Archive for June, 2011

Following last week’s tempest over the word “branding” in journalism, Steve Buttry has written up something that would be hard for anyone to argue against: tips for how to develop a brand as a journalist (call it a reputation, if branding makes you uncomfortable). Key point for why the term “brand” should cease to bother anyone:

“The opposite of brand is generic. And no one looking for a job wants to be generic, unless your strategy is to land a low-paying job.”

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Dear Leslie:
I was set to say I was sorry that you chose Gene Weingarten to ask about building a personal brand because, instead of a helpful answer, he supplied a curmudgeonly rant attacking what he imagines the word “brand” represents, which appears to be everything evil in the world of journalism. I also assumed it was partly your own fault for not realizing ahead of time that such a response certainly is consistent with Weingarten’s “brand.” How wrong I was. As your paper, published on Steve Buttry’s blog, makes perfectly clear, you knew his reputation well, even if you didn’t anticipate his exact reaction. As you note, Weingarten “certainly qualifies as a recognizable brand and reaps the benefits that come with textbook brand equity,” even if he himself refuses to recognize how those terms are now commonly used. You even appear to know Weingarten better than he knows himself, pointing out that interaction is the new-media currency, that “Interaction is a hallmark of the Weingarten brand,” and “he was an early adopter of interactive web technologies and fully embraces Twitter.”

I was all set to sit down here and rant myself. But everything I was going to say appears to be in your paper. Excellent work.

Also well worth reading is Steve Buttry’s own take on branding.

I can sympathize with those who don’t like the use of “brand” in journalism conversations because it originated in marketing and advertising. It still makes me a little uncomfortable, but I recognize it is in common use. There’s a better chance of getting people to stop saying, “I could care less,” than of stopping the use of “brand.” The language evolves, and as media changes so too does the language involved. What’s important is the idea and the application. If you get hung up on specific words, you will spend all your time just ranting. But maybe that isn’t the end of the world. Maybe it actually helps you. Maybe it’s your brand.

UPDATE: I had looked earlier for this example from last year of Weingarten’s take on the new media landscape, just stumbled across it.

UPDATE: Dammit. I like to think I’m original, but Google brings this post with the same title and basically the same point: “the word ‘brand,’ really boils down to one thing: the expectation your fans/friends/consumers have about you.”

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Pew logo
The latest study result from the Pew Internet and American Life Project confirm the conventional wisdom that more and more people are joining social networking sites (SNS):

“Nearly half of adults (47%), or 59% of internet users, say they use at least one of SNS. This is close to double the 26% of adults (34% of internet users) who used a SNS in 2008. Among other things, this means the average age of adult-SNS users has shifted from 33 in 2008 to 38 in 2010. Over half of all adult SNS users are now over the age of 35. Some 56% of SNS users now are female.”

And note that when people say they are using social networks, they pretty much mean Facebook:

“Facebook dominates the SNS space in this survey: 92% of SNS users are on Facebook; 29% use MySpace, 18% used LinkedIn and 13% use Twitter.”

As long as the trend continues, and as long as your site’s own statistics reflect the growing influence of social media on your traffic, the time a news staff spends in this area is easier and easier to justify as a core function.

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Facebook marketing
Even among newsrooms that see value in social networking sites, how they use Facebook differs. What doesn’t seem to differ is the lessons they tell others they have learned about what works on Facebook. Today’s example is a newsroom that has taken an extreme step: a Maryland newspaper, Rockville Central, that eliminated its standalone website and moved to all-Facebook publishing online. The downsides to doing such a thing probably should discourage publications of any size from doing the same thing (notably, the inability to build useful, searchable archives within Facebook, a huge handicap for both staff and audience), but the pluses are things to pay attention to, just as you would pay attention to tips on language and customs from someone who took an immersion approaching to learning a new language and culture (which is more or less what Facebook is in comparison with traditional news outlets). A couple (by going where the audience is your stories reach more people, and different people, than your website alone does; be a real person, not an officious, impersonal voice in your interactions) will seem familiar by now.

Slightly different than things I had read before was a detail on the tip “Timing matters.” Facebook activity peaks several times a day — before work, midday and around dinner. Publisher Brad Rourke tells Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman it’s best to target those windows for your updates, implying that people don’t scroll far down in their update stream: “What you really want is to share when they’re on, not before they’re on,” he said.

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When someone who really knows how to write gets angry, he/she might tend to write it out. Some even send what they wrote, as Jack Shafer found. It probably feels good at the time.

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I was in the room June 1 when the News & Messenger, based in Manassas, Va., became the first newspaper in my company to surpass 10,000 Facebook fans, I just didn’t realize until today it was the first, or that less than a year earlier the Inside Nova Facebook page had fewer than 1,000 fans.

Hitting that number is not an accident. Everyone on the news staff is acutely aware of social media. It’s part of the discussion in the room, led by Kari Pugh, whose title is digital products manager but who functions more as a digital-first city editor (maybe one day we could just shorten that to city editor). Kari posts news updates and responds to reader questions, comments and news tips, but she isn’t the only one in the newsroom who pays attention to the online community and the discussion there, and maybe that’s the key part of the equation.

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When the State of Alaska releases almost 25,000 of Sarah Palin’s emails from her tenure as governor today, the media won’t be the only ones poring over it. The Washington Post and New York Times are putting copies on the Web for the public to review and are asking people to alert them to what they find.

Once upon a time, seeking public participation in a reporting project would have been a remote consideration, and the Washington Post actually originally intended to invite just a small group to participate. Now it’s all comers. What the Post is asking:

“Please include page numbers and, where possible, a direct excerpt. We’ll share your comments with our reporters and may use facts or related material you suggest to annotate the documents displayed on The Post site. We may contact you for further details, by way of your registered e-mail with the Post, unless you specify otherwise in the comments.”

If this is successful, expect to see more of it — and expect smaller news organizations to follow suit. Perhaps no one would be considering this, or they would be slower to consider it, if news staffs were the size they were even 10 years ago. But the online news audience expects to have this level of involvement. It’s smart not to try to hold everything back.

UPDATE: Belated links — The Times’ site for reading the e-mails and submitting tips. I’ll post a link to the Post’s site … as soon as I can find the thing. The Post seems to have hidden it. Links that say “read the Palin emails” and solicit help point here, but as of this writing I see no links to any site with the emails or how to help (and, as usual with the Post’s site, it takes FOREVER for each page to load).

UPDATE: The Post has links to the emails here. Still not seeing anything like a “Post your tips here” link.

FOR A CONTRARY POINT OF VIEW, see this from Fast Company. I’m not sure you can declare a success or failure within hours of an attempt, but we’ll know within a day or two, anyway.

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