Why journalists need to brand themselves

by James Breiner
Oct 30, 2018 in Miscellaneous

New York Times editor Jill Abramson says that half the people coming to the newspaper's website in the runup to the election were searching for Nate Silver, the political forecasting whiz who writes the blog FiveThirtyEight.

"He got huge, huge readership," she said at a conference covered by MediaBistro. "They weren't coming for the rest of the Times; they came for him."

In other words, Nate Silver has developed a personal brand that is bigger than the New York Times when it comes to the niche of political forecasting.

Journalism schools like film schools

That quote from Abramson appeared in my inbox the same day that Joshua Benton of Nieman Lab reviewed a new report on the newspaper industry by Clay Shirky, Emily Bell and C.W. Anderson.

The report -- Post Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present -- sees a new reality for journalism school grads in which the first step in their careers will not be to tie their reputation to an established media institution, as they might have in the past, but to create their own reputation. This has implications for journalism schools, the report says:

Already, journalism schools are more like film schools than law schools, which is to say that the relative success or failure of a J-School grad is going to be far more variable than it used to be. There are fewer entry-level jobs — the jobs that used to serve as unofficial proving grounds and apprenticeships — in metropolitan dailies and local TV than there used to be. Like film school graduates, they will have to go out into the world and create a name for themselves. It's a far less predictable environment and the career paths are less clear.

Another Times reporter, Brian Stelter, who covers media, built his own reputation blogging about TV news while still a student at Towson University. Based on that, the Times hired him a few years ago. I have often wondered if he could go back out on his own and take advantage of his 155,000 followers on Twitter and again create his own brand in media news. He is already working on a book.

Where to, journalism graduates?

Some journalism professors at universities in the U.S. lament the fact that they don't have a good answer for parents and students who wonder where the jobs will be after graduation. That is part of the reason some journalism schools are seeing declines in enrollment.

Here in China, the graduates of top journalism schools can still count on finding jobs in the major state media. But for those who don't want to work in those media organizations -- Xinhua News Agency, People's Daily, China Daily, CCTV -- the path is less certain.

As for Nate Silver's future at the Times, Abramson was quoted in MediaBistro as saying she hopes she can hang onto him. They'll talk soon, she says. When he finishes his book tour.

This article originally appeared on the blog News Entrepreneurs and is posted on IJNet with permission.

James Breiner is co-director of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University. He is a former Knight International Journalism Fellow who launched and directed the Center for Digital Journalism at the University of Guadalajara. He is bilingual in Spanish and English and is a consultant in online journalism and leadership. Follow him on Twitter.