The real lesson for media companies from this weekend has nothing to do with left vs. right.
It’s that reporters and TV journalists who actually express opinions are interesting. They can turn the power of their personality into content people care about, attract large audiences, and generate advertising revenue.
Call it Personality Media. And traditional media ought to be paying close attention — it can mean big money for media companies if handled properly.
One the reigning champions of Personality Media is Glenn Beck. Another is Jon Stewart. And don’t forget the heavy personal touch of other media scions on their digital empires, including Arianna Huffington on Huffington Post and Nick Denton of Gawker.
We’re going to take a close look at the business of Personality Media at IGNITION, our conference on the Future of Media taking place Dec. 2-3, 2010 in NYC. The CEO of Beck’s media empire, Chris Balfe, will be joining us, along with Huffington, Denton, and other great speakers. Early-bird tickets are on sale through Monday.
Personality Media comes with its own challenges. Who cares that Juan Williams is a bigot? Apparently, just about everyone. Judging by the flurry of coverage following Williams’ firing from NPR after he made a controversial remark about Muslim clothing — and his subsequent hiring at Fox News — people are fascinated by this story.
Yet media often miss the chance to capitalise on Personality. In fact, personality is exactly the quality they often aim to bleach out in traditional journalism. Editors proudly boast they don’t even vote in elections, as it would “bias” their coverage (even though not voting doesn’t mean they don’t have an opinion).
Williams is a classic example of media-opportunity lost. Some might call his sentiment — fear of people in obviously Muslim clothing on planes — crude or offensive. But it could have been a chance to start a conversation. Instead of other media outlets profiting from the ensuing conversation with Web views, popular content, call-in shows, etc. NPR could have been hosting the dialog. It could have created a Web forum to ask listeners’ opinions. The remark could have been turned into an investigation of the nature of bias, and Williams could have hosted his own program on bias or the limits of political correctness. One can imagine the legions of commenters both supportive and apoplectic who might suddenly listen to or engage with NPR in a new and unexpected way.
After all, isn’t it kind-of interesting that Williams, a member of the press, is willing to publicly admit his fear and talk about it? Couldn’t that have spurred some real discussion? Instead, NPR fired Williams. And now Fox reporters are attacking NPR.
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