P012: I Can Explain

Last summer, there was a Groupon for a year’s subscription to The Economist for something like $50, a steep discount on the regular cover price. I’ve long been a fan of the magazine newspaper, so now I’m the proud owner of a stack of mostly-unread issues of The Economist. Despite the gnawing guilt and proto-hoarder organizational dilemmas that are fast becoming A Thing in our house, I’m happy I subscribed for a number of reasons:

  1. The mix of stories is better than what I’d get from other media outlets.
  2. The politics are pretty much in line with my own beliefs, but not so much that it’s a warm, cuddly cocoon of confirmation bias.
  3. The nearly total lack of bylines is an interesting if disorienting change of pace in this era of personal brand journalism.

While the first item is just the latest volley in my never-ending smacktalk campaign against CNN, the last two have been top of mind for me recently with the launch of two hotly anticipated journalistic enterprises: FiveThirtyEight and Vox.

Who Explains the Explainers?

Unveiled less than a month apart, these two sites are opposite sides of the same coin: data-oriented publications helmed by precocious young white guys (Nate Silver and Ezra Klein) who parlayed previous success (50/50, Wonkblog’s rise) into a flagship property for a larger, more progressive institution (ESPN, Vox Media).

And while most of the media focus has been on the sudden popularity of explanatory journalism, the reason Silver and Klein got these juicy deals is the stone cold fact that they will bring their audience with them wherever they roam. They, and others (Bill Simmons, Andrew Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh, etc.) are widely read because, in part, people like and identify with them. This leads to social sharing, which leads to pageviews, which leads to money. So it’s true that we are now living in an age of personal brand journalism.

Have You Met My Brand?

Of course, by projecting a brand, the author risks overstating their case and alienating their biggest fans. Vox avoided this by sprinting to market and using their first post to properly set expectations – maybe someone over there has been reading this humble newsletter?

In the end, the simplest way to shake the new-brand smell is to make your brand the best version of yourself. Never in recorded history have we been more encouraged to share our thoughts and actions at every step of the way. If you combine that expectation with your true passions, your work will be honest and your “brand” will be “aligned” by default.

Periodically Yours,

Bob Sherron