It has been said “journalists will start having to build their own personal brands" What does this mean?
In the summer of 2013, Nate Silver—statistics wizard, inventor of the popular 538 website, and correct prognosticator of the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections—dropped the bombshell that he was leaving the New York Times to start his own 538 website under the corporate umbrella of ESPN. The news was particularly surprising given that, up until that point, Silver's story was that of a previously unknown but successful blogger plucked out of relative obscurity by the Times who went on to have a powerful impact at a major traditional news outlet. Now, suddenly, the story was being rewritten, with the Times losing its Monte Carlo simulation wunderkind. What exactly is going on?
One way to think about the story of Nate Silver and the 538 website is that it is indicative of a larger trend in the news business: the old, corporate brands are now less powerful than the brands of individual journalists themselves. Pioneering blogger Andrew Sullivan's decision to launch his own stand-alone website, funded entirely by donations, added further evidence to this speculation. Journalists with a strong social media presence, a unique voice or set of technical skills, and a proven ability to drive traffic were now in a newfound position of power vis-a-vis their employers. Once upon a time, a journalist depended on a corporate or institutional media brand to provide her with a voice and a megaphone for that voice. But now, digital media encourages—even mandates—that journalists be themselves and no longer hide their individuality under the cloak of an institutional voice. What's more, this trend will accelerate in the future, some commentators argue. News institutions will become a collection of powerful individual voices. "The reality is that individual brands like Sullivan and Silver now arguably have as much or more power as the traditional brands they used to align themselves with," one important Internet writer speculated. "The big question is how outlets like the Times and others will handle that rebalancing of power."
Future journalists will need to do more to cultivate their individual personality, voice, skill set, and presence in the larger social media ecosystem than the journalists of the mid-to-late- twentieth century. But we also shouldn't assume that, in the not-so-distant future, news institutions will simply become a collection of stars. ESPN had no problem eventually firing one of its biggest stars (the sports columnist Bill Simmons) and letting him move to HBO. Andrew Sullivan retired from blogging not all that long after he launched his own site. As for Nate Silver, the jury remains out as to whether or not his impact has been the same outside the New York Times brand as it was within it.