Time to Surf the Wave of the Personal Brand

Politico’s version of the negotiations describes how NYT executive editor Jill Abramson and Washington bureau chief David Leonhardt fought hard to keep Silver at the paper because they saw his “brand within a brand as a wave of the future,”

Mathew Ingram’s recounting today of blogger Nate Silver’s leap from the New York Times into the welcoming arms of ESPN underscores a trend B2B journalists and editors ignore at their peril.

For the moment at least, editorial personal brands are growing more powerful primarily—or most obviously—in big media.

My sense is that most B2B journos are largely unaware of the trend, or largely unwilling to hop onto it. Sooner or later that will change, but whether most of the journalists who have the experience to take advantage of the trend will actually do so is an open question. Being an expert in your field is a requirement for a robust personal brand, but not the only one. If you don’t consciously cultivate your brand, it won’t take root in the new media age.

That means blogging, using social media, and—you may shudder to think of it—promoting your brand. And need I add, you must do this with enthusiasm?

And lest I seem to be piling it onto editors unduly, I should note that B2B media brands need to be as cognizant of this trend as individuals. As Jeff Jarvis said in a tweet Ingram quoted, they need to be thinking of themselves as platforms for building individual brands—something I see few B2B publishing companies doing.

Time is running out. The wave of individual branding will overtake B2B media soon, and the only question is whether you’re going to be surfing the wave or struggling in the wake.

Infographics: Not Dead Yet

As the one or two dedicated readers of this blog can attest, my affection for infographics waxes and wanes on a regular basis.

Of late, I’ve been rather down on this graphic approach to conveying complex information. Too often, what information value is contained in the graphic is overwhelmed by cuteness, triteness, or both.

So when one Allison Morris inquired via my contact page (rarely, alas, a reliable source of useful interaction) about promoting an infographic she’d worked on, I was skeptical.  (It was a good sign, though, that she had in fact read at least one post on this blog.)

My fears, happily, were unjustified. I don’t know anything about OnlineClasses.org, but I do like their  flowchart for young jobseekers about what to post or not on their social media accounts. Well done, Allison et al!

To Post or Not to Post To Post or Not to Post Infographic

Curation: Add Value and Pass It Along

Among all the topics that seem to rile journalists and publishers these days, perhaps the most contentious is curation. Is summarizing and linking to another person’s article an honorable act or a form of theft? How can you distinguish between good curation and bad curation?

Let me begin to answer those questions by summarizing and linking to Rex Hammock’s post last week on this very issue.

The act of finding great content and linking to it, he says, is a fine idea. Though he dislikes the term curation, he approves of the activity as it was originally practiced. But recently, he says, it has come to mean something less good:

Over the past three or so years, the term media curation has evolved in its meaning to being less-and-less an act of help and service and more and more a term that’s used to add lipstick to a pig of a business model that is based on something like the following: “go re-write stuff you find elsewhere that’s about whatever is trending on Google and bury a link to them somewhere towards the end of the story so we can claim it’s not merely re-writing their story.”

Hammock’s guideline for avoiding this fix seems pretty clear: If you can’t add value to a story, just link to it.

Perhaps not so clear is how to add value. I think most rational people would agree with him that many Huffington Post or Business Insider stories are really just rewrites. But short of that extreme, there’s plenty of disagreement.

The best recent example, perhaps, comes from Kashmir Hill’s Forbes.com story last February recapping Charles Duhigg’s New York Times article on consumer marketing and data mining. As Mathew Ingram wrote, opinion was sharply divided over whether Hill stole Duhigg’s story “in an attempt to get pageviews from someone else’s work” or whether she instead served a valuable function in highlighting and directing readers to his article.

When I read Hill’s story, I don’t see an attempt to get pageviews. What I see, rather, is someone who is intensely interested in Duhigg’s subject matter, admiring of his work, and intellectually engaged with his ideas.

I can’t find similar motivations in the pedestrian article Hammock criticizes. It’s simply the output of an aggregation serf.

The contrast between these two attempts at curation suggests to me a test that any writer should apply before blogging about another person’s story: Are you are genuinely engaged with it? If the answer is yes, chances are good you will add value in passing it along.

Reporter Failure, Editor Failure, or Tool Failure?

Telephone: Useful, but don't trust it.What are the new-media lessons, if any, to be drawn from the resignation earlier this month of Washington Post blogger Elizabeth Flock? Her immediate reason for resigning was having a prominent correction slapped onto one of her stories, the second in the last five months. Most of the discussion about her resignation has focused on who’s to blame. WaPo ombudsman Patrick Pexton says that “The Post failed her as much as she failed The Post.” On The Awl, Trevor Butterworth says WaPo is more at fault.

What caught my eye in this story, though, was a different kind of failure, one involving not reporters or editors, but the tools they use.

In an earlier article on Flock’s first corrected story last December, Pexton focused similarly on failures involving the human element. In this story, Flock incorrectly attributed to the Romney presidential campaign the use of an old Ku Klux Klan slogan. Although she tried to contact campaign representatives by e-mail, their reply correcting the story was lost in the WaPo spam filter. Quoting executive editor Marcus Brauchli, Pexton concluded that “‘We had a reporter failure and we had an editor failure.’”

But then he went on to raise a quite different kind of failure:

“Another problem here is that too many reporters see the computer as their main tool of the trade. I’m old-fashioned, and I think the telephone is still the first tool of the trade if you can’t do a personal interview. Fine to use the Internet for some basic research, or in a pinch to e-mail a source for a comment, but it’s faster and often better to call. You get more nuance, more spontaneity, and you usually get a real human being to answer a question. E-mail is too easily ignored; a person on the phone is harder to put off.”

My first reaction to this was an odd mixture of agreement and skepticism. I think it’s true that younger journalists tend to rely too much on online tools and not enough on old ones like the telephone. But Pexton’s suggestion that the Internet is only good for basic research or as a last resort is wrong too.

All of these tools are useful. But they all fail at times as well. The key is to use them all and to trust none.

Jeff Jarvis Strikes A Blow for Web History

Buzz Machine Sept 2011

Nearly two years ago, I wrote that while the Web has a future, it may not have a past. Exhibit A in my argument was the lamentable state of Jeff Jarvis’s influential blog, BuzzMachine. Started in the aftermath of 9/11, its archives offer an invaluable chronicle of the development of new media in the 21st century. But as I noted, trying to dig through those archives was nearly as arduous as excavating Troy. Links to the first few years of posts were hard to find, and when you did, they were encrusted with spam advertisements.

A year and a half later, thanks to son Jake Jarvis, the archives have been restored. Though it means quite a few of the links in my article have been broken, I’m happy at how easy it now is to read through those early posts. True, they don’t have the original look and feel, and they have squirreled away somewhere the ominous old blog title, “WarLog: World War III.” But you can always find samples of the original on the Internet Archive.

In all, it’s a good day for the history of the Web, one I wasn’t sure was coming. Now if Filloux will just correct that typo….