Nieman Foundation at Harvard
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Dec. 1, 2008, 8:02 a.m.

On expanding your journalistic footprint

Blogger and web developer Rex Sorgatz has an interesting take on ex-MSNBC anchor Dan Abrams’ journalism/consulting outfit. Setting aside for a moment the specifics of Abrams’ plans:

If self-proclaimed journalists really want to survive, they’ll need to start thinking of themselves in a sphere that includes researcher, pundit, entrepreneur, speaker, performer — actually not too different from the whole “public intellectual” thing espoused in the ’90s.

I’ve found myself trying to push this model on some of my journalist friends lately. Most reporters (newspaper reporters, at least) are used to having their brand determined by their employer. In the public’s mind, most reporters aren’t “Jane Smith” — they’re “the sports guy from the Star-News” or “the cops reporter from the Express-Telegram.” That worked fine when those brands were at their strongest. But I think most current working journalists would acknowledge they’re headed for a world where those many of those brands will either cease to exist or hold shadows of their former power.

Establishing your own brand takes work — and a lot of it is work that doesn’t come naturally to people who’ve spent a career swaddled in a newsroom environment. But it can open up a lot of possibilities — possibilities to work in multiple media, to make money in a variety of ways, and (this is crucial) to have fun, to experience a bit of the entrepreneur’s thrill.

Now, obviously, not every current working reporter is going to find this model appealing, or possible. Not everyone wants to be a “public intellectual.” And you wouldn’t want a world where this sort of journalist is the only one working. But for a certain outgoing kind of reporter, it could be a model that works.

There’s also an interesting discussion in the comments, including this statement from Rex: “I guess I imagine a future that is very internety — one where people have a variety of different income sources, where they make short bets and long bets, where they write books and start small businesses while they survive by providing expertise in the nano-topics that they know more than others in.”

For a more skeptical take on journalists-as-brands, see Rob Alderson’s post here. My counter to his argument is that the act of branding is independent of the quality of the brand — that yes, Perez Hilton is a “brand,” but so is Seymour Hersh, so was Walter Cronkite, so is Ira Glass, et cetera.

POSTED     Dec. 1, 2008, 8:02 a.m.
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