"The journalistic culture in which columnists were the only ones allowed to have a personality, and everyone else's bylines were practically interchangeable, is practically gone," wrote Doree Shafrir in the New York Observer yesterday about how "personal branding" has infected even that holiest of holies, the New York Times. She uses the success of former 'TV Newser' turned Times blogger Brian Stelter as an example of the reversal of protocol that's recently taken place—reporters must now market themselves as specialists from the jump, instead of spending time working different beats until finding a comfortable "sincecure" later in life, in order to prevent themselves from being seen as interchangeable and therefore, redundant. The piece is exactly the kind of thinky, finger-on-pulse thing we've come to expect from Doree Shafrir, who also really likes 'The Hills'!
That's the thing about "personal branding": it might just be a new version of what used to be called "having a distinct voice." The problem comes when people (not Doree, by the way) who don't yet have distinct voices, or maybe never will have them, are forced or force themselves to develop some kind of bloggy webby "platform."
"On Oct. 13, Columbia Journalism School held a day-long workshop called 'Building A Personal Website and Your Online Brand'; the attendees were all 'working journalists.'" Doree wrote. Also, "Today, even Times reporters who are hardly household names are encouraged to set up pages on nytimes.com with a list of their Web site 'picks,' so we can get to know them better."
And per Doree, the epitome of this trend is the woman Vanessa Grigoriadis described as "the most famous young journalist in New York" in New York magazine last week. That would be Julia Allison. Julia is quoted as saying, "I looked around, and I saw that the people who were getting assignments and getting paid really nicely for it were names. They were brands ...Ultimately, you're replaceable if you're not a brand."
So it's not just that "voice" is branding. Some folks really are incredibly brand-conscious.
But while the old conventional wisdom was that this kind of behavior was "blatantly ambitious" and therefore distasteful, "Today, being 'blatantly ambitious' has different overtones; we live in an era in which we've convinced ourselves that nearly any behavior is okay, as long as we're up front about it."
Maybe we're not just talking about the rules of journalism here, but the new rules of being any kind of public person with any kind of internet presence. Where's that line between person and persona, between honesty and intentional self-branding?