In a previous post I said that newspapers have failed because they have lost their brand identities. Newspapers – not all, but the majority – sacrificed voice for profit, and ended up with neither.
But that's only part of the story. In fact, I buried the lead.
Newspapers – and broadcast media – used to be the brands that mattered. Reporters were "employees" who served their organizations – their only outlets for expression were through their employers, and if their employers didn't agree, then that was the end.
Editors ruled. But not anymore.
The same self-publishing and social networking tools that are empowering consumers today are also allowing reporters to break the surly bonds of their media masters. Just as forms of media are now unbundled (see Terry Heaton's insightful work in this area), journalists, too, are becoming unbundled from mainstream news organizations.
If every citizen is a reporter, then every reporter is a freelancer, able to speak his or her mind in multiple formats directly to and with the audience. Reporters don't work for organizations anymore – they work for us.
• Do you watch CNN or do you watch Anderson Cooper?
• Do you read "the NBC blogs" or do you read Brian Williams?
In this new model, reporters, not newspapers or networks, are the brands. If they left we would follow. Our relationship and trust network involves them, not the organization for which they work. They are the brands that matter.
With Brand Comes Responsibility
Brands, however, are earned through practice, not conferred via circumstance. Modern trends and shifting demographics put reporters in the driver's seat, but it is up to journalists to maintain and grow that trust network. It is up to them to prove that our trust is well placed and has not been merely transferred to another group of false prophets.
- When you get a story wrong, say that you got it wrong. Not a year later (New York Times), but when you first discover that you blew it.
- Recognize the difference between "journalism" and "coverage." You were trained to think and ask questions, not take dictation. Anyone can take notes – your job demands more.
- Be in your own audience. You don't write about institutions, you write about people – you are always writing about people. If you separate yourself from your audience and don't involve them before, during and after your stories, then you are doing a disservice to all involved.
- Don't confuse analysis with opinion. We need you to provide insight and context – we can get the "news" from Yahoo, what we need is the perspective and meaning. You can do this without proffering an opinion (yes, you can.)
- Cover stories that need to be covered – no matter what. Yes, some cartoons can be offensive. But when people start dying because of them, that's a story – pictures and all.
I believe journalists are up to this challenge; it is in their genetic code. It is time for them to switch that journalism gene back on and take their brand responsibility seriously.
(Cross-posted fromBelow the Fold.)