AUGUST 3, 2009 3:31PM

Journalist in bed with corporate sponsor!

Rate: 5 Flag

By Katharine Mieszkowski With so many journalists looking for work, some are finding new corporate patrons. Over at Fast Company.com, Chuck Salter writes about the new gig of novelist Dan Gearino, a former longtime columnist for the Raleigh News & Observer.

Gearino's spending a month in Stephenville, Texas, writing a blog about the town. It's called Stephenville Dreams and it's under the auspices of Carpenter Co., which makes cushioning for pillows and mattress pads. The blog appears on the company's SleepBetter.org site, and it is part of a marketing campaign involving Jewel's latest album, "Lullaby." Jewel lives in Stephenville.

What's interesting about Gearino's month-long jaunt is that Carpenter isn't having him write about its products, or even its industry. He's there to chronicle life in Stephenville, which has a population of 15,000. The result is a motley collection of quirky tales and photographs of small town life of the high-school-football-radio-broadcaster-searches-for-bride-variety.

"Dan understands that Carpenter is funding his writing and reporting to drive traffic to its site. But the gig reminds him of the Federal Writer Project, when the government paid thousands of writers, including the likes of John Cheever, Saul Bellow and Studs Terkel to capture everyday life during the Depression," writes Salter. In his initial blog, Dan suggested that the Stephenville project is 'revolutionizing the underpinnings of journalism.'"

Many companies have former newspaper journalists, who have moved over to the proverbial "dark side," writing blogs for them about their industry or niche. One case in point: Pacific Gas & Electric's Next 100 blog, about the future of energy. It's written by three PG&E publicists -- and two former newspaper journalists whose resumes include gigs at the Oakland Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.

But Gearino's Stephenville gig makes the line between journalism and marketing even blurrier, since he's been hired to write about a subject entirely separate from Carpenter's products and industry. While Salter expresses some optimism that such "corporate-sponsored journalism" may be one of many new viable models that spring up as journalism transforms, he also points out: "Of course, if it doesn't help sell more bedding, dream on."

I'll add that in the Hollywood-movie version, Gearino would stumble upon a heinous corporate scandal at Carpenter, and be faced with a dilemma about whether to expose the malfesance and bite the hand that's feeding him. But this is real life. 

Your tags:

Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:

Comments

Type your comment below:
There is a big difference between Depression-era federal funding and contemporary corporate funding even if the final product seems similar.
I am shocked? Arrest the usual suspects.
jesus...i (unfortunately) have had to spend more than my fair share of time in stephenville. why anyone would do it on purpose is astounding.
Is this an existential problem?
Everyone is selling SOMEthing. Except for those who are completely out of the system somewhere in the mountains doing penance and smoking up a storm...
In the end its all about choices.
How is this any different that John Stossel's 20/20 gig where he was getting paid by corporate insurance sponsors to scare the crap out of everyone regarding our what our healthcare legislation? Biased due to $$ ... not facts.
Now, I aint no Big City Marketer (and by Big City, I guess I mean Stephenville), but I'm pretty sure that a blog written by a novelist, brought to you by a mattress company, that's also promoting Jewel records, is a terrible way to sell journalism, mattresses AND Jewel albums.
yep, life goes on, just the same, but always changing. young people are going to have 'interesting' lives, because population and environmental pressures raise world wide threats which were not part of the stresses of previous generations.

i just wish that humanity were capable of planning the use of the planet, leaving it in the hands of chance looks like a losing bet.
I too just wish that humanity were capable of planning the use of the planet, leaving it in the hands of chance looks like a losing SAILBOAT!
in this case, he's not serving in the capacity of a journalist really, not in any traditional sense. journalist in bed with a corporate sponsor? i don't think so. lucky him that he found a PR-type job that isn't a snooze. sounds way more interesting than a lot of news stories I've had to write the past few years. could it be the wave of the future? perhaps. if the news industry keeps shrinking, a lot headlines will be decided by the PR pros, if for no other reason but lack of time.
I'm waiting for the Nascar like patches to appear on Brain Williams' and Katie Couric's clothing.

They could also wear baseball caps with the sponsor logo.
It's the return of Yellow Journalism. Just with a bit more cynicism and contempt for the public. Hearst is cooing in his grave.