Journalism and Personal Branding

Today, I came across an interesting article in my Google Alerts, entitled, “Ben Parr, romantic swing dancer: Google now highlights individual authors in its search returns“.

If an article has your name in it, you’re going to read it, of course. The article is about a new Google Search feature that highlights authors in search results. Soon search results will have the pretty faces of journalists hovering to the right of search.

Megan Garber (the author of the article) uses it as a starting point to discuss the role of personal branding in journalism, something that has increased exponentially as the social web has blossomed. I’ve heard the same things from fellow colleagues, especially more seasoned journalists: the journalist shouldn’t be the story. And personal branding is ALL about you being the story.

I come from a different school though — I studied entrepreneurship, political science and science in human culture at Northwestern, not journalism — and have never felt uncomfortable being part of the story. I personally believe that it actually can improve journalism and storytelling by providing a deeper human connection between you and the reader. I know that my Twitter account has been essential to garnering feedback on my stories and crafting my art, and I know I’m not the only journalist to use it as a tool for crowdsourcing ideas for stories.

The truth though is that it doesn’t matter whether personal branding is helping or hurting journalism, because reputation/personal brands are here to stay in the journalism world. So long as social media proliferates, so will the need for journalists to build a following. The ones who don’t embrace the era of the branded journalist will suddenly find themselves losing out on jobs against social-savvy candidates with bigger followings.

It’s not fair, but that’s one of the consequences of the social web.