Deep thoughts about the conundrums of modern journalism (“branding”) ahead.
“I have a long history of winning the narrative,” brags journalist Charles C. Johnson on his fundraising site. He’s doing it right now: Here’s a write-up on him from Talking Points Memo and a report from a Thad Cochran conference call that Johnson called in to and sowed chaos within. You might, if you follow the links and read the commentaries, note the amused scorn with which traditional media types talk about him, throwing around words and phrases like “hijacked” and “got a story seriously wrong.” Tucker Carlson answered a reporter’s question about Johnson by ducking it, but tellingly saying that he refuses to say anything bad about anyone who has worked for him.
But here’s the thing: Johnson actually is winning the narrative. The narrative cares about number of eyeballs, not whether those eyeballs are rolling. It gets lamented, but it’s the real way modern media works. Every share and Facebook post and RT and blog represents more people who didn’t used to have you in their brain, but they do now. Even if people never read your actual work, it’s a win if they sort of hear about it, especially if they do not actually care about the issue. This week is a big win for the brand Charles Johnson, whose road is made much rougher by having such a generic name (shared with a big-footprint political blogger at Little Green Footballs). Juicy weird bits journalists love (harvest black people’s votes!) and one’s name in the keywords.
Once the narrative is won, though, it’s super hard to talk about it without sounding like a twit. How do you put something like this on a résumé? I am seriously asking. It’s a modern question, faced by modern people with résumés and accomplishments that are actually significant, but not in a way you can sell on paper with any dignity whatsoever.
I have some social media wins that I am actually for-real proud of, each of which represented more eyeballs and more conversation about stuff I had written. I’m not going to link here because I have some (career-dampening) self-respect. But I will mention them because I have this blog to fill:
I got shared on Don Graham’s Facebook page.
A story I broke was raw material for a “Colbert Report” segment.
Anne-Marie Slaughter (remember the “Why women still can’t have it all?” essay) tweeted a link to a story I wrote to 102,000 followers.
Romenesko, the go-to blog for media types, had a post asking how I got a rather explicit phrase into The Washington Post Magazine.
I’m a source in Wikipedia’s entry on The Pencil Test, which is an immature thing immature people do with their mammaries.
And stuff like “second-most read story on the home page from 9:30-11:30 on a Thursday” is good stuff! A potential employer really would want to know.
And it’s not just journalists — respectable people are expected to brand now, too.
Maybe translate your social media accomplishments into Latin, the language of instant undeserved respect.
“Inde ingressus sum in in est pretium sit amet Penicilio, quod est immatura immatura est cum populo suo mammaries.”
Or maybe treat retweets like references.
“Social media narrative-winning examples available on request, along with an explanation that they are not as pathetic as they sound.”
Well, those aren’t great ideas. But I bet you have some. How to make legitimate buzz sound legitimate on a résumé? Chime in in the comments.