Thursday, 27 November 2008

The Bad Boys of Brand

One of the developments as a result of the digital sphere is that a handful of individual journalists have become brands or identifiable commodities in their own right, founder of and former regional journalist Rick Waghorn told us today. BBC business editor Robert Peston has become so recognisable in the last 12 months it prompted a slew of articles about the man behind the scoops. Who is this guy? Who were his sources? He really was "the face of the credit crunch"- a brand name.

What was remarkable about this was "Britain...turned toward a journalist to tell us what is going on". But aren't journalists the least trustworthy people on Earth? Apparently not. Despite all the traditional and well respected corporations out there, this individual forged an identity that had people turning to him.

One of my colleagues made the very good point that Peston would not be where he is today if it were not for the BBC providing him with the tools to get there, and I whole-heartedly agree. But in principle, I would hazard a guess that this idea of the branded journalist will become crucial.

In an increasingly fragmented market place, with huge competition not only from your own profession but anyone capable of setting up a Blogger or Wordpress account, carving out your brand identity is key, even if it is within an organisation like the BBC. It is arguable that considering the anti-BBC backlash of recent months and years, the corporation are relying on people like Peston to fly the flag just as much as people like Peston are relying on them for a flag pole. (Although some would say Sachs-gate is an example of what happens when this relationship gets out of hand.)

So I was somewhat confused when Mr Waghorn suggested that we "Go back to what we're good at: good writing". After weeks of being told to embrace multi-media, this felt like being told to get back to that type-writer, you are a newspaper journalist.

He advised us not to get involved in this mobile journalism fad, but instead to form a sort of journalistic swap shop and trade our precious copy for say, a broadcaster's professional video footage. He said this would cut costs because we wouldn't be wasting our time and money by trying to have it all.

I think this is way off the mark and part of the reason why many local newspapers are failing- because they haven't grasped that one skill doesn't cut the mustard anymore. And multi-skilled journalism is a good thing because it opens up the avenues of choice in media consumption. You want local news from a journalist, a "brand", you trust? Great. Want it in a video blog? A multi-media journalist can do that. You want video clips that correspond with my written report? Got that too. But if you don't like my version, our rival paper's got something different.

Basically, to rely on some sort of shared melting-pot to put multi-media content together, I think, seriously threatens to stifle the variety this new age of media offers. (Waghorn appears to be a supporter of choice, chastising regional newspaper groups for rejoicing over the BBC's climbdown on BBC Local, so its possible I've misunderstood him.)

The most successful brands haven't got there by doing one thing, getting good at it and then sticking with it. The multiple strands of Richard Branson's Virgin empire are extremely varied; cola, record stores, planes, mobile phones, wine, trains, even space travel for God's sake. And although Murdoch tends to stay within the communications industry, he hasn't become the world's most famous media mogul by refusing to try his hand at something new. The secret isn't to stick to what you know. It's to learn something well, add it to your skill set, and move on to something new.

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