An ethical question: Should good journalists consider themselves a brand?
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Apologies for the radio silence on this space and in social media today, but I've been traveling to my alma mater, Indiana University, where I'm scheduled to give a talk tomorrow morning on how to build and maintain your brand as a journalist.
When I was asked to speak on this, I though it was an excellent subject, and barely hesitated before shaping my argument on all the great ways journalists can brand themselves. At a time when the industry is shrugging off more jobs than ever, a strong brand would seem the difference between continued employment and leaving the industry.
But then I stumbled on this great column by old school reporter-turned Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and writing Gene Weingarten, "How Branding Is Ruining Journalism," which made me pause. If a journalist as amazing as Weingarten hates this stuff, is it possible he may be right?
A sample: "The best way to build a brand is to take a three-foot length of malleable iron and get one end red-hot. Then, apply it vigorously to the buttocks of the instructor who gave you this question. You want a nice, meaty sizzle." You get the idea that Mr. Weingarten is not exactly thrilled with this prospect, despite having one of the strongest journalism brands out there.
More than your reputations or attitude, a journalist's brand is the sum total of his or her public interactions; from the work they do to the public appearances they make and their life online and in social media. At a time when Facebook and Twitter has turned everyone into a brand, a journalist in the modern age is called to meet the audience in this world, challenged to develop a more powerful voice than the guy in his pajamas blogging about Snookie and Paris Hilton.
This, of course, violates the old school notion of never putting yourself before the story. But those notions have always felt like a bit of false modesty to me; a way for traditionalists to pretend they're not the driving force in narratives they control from reportage to publication. And a way to shrug off any personal gain which comes from the telling: TV appearances, book deals or -- perish the thought -- Pulitzer Prizes.
As I put the finishing touches on my presentation for tomorrow, I would love your input. Should journalists develop their brands more? And if so, how can they accomplish this without violating all the other ethical requirements they have?
I'm still traveling a bit now, so I can't answer you immediately. But I await any great thoughts with avid interest.