August 4, 2007
The Importance of News Brands in a Convergence Culture

Earlier today, I was on a conference call espousing about how important a reminder it is to temper all this discussion about a transformation of journalism with the realization that the brand names of the most respected news, magazine, and industry publications still carry a lot of cultural cache, whether we want to proclaim the era of print as dead or not.

This was all driven by the news from a few news outlets recently that Second Life was losing steam and that it wasn't the business opportunity some thought it was. I wrote about those issues earlier today.

But this has been a longheld debate, whether it is Axel Bruns in Gatewatching or Dan Gillmor and his book, We the Media. I agree with both that there is something transformational in involving the collective intelligence of everyone by getting them involved with the news-gathering and reporting process and that it leads to a better information in the process. There has always been something a little murky about the intense "professionalization" of journalism, and it seems that the credentials of being a good journalism means that "the proof is in the pudding," so to speak. If we are to believe in a system where the best writing rises to the top, anyway, doesn't this mean that credibility still has to be gained on a micro-level, even in a much more decentralized news world?

On the other hand, one of the ways people still seek a seal of quality is through brands, and those may be the bastions of quality that have always been in place (whatever you believe those brands may be). But the point is that the decentralizing of news doesn't mean that the "old media world," but certainly a shift in how that old media functions. It's big benefit is that the brand already has a reputation with its audience.

Like with this Second Life situation. All it took was for a few reputed news sources to question the value of Second Life, whether that be a tech magazine like Wired or an industry mag like Advertising Age, and suddenly the industry is all running around like Chicken Little. Of course, people have been saying things like this from the very beginning, and even if they were in well-written editorials on online sites or blogs, they didn't mean as much without such a big-name news brand behind them, appealing to a wider audience. And, when some of those big-name institutions defend Second Life, they will listen again.

This all takes me to a recent editorial in The Boston Globe by Sven Birkerts. Sven, an art critic, writes:

For as exciting as the blogosphere is as a supplement, as a place of provocation and response, it is too fluid in its nature ever to focus our widely diverging cultural energies. A hopscotch through the referential enormity of argument and opinion cannot settle the ground under our feet. To have a sense of where we stand, and to hold not just a number of ideas in common, but also some shared way of presenting those ideas, we continue to need, among many others, The New York Times, the Globe, the Tribune, the LA Times, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

While I don't think that we need any of those institutions in particular, in that it is no given that these news sources will inevitably be here a century from now, the point is that we do still care very much about the validity and reputation of a news source, and even when you move away from print, the brand behind news and commentary still matters very much.



Worth noting is that some news brands have also been adversely affected by shoddy research. Both BusinessWeek and Forbes ran stories on Second Life which, imo, lowered their brand reputation in the eyes of plenty of people.

We might also include individuals in this discussion. Clay Shirky, for example, didn't reveal anything about Second Life's numbers that wasn't already known by quite a number of people, yet it was his piece that got attention (even though he made his own share of mistakes).


Very good point here. And that echoes my sentiment. I think that individuals are brands just as much as institutions, so you are right that Clay Shirky is another good example. But the thing that extra voices allow are both more places for criticism of the major news brands and also increasing competition for those news brands.

While I think it's quite true that there will never be a lack of top news brands that people need to gather around, there is no given long-term that it will be the same news brands that are predominant today. They've just been given a head start.



I suspect we'll find that some of those who work more for money or prestige than because they truly enjoy the job are going to find it increasingly difficult to steer clear of criticism and successfully manage their careers.

It's not easy competing with passionate individuals with increasingly capable online tools and resources at their disposal. I think we're seeing that in some of the failed MSM pieces. How many young journalists have already been stung by this unprecedented level of public criticism and have opted for a career change?

The solution in some cases may be that journalists become increasingly specialized or they become more synergistic; finding and forming closer relationships with knowledgeable insiders to a degree they might not have previously allowed. And if this low-level development does occur, how does that impact traditional news-gathering organizations over the long term?

What's going on now reminds me a little of when CNN first launched. Only difference is that it seems to be going in slow-motion; tectonic shifts in the foundations of the industry. It may be a few years yet before things settle in. Maybe it won't look very different, but I have a feeling it will be.


If nothing else, it provides a great counterbalance to all the corporate budget cuts so many news organizations have faced. Citizen journalists, produsers, or any other name you want to stick on them are coming along at just the right time to try and fill in the holes. You are right that, in some ways, it may not look that much different, but the other question to ask is what the news world would have looked like if the financial changes occurred WITHOUT these shifts alongside them.


I have a hard time imagining these shifts without the financial changes. I perceive them as being closely tied. And by extension, as individual journalists now become their own brands with their own ad-revenue generating micro-systems, they may start to resemble indie musicians... and news organizations may start looking like eMusic.


Interesting analogy, and I keep thinking back to how often people quote the journalist versus the news source. Traditionally, it seems like it's The New York Times writes about so and so, rather than Brad Stone or Louise Story...It will be interesting to see if this starts to shift as well...


Martha Raddatz - people probably have heard the name. I even have to think twice which network she works for.

Daniel Terdiman - people interested in virtual worlds may very well now recognize his name.

Raddatz is big-time press though. But Terdiman? I think that's a relatively new development. It's akin to a local newscaster gaining an international reputation for reporting... the local news.

And what with bloggers (who earn an income from their writing) now being potentially treated as journalists, we may need to include them as well. Scoble. Arrington. Malik. Perez Hilton. aso. They're most definitely their own brands now.

Consequently, I think the shift is already happening somewhere between the niche journalists and more influential bloggers.


I think you make a good point about niche journalists and bloggers being where the model of personal reputation matters the most at this point. When you have hundreds of people reporting on the major national stories, the personalities of the individual reporters aren't all that important. It changes the more localized you get, in both a literal and a figurative sense. I think there's no doubt that there are online reporters who are becoming as well known as some of the lower-level national reporters on broadcast television, and I think that many people are becoming recognized names across a variety of publications, rather than being stuck with giving their life's blood to a particular news brand, only to have their byline ignored by most readers.

For journalists themselves, this should be seen as transformative, with the power of one's own voice and brand making all the difference, bolstered by where one gets published rather than defined by it.

On August 7, 2007 at 9:04 AM, Eleanor Baird said:

On a related note, I just came across a study done by McKinsey and Co, "What consumers want from online news" that's an interesting angle on this. You may need to register (for free) to see the article, but the URL is


Eleanor, the McKinsey study has an interesting perspective regarding brand loyalty, and I love the term brand promiscuity. I think this is quite useful, especially when thinking through what a reputation means. Being a news brand of record, for instance, isn't as sure of a bet as it once was, and it's a lot easier to scan through various news sources than it once was, since you don't have to buy eight newspapers and take them all home if you want to read across them.

The seven categories of news consumers (or non-consumers) are interesting as well and worth delving into further, and I find it interesting that the people who are listed as "headliners" say they have LESS interest in online platforms, since it seems like many news aggregation sites are primarily developed to catch people with a quick glance headline list of top news stories. But perhaps, since Internet news sources are media you seek out, they don't work as well as the short news breaks on television, etc.