There’s nothing new about these “blurred lines”

There’s nothing new about these “blurred lines”: BusinessWeek’s Stephen Baker wrote this on Blogspotting: “Most corporations and media outlets haven’t figured out yet how to revamp compensation for the new age. Very few journalists, for example, are evaluated for customer relations. That’s almost sacrilege, the province of the advertising or marketing side of the business. But blogging is blurring the line between these domains. Perhaps the best way to measure the value of bloggers inside the company is to see how they fare when they leave. There’s a growing list of case studies out there.”

It is strange when I find myself disagreeing with Stephen Baker, but media companies have been one of the pioneers in finding creative ways to line up the corporate interests of a media property with the “value” of the talent associated with that property. How about when a reporter writes an article that leads to a book deal and the media outlet lets him or her take a leave to do the book? I’m not referring to anyone in particular, but, to remove any suggestion, let’s use someone who works for a company other than McGraw-Hill. Let’s say, Malcolm Gladwell and the New Yorker (or there’s a parade of examples there, including my favorite, John McPhee). Gladwell has become a media empire himself yet he still is a “staff writer” for the New Yorker. Conde-Nast is constantly trying to juggle its corporate interests with that of some of its stars. It has figured out how to do so at the New Yorker, but hasn’t fared so well with other of its outlets.

However, that talented individuals (or, as they say in Hollywood, “talent”) can achieve a level of success so that their “personal brand’s” value rivals the media’s brand the person is employed by is nothing new. There are plenty of “case studies out there” that show how much news anchors can charge for an hour-long private gig, for example. Many coaches and athletes make more money from independent advertising and media deals than they make from their corporate gigs (which in some cases, can be employment with a team owned by a media company). And in Hollywood, the independent “talent” constantly is re-negotiating with and moving among “media outlets” (like Time-Warner, Inc.) — and the whole blurring of the lines thing is no big deal (but it involves some really big dealing). That writers can move between working for da man (which Om will continue to do, as he’ll still have a regular check from Time-Warner, Inc.) and do his own thing is nothing new just because it involves a blogging platform.

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  • bhudgins

    Somehow the concept of journalists being evaluated for customer relations conjures the image of an Ernestine-esque HR person (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lily_Tomlin) calling the Nixon White House and asking them to rate Woodward and Bernstein. The conversation ends with the HR person saying, “Well, <sniff>, I’m sure, Mr. Mitchell, that that would be a <sniff> MOST uncomfortable event to befall Mrs. Graham, <snork, snork>.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_N._Mitchell)

  • steve baker

    Rex, I think things are shifting quite a bit. At BW, for example, it wasn’t til the mid-80s that the magazine adopted bylines. They stayed away from them before, I think, because they might undermine the institutional authority of the magazine. In those days, the kings of the magazine were editors. They referred to reporters’ stories simply as “files.”

    This is changing. In the last year, the bylines have moved to the top of the stories, and now practically every issue has a byline on the cover. This is the process of the weekly magazine building the brands of its writers in-house.

    The question is how to value that brand-building outside the publication. Some pubs have writers and editors who do good TV or radio, or blog. I don’t think they’ve figured out yet how much those efforts are worth.

    As far as the book deal goes… I have no indication that my bosses view my leave as mutually beneficial. They let us take our leaves because they know we want to very badly (and they know how it feels, because they’ve done it themselves). Maybe if they trusted that we’d turn into the next Malcolm Gladwell or John McPhee they’d be excited about the branding possibilities. But those two are exceptions, not the rule. I think most pubs give writers book leaves with the simple hope that they’ll be content and productive once they scratch the book itch.

  • steve baker

    Rex, I think things are shifting quite a bit. At BW, for example, it wasn’t til the mid-80s that the magazine adopted bylines. They stayed away from them before, I think, because they might undermine the institutional authority of the magazine. In those days, the kings of the magazine were editors. They referred to reporters’ stories simply as “files.”

    This is changing. In the last year, the bylines have moved to the top of the stories, and now practically every issue has a byline on the cover. This is the process of the weekly magazine building the brands of its writers in-house.

    The question is how to value that brand-building outside the publication. Some pubs have writers and editors who do good TV or radio, or blog. I don’t think they’ve figured out yet how much those efforts are worth.

    As far as the book deal goes… I have no indication that my bosses view my leave as mutually beneficial. They let us take our leaves because they know we want to very badly (and they know how it feels, because they’ve done it themselves). Maybe if they trusted that we’d turn into the next Malcolm Gladwell or John McPhee they’d be excited about the branding possibilities. But those two are exceptions, not the rule. I think most pubs give writers book leaves with the simple hope that they’ll be content and productive once they scratch the book itch.