Freek Staps, branded content and the task of journalism

This week’s article by Tandoc & Thomas ‘The Ethics of Web Analytics’ (2015), the authors pose important and interesting questions about the role journalims ought to play in society. In their view, journalism should function as a ‘steward’ of the public interest, serving the greater good of democracy. Too big a focus on web analytics and audience preferences might prevent journalists on functioning as a steward. They tend to become ‘butlers’ providing ‘what the public is interested in.’ (Tandoc & Thomas 2015: 248)

The article reminded me of a discussion (sort of, at least) between De Correspondent’s Rutger Bregman and our ‘own’ Freek Staps. Staps now works for media bureau Second Degree for which he makes ‘brand-journalism’ (as he calls it). In an interview he tells: ‘It’s not independant, but it is journalism.’ Second Degree makes content upon request. By brands, NGOs or governments for example.

Given this Facebook-post (tried to embed it, didn’t work), colleague Rutger Bregman obviously did not agree. The problem? Probably the same problem Tandoc & Thomas identify: the journalist not functioning as a steward, but rather as a butler. Or perhaps as a chef in this case: cooking up what is being requested.

Discussions about these topics (analytics/brands/money) are fundamental. They touch upon the core of journalism and the self-image of the journalist as independent and autonomous. It seems this image is fading, given pressure from the audience and the market. Both Bregman and Tandoc & Thomas perceive this as a negative development, but I wonder if this is really so.

I think they tend to have a romanticized image of journalism back in the days. As if all forms of journalism back then was investigative and thorough. A lot of journalistic productions are not meant to contribute to a democratic ideal and that’s fine with me.


Edson C. Tandoc Jr. & Ryan J. Thomas (2015), “The Ethics of Web Analytics”, Digital Journalism (Vol. 3: 2), pp. 243-258.

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