Is Branding Bad?

Gene Weingarten at the Washington Post takes on the idea of building your brand as a journalist.

It’s an interesting, idealistic, ingenious read … that I mostly disagree with, which makes me a little sick. I want so badly to go back to where I started, which is maybe a little different from where Weingarten started:

When I was a hungry young reporter in the 1970s, I thought of myself as a superman, an invincible crusader for truth and justice — even though, looking back at old pictures, I now see that I resembled an emaciated weasel in unattractive clothing. My goals, however, were unambiguous, and heroic: 1) Get great stories that improve the world. 2) Get famous. 3) Get doe-eyed young women to lean in close and whisper, “Take me.”

Note the order. First came the work.

But those times have gone away and, while I hope and pray they come back, right now, it is about branding. While the story used to matter so much more than the journalist who brought it to you, readers* now want to connect with the story, usually through the storyteller. They want to feel like they are on the inside, getting something from a friend that they and only they have.

We keep saying that news is a commodity. I’m not so sure it is – I think news is maybe better looked at as a secret, and everyone wants in on the secret.

(*Please, please, please call me out whenever I refer to readers as “users” – there’s a reason drug addicts are called users, let’s distance ourselves from that ideal.)

Mark E. Johnson

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