Noah Davis knows that there’s nothing more interesting than other people’s money, and he put that knowledge to good use today in a great piece for The Awl titled “If You Don’t Click on This Story, I Don’t Get Paid”. Over the course of 3311 words, Davis (who did a similar piece in 2013) depicts the current state of getting-paid-to-write-for-the-web as improving yet unstable before taking an interesting detour into the world of native advertising. The demand for branded content is so strong that many freelancers accept these assignments to subsidize their more traditional journalism work.
“I make roughly a quarter of my income from this type of writing. One is for an international corporation that pays a large media company to produce a monthly newsletter. The other is some light editing and website production for another major corporation. I also take occasional one-offs: a flowchart, a six-hundred-word story built around an interview or two of experts provided to me by the client, a consumer-focused piece about a new product that a company runs on its website. I keep my name off the end product and I don’t take assignments that fall into categories I usually write about for consumer publications.”
If I may be so bold: the pains that Davis takes to church-and-state his side hustle from what he sees as his actual work are a product of this particular moment in time. We are already beginning to see branded content running bylined on Gawker and Medium and if those aren’t at the top of your personal list of paragons of journalism, well, we’re still in the early days here.
People are smart. I know that statement might seem off-brand for me but I truly believe that the vast majority of people know the difference between branded content and Capital-J Journalism. And as media consumers are becoming more and more aware of the financial realities at play, the opportunity for different grades of journalistic “purity” will create new business models. Consider it Farm-to-Table Media: publications that have radical transparency about finances and support models are analogous to restaurants that tell you the diet of the cow that you’re eating. Does it cost more? Sure but for a non-zero part of the market, it’s worth it. And if it turns out that the vast majority of people don’t mind a little bit of branding in their editorial, at least there will be gigs out there for those looking to pay off those J-school loans.