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.