Journalists as Stars

Google News now allows users to search by author. With the exception of columnists, I think this is a relatively new desire. Not too long ago, readers cared about the newspaper – the brand – not the reporter. If the reporter was good enough to publish in, for example, the New York Times, that was good enough for most people. And since journalism is unbiased, fact based reporting (you know, journalism as a science) one good reporter was as good as another good reporter. Well, that’s all changed now.

Does anyone remember these guys?We all recognize that unbiased reporting is impossible, as long as it’s done by humans, and with journalists blogging, guesting on TV and radio programs, and running their own web sites, we now get to see who they really are. The better we know a reporter, the better we can appreciate his reporting and the more we want to read his stories because they’re his. This is the rise of the journalist as celebrity. It began with TV (The McLaughlin Group was one of the early ones), where reporters blabbed to each other about current events and those with personalities became stars. But you really had to know someone to get those TV gigs. Now you can build your own following just like any other blogger (think about celebrity reporters Michael Arrington and Nick Denton).

Many newspapers are worried about giving their reporters too much play, afraid that the competition will go after them if they get popular in their own right. In the US there are probably only two destination papers – the New York Times and the Washington Post (and maybe the LA Times), so every other paper could have this worry if they wanted it. But it’s self-defeating. Think of good reporters like Moneyball suggested Billy Bean thinks of closers – not as irreplaceable as the industry thinks, with new ones coming up all the time. Why not have a strategy of creating celebrities out of your reporters, accepting a certain increased level of turnover, and backfilling with new potential stars when they leave? You’d get a great reputation among journalists as a star builder, voluntary turnover would lower overall salaries, and some of those stars would certainly stay anyway, building your reputation among readers. Give your reporters blogs, let them inject their own voice into stories, and make people want to read them. Will you dilute the company’s brand? I don’t think so – how can a better product dilute the brand?

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