Why work for The Man when you can build a brand? That’s essentially the question Ben Domenech, the publisher of the newly minted website The Federalist and editor of the e-mail newsletter The Transom is challenging journalists to confront.
More and more, Domenech says, writers are empowered to bypass traditional media outlets in favor of more entrepreneurial pursuits. This is because the outlets no longer control the means of production.
What is more, today’s writers can also bypass traditional distribution methods, via Twitter — an innovation that has transferred some degree of power from the outlet to the individual. Never mind working for a newspaper, “[i]t doesn’t even really matter if your [website's] front page is slick,” Domenech said during a recent discussion. “When you look at how people are following news these days, some much stuff is fed through the lens of Twitter and Facebook, and who you follow and who you like on those platforms, and not going to the front page of sites anymore.”
Domenech wonders how important it even is for someone with a decent brand and a solid Twitter following to be associated with a larger media outlet. What is more, he suspects some writers are leaving money on the table. “[S]o much of [the news] is socially fed, that someone is dropping into the story pages directly, as opposed to the old ‘browsing a magazine’ that people used to have… ” And so the question is: “Can you monetize that? Can you turn that into something that you can build on?”
“As these old media entities fade away,” he continues, “I think there is more of an opportunity to sort of say, ‘Hey, I sort of have a personal brand, a personal tone, I have sort of a style and a focus that gets people coming back to my stuff, and to the post who are writing sort of within my space and area…’ and I think there is an opportunity for that area.”
Ezra Klein of the Washington Post is a prime example of a writer who could go out on his own and potentially make more money, says Domenech. “Certainly he needed [The Washington Post] to build the brand that he has, but [if] he decides to walk away and start his own entity, I expect that a lot of people would follow him in terms of the content that he produces…”
Klein has over 350,000 Twitter followers and over 174,000 Facebook “likes.”
So there is an opportunity for writers to go out on their own. But Domenech warns that not everyone is cut out this. For example, he notes that if Charles Krauthammer and George Will had to worry about growing an email list or making sure web vendors were paid, they would have less time to actually focus on writing columns.
Despite the drawbacks, this seems to be a route more and more writers are willing to try. In just the last year, we’ve seen bloggers like Andrew Sullivan (formerly of the Daily Beast/Newsweek) and David Catanese (formerly of Politico) go out on their own — and remain relevant.
Certainly, if a journalist such as Ezra Klein were to join them, he’d have his own group of followers from social media to support him in his endeavors. Domenech says that this is “something that is happening in the media landscape.”
Charlotte Errity contributed to this report.