Publishers, brands and the freelancers in between : journalistic boundaries in the age of sponsored content and the gig economy
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As procedures and ethics surrounding native advertising and sponsored content creation coalesce, this report explores journalistic boundaries, performances of professional identities at the organizational and individual levels of content production, and relationships between stakeholders in an increasingly freelance economy. I build on the scholarship of journalism and mass media researchers, such as Mark Coddington, Nicole Cohen and Cynthia Meyers, by examining how changing business models in news publishing interact with expressed occupational values, labor practices and industry configurations. To supplement existing literature and broaden its universe of investigated contexts, I apply a mixed methodology. Over the course of my study, twelve freelance or institutional content creators participated in qualitative interviews. An analysis of the discourse constructed by startup content studio Contently, as well as its contractor network, added further perspectives. The findings indicate an individualization of responsibility for maintaining news-business divides and transparency in an age of freelance-produced sponsored content. Beyond corporate suites and audience-facing texts, negotiations between public-interest reporting and financially motivated messaging involve hybrid journalist-marketers. This report contributes to industry practitioners’ and academic observers’ conceptualizations of the evolving content production landscape by considering how, in light of developments around boundaries and labor, myriad stakeholders are repositioning and rebranding themselves. It concludes by offering recommendations for theoretical and practical next steps.