12/31/12

Division of Labor, Talent and Journalistic Branding

A clear divide exists between generic labor and talent in media companies and it is now increasingly dividing journalists. The divide initially appeared in the motion picture industry and moved into broadcasting as competition led companies to vie for the talented people—or at least those who could generate the largest audiences and revenue for media companies.

The talent concept moved into journalism with the development of television news and salaries for news presenters and leading correspondents that were far above those of average television reporters.   In print journalism, talent initially involved columnists and then encompassed a few well-known reporters.
Today, the appearances of journalists at events and on talk shows, individually-authored digital news sites, and the increasing uses of blogs and social media by journalists is transforming many into individual brands that are being using to improve their social standing and connections with audiences. This journalistic branding no longer primarily supports employers’ interests for audience creation and retention. Instead, it creates an individual brand that increases the demand for the services of the branded journalist. This, of course, can be translated in higher wages, better employment opportunities, or self employment via the digital media.

The fact that individual journalists are finding ways to increase their value isn’t a problem, but journalists need to thinking about the point where branding transforms them into celebrity—thus moving them from being an observer to a participant in the news they report.
The development of talent—whether as journalists, investment managers, sports personalities, and even publicly recognized scholars—represents a significant shift in capital-labor relations.  In industrial society, capital had disproportionate power because it controlled factories and labor had few ways to counteract that power outside of collective bargaining. In post-industrial society, however, power is shifting toward talent because these branded professionals are a new class of personnel who are crucial for companies—but talent doesn't fall into the traditional capital or labor categories.

One of the downsides of this shift, according to Roger Martin, dean of Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto, is that it is creates two classes of labor: generic labour and talent. The first is often undervalued and the second sometimes overvalued.  The process is creating disproportionate incomes, opportunities, and mobility for the latter group and there is growing animosity between generic labour and talent because they do not share similar experiences or have a common identity.
What talent will mean to the future of journalism is uncertain, but digital communications are clearly making it possible for some journalists to separate themselves from others and to move into the talent category. It is something we should be watching.

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