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Social media and the journalist as brand

This is a post I wrote for the Media140 group blog – hence the intro (there are some great posts on social media, journalism and microblogging that are well worth a read).

Branding – once a dirty concept to journalists; a word associated with new product press releases and not their own career. But the landscape is changing swiftly and the need for a coherent digital footprint or brand – extended and feeding off offline work too – is now a growing concern for the journalist. In this post, Laura Oliver considers the pros and cons of “the Journalist as Brand”:

Two recent events jogged my thoughts on this subject, starting with Adam Westbrook’s excellent recent series of tips for freelance journalists. In his post on branding, he says:

“Even as far back as 2006, the likes of [former Sunday Times Editor] Andrew Neil appreciated that the journalists of the future will need to brand themselves well. ‘The journalist of the future… will have more than one employer and become a brand in his own right,’ he wrote. With full time jobs in well staffed newsrooms becoming more scarce, but opportunities outside traditional/mainstream journalism becoming more plentiful, this prediction is fast becoming true.”

Google News recently added a byline feature to its advanced search tool – you can now subscribe to an RSS news feed for your favourite journalists. In this respect, the ‘journalist as brand’ has existed for a long time, as individual columnists worked upon building their brand along particular themes of politics, argument or writing style.

But, with the advent of social media – in particular, Twitter – the idea of a personality or brand accompanying the byline and a move away from erstwhile facelessness has gathered pace and weight and raised a range of new issues.

No longer just a news org

Creating a brand for yourself as a journalist – and even your own particular style of journalism – with social media, takes you beyond the walls of your news organisation and beyond the traditional one-way distribution of news.

As a journalist, you become more accountable for the stories you have written or for the research you are doing – readers or listeners can now get hold of you with greater ease. And, if you want to maintain the brand of a conversant, responsive journalist, you had better reply!

There are many lessons journalists can learn here from non-news media – for example, those that fail to reply on Twitter and those who use it to spam – rather than to gently promote their work.

As with other online developments (comments beneath articles, blogs for the newsroom) many journalists will feel exposed by this kind of interaction. But, if managed appropriately, it is a positive step towards accountability and towards a stronger, more credible, ‘brand’ of both journalist and journalism.

Take Sky News’ recent use of Twitter by its correspondent Ruth Barnett who is carefully building and maintaining a Twitter community of story contacts, which, if properly handled, will become not only loyal to her, but also more loyal to the Sky News brand. Sky also recently kept its brand in good social media stead by its response to Twitpic photographer Joe Neale.

Personal vs private

If you’re using Twitter, a blog, Facebook and more to help build your working brand, do you need disclaimers if it crosses over with your personal life?

Arguably, this can attract people to you as a journalist e.g. personal details about a shared interest or simply by giving a character to a byline. But, as quoted by Adam Westbrook in his post, there can be difficulties with personal branding, says FreelanceSwitch’s James Chartrand:

“A personal brand traps you into always being present in your business. You will be at the mercy of your clients and your career (…) your personal reputation is at stake.”

And if you’re building your brand on social media openness, be prepared for this. It can work in a positive way – see Jeff Jarvis’ recent musings on sharing the details of his cancer via his blog – but other times it is not so – as this Twitter breakdown from National Post reporter David George-Cosh showed.

Who owns the brand?

A sideline from the personal/private issue was recently highlighted by the case of @PolAnimal. The journalist behind the Twitter account for the US newspaper the Pioneer Press in question, Rachel Stassen-Berger was about to leave the title, but does she get to take the @name with her? She might not want to if it is more closely aligned with the news organisation’s brand than her own. But, as branding for journalists becomes more important and more encouraged by their news organisation employers, the question of who owns the individual’s brand deserves attention.

There is an intellectual property argument here, which I’m not optimally qualified to go into – but, if it is the individual journalist’s brand that has built up that Twitter following, that blog audience, albeit while working for their employer, how can they take that brand recognition with them when they change roles or workplaces?

I would argue that you get out what you put in – a strong enough brand as a journalist, a loyal enough audience for that brand and individual and – change of specialism depending – that link will be maintained and your reasons for putting the effort in in the first place justified.


2 Responses

  1. […] Social media and the journalist as brand « Pebbledash pebbledash.wordpress.com/2009/09/11/social-media-and-the-journalist-as-brand – view page – cached + @StKonrath very interested in your news 3.0 project 27 minutes ago + @taylor_rosie name and shame! – one for @cevansroberts and @hsalindsay 1 hour ago + @arseblog typical. how annoying. 21 hours ago * Where I’ll be + 2/10 – Bat for Lashes — From the page […]

  2. Really interesting column Laura

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