Personal branding: a new “must” for journalists?

If there are any social media marketing types on your radar, especially the sort who call themselves “gurus,” you’ve likely already heard of personal branding.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, it’s “the process whereby people and their careers are marked as brands.” Simply put, it’s a way of molding and manipulating the way people see you and your work. Most commonly, people do it for themselves; individuals with more cash to spend (celebrities, etc.) hire consultants to do it.

The idea began creeping into the public eye with the increasing popularity of social networking. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other repositories of online identity made it easier for professionals to cultivate and share their brands. Journalists, especially those starting their careers and hunting for jobs, haven’t been immune to the trend.

The generational gap when it comes to personal branding amongst journalists is laid bare in a recent column by Gene Weingarten in the Washington Post. It begins comically, with Weingarten’s sarcastic response to a j-school student who wrote to ask him about his personal brand. He goes on to lump personal branding in with other signs of the declining standards of the industry, in which readers are now referred to as “users” and articles and columns have become “content.”


“We are slowly redefining our craft so it is no longer a calling but a commodity”
— Gene Weingarten


It seems Weingarten’s biggest problem with the idea of self-branding is that it has re-ordered the priorities of individual journalists. He claims that when he was a young reporter, it was “work first, fame second.” But, he argues, a focus on self-promotion has journalists producing work with broad appeal instead of striving to hone their craft and break stories that serve the public good.

Weingarten’s criticism of the LOLcat-ization of the industry rings true, but his dismissal of personal branding might be too broad. As full-time, permanent jobs at newspapers disappear and more and more journalists hang out their freelancing shingles, building an online identity takes on increasing importance. Whether or not you want to call it “personal branding,” journalists’ self-marketing efforts are arguably more important now than ever before. Some will post an online portfolio, saying their work speaks for itself, and call it a day; others will dive deep into social media, Tumblr-ing their way to internet stardom (they hope).

So, freelancers, do you think the whole concept is bunk? Or, if you give credence to it, what platforms and strategies do you use to build your personal brand? Can you name instances where your self-branding efforts have paid off, or, conversely, turned out to do more harm than good?

Hat tip to Omar Mouallem (@omar_aok) who posted Weingarten’s column on Twitter.

Posted on June 27, 2011 at 10:46 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , ,

2 Responses

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  1. Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum
    on June 27, 2011 at 2:15 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    I’ve been blogging about personal branding for journalists for over a year and have talked to academics, veteran journalists and students about the practical realities of establishing a brand. The aversion to it from veteran journalists is understandable, but the changing employment dynamics of the industry require journalists to proactively define their value within it. The semantics battle over reputation vs. brand is unnecessary; the point is we all have to take responsibility for being relevant, trusted and, ultimately, heard.

  2. Written by editor
    on June 27, 2011 at 6:49 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Thanks for your comment! Of course, the idea of reputation/branding (semantics!) has always been around, but *how* people go about managing theirs has changed a lot. And that, I think, is where a some (most?) of people’s aversion to the concept comes from.

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