It is with deep sadness that I say this: Traditional media is increasingly a bad place for a good journalist to work.
And it’s a scary place for a journalist who also happens to have a mortgage and a couple of kids in college and needs to ensure that money actually keeps coming in. Which would describe me.
But maybe there’s another way for journalists to get paid decently to do credible, fair work that contributes something to society. With that in mind, I’ve been working on establishing a new kind of “branded journalism” — putting together good journalism with corporate branding in a way that helps both thrive. without compromising either.
Journalism needs this. My story is like a lot of long-time journalists’ stories. I wrote for USA Today for 22 years and built a solid following as its tech columnist. Since I left in 2007, USA Today has gone through one round of layoffs and furloughs after another. Next stop, in 2007, was Conde Nast Portfolio – the most high-profile magazine launch in a decade. I joined as a contributing editor. In April 2009, the magazine was killed.
The economy sucked. The economics of print media sucked. Most every publication was also going through hell. So it’s not like there was anywhere to run to safety.
I’ve written a number of books, and that certainly helps. But in the book business these days, unless you score a mega-hit, an author is never going to make a living writing books through traditional channels.
As Portfolio died, I accidentally tripped into branded journalism — a concept that is still being explored and defined. I got pulled into two book projects, and both turned out to be a form of branded journalism.
One book was for IBM’s 100th anniversary.I had previously written a biography of Thomas Watson Sr., who built IBM. It made sense for IBM to ask me to work on its massive historical project, which led to a book that I co-authored. Making the World Work Better was, from the start, intended to be a serious, credible book — more “commissioned” by IBM than guided or sponsored by it.
Two other long-time journalists — Steve Hamm and Jeff O’Brien — wrote the book with me. We got paid decently, and never felt that IBM interfered with our work. And we created a book that was a serious look at where technology has been, and where it’s going. The book got some nice coverage in The New York Times and great reviews on Amazon. It was, no doubt, the most widely distributed business book of 2011 — some 600,000 copies in seven languages wound up in readers’ hands around the world.
The other book was TheTwo-Second Advantage. I co-authored it with Vivek Ranadive, CEO of TIBCO Software. We sold it to Random House, and then TIBCO subsidized my research and the back-end marketing. I couldn’t have afforded to do this book any other way. The book made The New York Times’ bestseller list.
These books led me to join VSA Partners, which had also worked with IBM on its centennial. I’m at VSA because we’re seeing demand for collaborations like the IBM book or Two-Second Advantage, and I want to help figure out this new marriage of journalism and branding.
Coming blog posts will continue to explore the emergence of branded journalism — as it happens before our eyes.
This post also appears on the VSA Partners site.