The Deconstructed Brief

Real Journalism Matters

Real Journalism Matters

Brand: Columbia Journalism Review
Agency: TBWA/Chiat/Day New York


Mainstream media and news outlets exist in a complicated environment that requires them to defend their integrity and combat alternative news sources. Americans exist in an atmosphere of mistrust and stand conflicted about the media they consume: The annual Edelman TRUST BAROMETER (2017) revealed a significant decline in trust of four key societal pillars (NGOs, business, government, media), with the most significant drop occurring among the ‘informed public’ segment. Trust in the American media fell almost one-fourth (22%) among this segment, and of the four pillars, the media stands as the most mistrusted. The United States posted the most significant decline among all countries surveyed and scored in the uppermost percent (75%) for concern about the use of fake news and false information as a weapon. 

While trust in media sources dropped during the past year, trust in journalism itself rose. Over half (59%) of American respondents found it hard to identify if news was produced by a respected news outlet, and a significant percentage (69%) doubted that their fellow citizens could distinguish good journalism from falsehoods and rumors. The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) needed to raise awareness of its role as an industry authority and establish itself as a resource for consumers seeking credible guidance and verified information.

Key insight

People treat fake news as real news.


The campaign from TBWA\Chiat\Day New York is deceptively simple: black and white photography of individuals reading the newspaper. The front page of each paper has been modified to read "Some Guy's Blog," "Retweets From Strangers" and "Dad's Facebook Posts." “Real Journalism Matters” debuted in The New York Times and the spring and summer (2018) edition of CJR.  

CJR serves as one of the few journalism reviews available to the industry and positions itself as the most-respected voice on press criticism by covering news and media industry trends, analysis, professional ethics and the stories behind news. Its campaign seeks to embody these values and aims to highlight the use of unsubstantiated news sources, such as social media and outlets pursuing biased agendas, by underscoring the value and importance of concrete, fact-based journalism. CJR hopes to alert readers of the dangers of taking these "fake news" sources at face value and underlines the importance of diligent, accurate reporting in the public sphere.

The campaign joins those from industry leaders, such as CNN, The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, proclaiming their position. Each serves as a rallying cry for professional journalists, calling them to identify their values and stand for their beliefs. They also encourage viewers to question their assumptions and the information they consume each day in a unique voice, representative of the respective publications.

What they said:

“These ads are designed to make people think about where their news comes from and to appreciate the difference between real news and everything else,” said Kyle Pope, editor and publisher of CJR.

Lessons to be learned:

  • Know how to transform behavior. — The campaign serves as a literal representation of a behavior many find themselves guilty of on a daily basis. It requires little explanation for the viewer to understand its meaning and apply this learning to their own behavior. Its generality and simplicity removes any representational barriers that might prevent the aforementioned application. It asks the viewer to look beneath the literal message and question a behavior they may have engaged in for the majority of their lives — the innocuous “so-and-so said” — and place this against the modern context fake news and access to an almost-unlimited amount of information.
  • Simplicity can be visually powerful. — Advertising lends itself to a technological arms race as brands seek to employ the latest advancements in the interest of garnering publicity for their clients, because employing the newest technology almost guarantees some level of basic coverage. This environment leads to heightened levels of internal and external pressure as neither brands nor agencies want to be perceived as antiquated. “Real Journalism Matters” relies on nothing of the sort. The quiet subtlety of this campaign serves as a powerful illustration of the central idea and encourages the observer to consider its message.
  • Establish a coherent tone. — The subtle call to history through images reminiscent of traditional documentary photography aligns the tonality of the campaign with the target audience. The breadcrumbs suggest to newspaper lovers — those who continue to pay to experience this medium — that they should behave better than this, without appearing too pretentious or highbrow.