Especially in the USA, where digitalisation has rocked the very foundations of legacy media, many journalists are trying to make their name by building up strong personal brands. So could branding some of their journalists help the media companies in financial distress?
That’s one of the central questions addressed by Saska Saarikoski in his research paper called Brands, Stars and Regular Hacks – a changing relationship between news institutions and journalists Saska was the Arts and Culture editor for five years at the leading Finnish daily newspaper, the Helsingin Sanomat, and his paper forms part of the focus of his research.
In 2008 the newspaper conducted a survey about which journalists the readers follow and value. Saska draws on that survey and asks both editors and some of the “brand journalists” to give their opinions on their own brands and journalistic branding in general.
He also looks at the history and theories of branding, and then interviews leading British and American journalists and researchers about the various issues raised by branding. One of these is the possible tension between media institutions and individual journalists, for example over the ownership of social media accounts.
Saska also offers some practical conclusions and recommendations. They are aimed both at journalists struggling to secure their own foothold, and at media organizations trying to find new ways to fight the crisis facing traditional newspapers.
His conclusions are stark. ‘The time of mediocrity in journalism is over,’ he writes.
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Branding is not about growing inequality but growing equality. In the old world there were a few big-name hotshot star journalists, and a lot of regular hacks pushing anonymous news. In future more and more journalists will be stars – some big stars shining all over, some smaller but maybe brighter stars twinkling to some important niche audience. And if a journalist has no twinkle whatsoever – then it’s time to find something else to do.