Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
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Publishers: The renewed debate on personal brands

You have two options when it comes to the personal brands of your journalists. Either you encourage them and keep growing together or you will most likely lose them.

When high-profile journalists argue on Twitter it is usually followed by picking sides. Over the past few weeks, there was some controversy started by an Insider piece on NY Times and how it struggles to handle journalists who want to have side projects and build their own brands.

In the middle of it, Taylor Lorenz, an ex-NYT journalist who left for The Washington Post, has been consciously building her own brand, talking about it and that apparently didn’t sit well with some fellow journalists.

The online brawl is less interesting, although irresistible not to follow. What’s more on point are the two groups that formed around the topic. One says young journalists should develop themselves as brands. The other says the opposite, almost like they are saying you should honor your news outlet’s brand and not dilute it with building your own.

What does the research on personal brands in journalism say

In recent years, the personal branding of journalists has been a topic also for academia. That’s how you know it’s a real issue.

In a 2019 research article called A Personalized Self-image: Gender and Branding Practices Among JournalistsLogan Molyneux, an Associate Professor at The Lew Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University in Philadelphia, suggested that female journalists take a more personalized approach by speaking about themselves in their profiles and their tweets and focusing more resources and attention on their individual brands.

Molyneux explained that branding for journalists is essentially an effort in garnering attention and relationship building.

One of the conclusions he came to was that female journalists are not well served by male-dominated news organizations, and so turn to a more personalized self-image in their branding efforts. Unfortunately, the research also shows women journalists are subject to greater harassment on social media.

I work in a newsroom where some of my female colleagues managed to build their own brands and they often talk about harassment that rarely happens to male journalists.

Despite that building your personal brand in the news media business (or anywhere else for that matter) is an increasingly necessary thing to do.

Lorenz talked about building your brand as a hedge against consumers’ growing mistrust of the media. That should be encouraged by the media institutions.

On the other hand, Brian Morrisey the author of The Rebooting newsletter sees this (journalists wanting to build their own brands) as a reaction to the failures of these institutions.

Media executive Troy Young who writes the People vs Algorithms newsletter suggests new media entrepreneurs must be community sleuths, meaning to build communities around their personal brands.

Institutional brands and personal brands should work together

One of the critiques Lorenz addressed towards The Times was that it promotes certain individuals and makes it hard for others.

Any newsroom should strive to create equal opportunities for their staff and understand that helping nurture future talent is good for both brands.

Still, I understand it’s a difficult situation for media managers especially when some advise journalists building their own brand says they should start a newsletter of their own.

My take on this is simple – if you have star journalists you want to make them feel free and even allow side projects. That’s how you keep them.

Some colleagues might oppose but it’s fairly easy to measure the benefits everyone is bringing. But you should be transparent about it.

All journalists should be encouraged to build their own personal brand. As I said, in the end, all sides can all benefit from it.

David Tvrdon

This piece was originally published in The Fix and is re-published with permission.