The next miracle (v11.1): Owen Youngman

Knight Professor of Digital Media Strategy, Medill / Northwestern

Owen YoungmanOwen YoungmanOwen Youngman

More sizzle, with plenty at stake

Some four days on, the back-and-forth-and-back-again about how and whether 21st Century journalists should be putting effort into “personal branding” appears to abating. Evidently reporters’ attention has turned to Rod Blagojevich’s corruption conviction, or maybe David Carr’s NYT piece on the TMZ newsroom, “A Newsroom that Doesn’t Need News.”

Admittedly, there may be a brief resurgence, because Gene Weingarten – whose Washington Post column addressed to one of my Medill grad students started the “foofaraw,” as he and I independently began to label it – addressed it today in the preamble to his monthly live chat on Among other things, in it he answers Steve Buttry’s implied charge that he is “something of a mischievous hypocrite” (see Buttry’s Storify curation, “Gene Weingarten has a powerful personal brand“).

(I note with interest that an early synonym for “mischievous hypocrite” – “designing villain” – would itself seem to be a brand-in-waiting, though in this case it has been waiting since 1822 according to Google Books. I digress.)

After reading the chat transcript, I guess that at the end of the foofaraw, @geneweingarten and @youngowen (in my previous blog post) are going to wind up disagreeing about whether we might be even in fractional agreement, short of our appealing to Lamont Cranston for a ruling.

I further guess that I am kind of sad that his response correlates the issue with a timeline that stretches from an era when “if you were a journalist, you swaggered. You felt invincible” to one when “We no longer were the smartest people in the room, telling people what we knew they needed to know . . . We were supplicants, salesmen, trying to interest a customer in our wares.” Not that this is even the most powerful or persuasive part of his response, which despite his best efforts often avoids being smug and dismissive. It’s just the one that makes me sad, because it swerves around the point.

I want the same things for my students that I think Gene wants for the young journalists he mentors. Where we disagree is that I think that if their good work helps them make “branding” a weapon in their personal arsenals, they won’t wind up being salesclerks; he implies that by so doing, taking the concept “straight from the evil, cynical world of marketing,” they already have become salesclerks. I guess we’ll need to compare notes at the checkout counter.

Let’s not fail to mention two other good links on the topic, among many that are floating around. Mindy McAdams, who holds the Knight chair in journalism at the University of Florida, used her blog to ask and answer, “Branding: Should journalists build a personal brand?” And Steve Buttry has followed up his “well-executed curation of the entire foofaraw” (Weingarten) with “Confessions (strategies) of a branded journalist,” structured as a set of imperatives that might be viewed as a menu, a map, or even a mandate.

So thanks, Gene and Steve (and Mindy and Leslie). I’m thinking the odds are good that, the next time I teach “How 21st Century Media Work,” this closing assignment will be better framed, more tightly constructed, and even more focused on launching my students back into the lands beyond Medill. Because that’s what at stake: important journalism from skilled journalists that actually reaches its intended audience, in a fragmented media world where swagger cannot provide a shortcut to impact.

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