on the site is written from the company point of view. The public will need to keep that in mind when reading, especially those articles the company publishes about itself. Substantive, in-depth content is also likely to be lacking from the companies own coverage of itself. The company can produce content that is engaging, interactive, and very appealing because they don’t need to have a journalist’s ethical considerations about what is objective or factual.
The Financial Times points out, in this article about corporate news, that as traditional news media declines, more journalists are finding work with corporations who can use their skills in the company newsroom. This type of “branded journalism” is becoming more popular as multinationals produce news style sections on their sites.
Will journalists of the future be employed by big business with the public choosing between each company’s spin? The money to support journalist’s has to come from somewhere. If advertising declines, and people don’t buy subscriptions, where will the money come from?