Instagram, Journalism and Branding. Oh my!

I’ve been encouraged by some folks to do a ramble, here. The blog is, afterall, titled so.

Yet what I’ve found is that I’ve limited myself somewhat by being so excited about the aim for this blog to be strongly travel-based. There’s that whole thing about branding.

“You need to find your brand,” people say. And weirdly that came up in my photojournalism class the other day.

We had a speaker, Yael Swerdlow, who came into the class. And she asked a question—actually, many—of us students. I believe the question she asked was what we thought about the Instagram platform journalistically.

“I think it can be useful for photojournalists who have their brand figured out,” I said, unthinking.

I trailed on about my own struggles to find a brand even just in the photographic format.

She thought about what I’d said for a moment. She had wanted to resist the term brand in relation to journalism because in a sense, for anyone who is a bit of a purist in the field, to have a brand feels a little dirty.

I feel like when I write from a journalistic standpoint, it’s one of the times where I have the least identity. When I write stories, I write them “from” the neighborhoods I am in. I write what the people I interview say and try to keep their quotes in context so the story is told by others. I just build their words and the information I can find into one piece.

It’s not my job to tell people what to think. My job, when I am in the role of a journalist is to simply empower them to do so.

But more and more these days, journalists have to create brands for themselves. It’s beyond a beat. Increasingly, editorial is creeping its way into pieces either by creative framing or words that can color the presentation of a fact one way or another.

Publications are more frequently “understood” to be more conservative or more liberal, so presenting biased news is somehow permissible.

As publications label themselves as anything other than reliable news sources, this starts to create a brand. The reporters and writers working at these publications then need to have one similar that can support that publication’s brand and reputation.

I imagine if writers are “all over the place”, unless planning to be freelance forever (nothing wrong with that), we can be a little bit of a liability. To have little identity is to be unpredictable. And as a publication you don’t want any surprises in content to waste precious time.

All this to say that basically, branding, for a journalistic purist can feel a little bit like molestation. It’s forced identity when the goal is to have as little as possible.

So, Swerdlow kind of shuddered for a moment thinking about the fact that it was true that journalists succeed when they have defined brands.

I’m observing all of this thirst for compartmentalization. This blog, this specific entry even, is a testament to that. I’ve avoided writing because I have been trying to stick to being a travel blog when really it was started to be more.

But I was concerned about what? A brand. I was concerned about getting people to come to a page where the content would be somewhat predictable.

Who wants to come to a blog that seems to be about travel and read some creative writing with moderate sensual undertones about Antarctica–a place to which I have not traveled? Who wants to come to a blog that is about travel and see a ramble about journalism and branding? I don’t know, I guess we’ll see.

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