TIME’s “Pittsburgh: The Comeback,” a good example of sponsored content, though lacking in diversity

In an era where Buzzfeed’s clickbait listicles fund investigatory journalism, it can take being a little creative to find revenue sources for good content.

While sponsored and paid-for content are nothing new, finding well-crafted, actually interesting pieces can leave slim pickings.

I wanted to share a recent discovery from TIME magazine—a visually captivating video, produced by TIME, funded by Siemens.

Pittsburgh: The Comeback

Pittsburgh: The Comeback

Op-ed writer C. Matthew Hawkins describes the video well, “Time Magazine’s ‘Pittsburgh’s Comeback’ video is a striking piece of work that romanticizes Pittsburgh’s potential niche in the so-called ‘New Economy.’” (He later dissects it, however, which I discuss below.) This video and additional content surrounding Pittsburgh as a comeback city, are featured on a unique URL: http://time.com/pittsburgh/.

What’s in it for Siemens?
Pittsburgh’s resurgence and strength in “eds and meds” lines up perfectly with Siemens’ principle activities, including Industry, Energy, Healthcare, and Infrastructure & Cities. Siemens wins because Pittsburgh’s growing energy and excitement line up with Siemens’ own corporate positioning.

The video is advertised in the top header, linking to TIME‘s Pittsburgh url.

Pittsburgh: The Comeback

Pittsburgh: The Comeback

Quick Look: TIME’s “Pittsburgh” Sponsored Content by Siemens

  • Unique URL: http://time.com/pittsburgh/
  • 10 min video, sponsor video (Pittsburgh-centric)
  • More TIME video content, “Snake robot” video, also created at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Melon University (Pittsburgh-centric)
  • Photo gallery of Pittsburgh at bottom (Pittsburgh-centric)

A tale of caution—Online feedback:

While the video got a lot of celebratory feedback from local outlets, including those organizations that featured interviewees, users on Twitter pushed back, highlighting the video’s lack of diversity—the video only interviews white men over the age of 40.

TIME video on Pittsburgh’s Comeback getting strong reaction for its lack of diversity

Why Blacks are not part of the vision of a Pittsburgh “comeback”

While this piece is a great example of sponsored content, TIME’s “Red Border Insights”—the internal group that produces TIME’s videos—have been well-informed by the community that they wish to see more diversity reflected in future pieces.

As quoted in Next Pittsburgh, Stephan Bontrager writes,

However there is not a single woman or person of color or person under the age of 40 interviewed in this video. I have tremendous respect for many of the interviewees but every. Single. One. is an older white man. I realize this was probably the fault of the videographers and who they selected to interview/show, but dudes on camera, couldn’t you have recommended that they talk to some of your minority peers for this piece? Or rising leaders from a different generation who will appeal to those younger folks looking to move here?

If we are serious about the future of this city and making it livable for everyone, inclusion and representation and diverse voices MATTER. If your list of people to interview only includes a certain sub-segment of this town, you need to make your list longer.”

C. Matthew Hawkins writes in the New Pittsburgh Courier that the problem is actually rooted in the city of Pittsburgh itself,

“Although Blacks are well represented in sports and entertainment, when it comes to diversity within the leadership of financial, medical and technological activity the City of Pittsburgh is stunningly deficient….

To me the problem is not so much the lack of diversity reflected in the videos, but it is in the blasé attitude with which many Pittsburgher’s approach this lack of diversity. The problem is that Pittsburgher’s don’t even see their own lack of diversity and inclusion, even though it is plainly evident to any outsider.

If one doesn’t see the problem then one should forget about the prospects for finding solutions. Changes in Pittsburgh’s key institutions, to develop untapped human potential, will not be forthcoming.”

Overall, I think this is an outstanding piece that dovetails well with Siemens messaging; however, the community’s feedback rings true—old, white men are not the future of the city. I’m looking forward to seeing what else TIME does with their sponsored video content—and how the city of Pittsburgh will continue to develop—along with a more accurate reflection of community diversity.


What sponsored/paid for content have you seen and actually enjoyed?


(Full disclosure, this story originally caught my attention because I’m from western Pennsylvania—just 2 hours north of Pittsburgh ^_^)

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