Gene Weingarten: Branding is Ruining Journalism

Gene Weingarten is not a fan of journalists building a brand.

WaPo humor columnist Gene Weingarten begins his ostensible response to an ostensible grad student ostensibly asking him how he’s “built my personal brand over the years.”

The best way to build a brand is to take a three-foot length of malleable iron and get one end red-hot. Then, apply it vigorously to the buttocks of the instructor who gave you this question. You want a nice, meaty sizzle.

After a few paragraphs on the transformation of journalist that can best be summarized “Get off my lawn!” he adds:

When I was a hungry young reporter in the 1970s, I thought of myself as a superman, an invincible crusader for truth and justice — even though, looking back at old pictures, I now see that I resembled an emaciated weasel in unattractive clothing. My goals, however, were unambiguous, and heroic: 1) Get great stories that improve the world. 2) Get famous. 3) Get doe-eyed young women to lean in close and whisper, “Take me.”

Note the order. First came the work.

That’s a great bit of writing. He follows with:

Now, the first goal seems to be self-promotion — the fame part, the “brand.” That’s because we know that, in this frenetic fight for eyeballs at all costs, the attribute that is most rewarded is screeching ubiquity, not talent. It is why Snooki — who is quite possibly literally a moron — has a best-selling book. It is why the media superstars of today are no longer people such as Bob Woodward, who break big stories, but people like Bill O’Reilly, who yell about them.

I share many of Weingarten’s laments about our popular culture and the state of our political and intellectual discourse. But we’ve always had idiot celebrities and they’ve always been able to sell books; I’m not sure if Snooki is a new low. And Bob Woodward, Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow were all brands, even if we didn’t have that terminology. So, for that matter, is Gene Weingarten. In all cases, they were built on a combination of superior work combined with marketing. I don’t think anyone is confusing Snooki with a Pulitizer Prize winner, either.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ken says:

    The problem today is that there are no ‘safe harbors’ for decent hard working reporting. Every ‘reporter’ today has to risk their reputations in a demolition derby between everyone else on the field willing to sensationalize everything just to attract a small part of the diminishing attention of an audience conditioned to receive entertainment in place of hard news.