If you work in media and do not have a brand, do not have a following, a voice, an edge, an authenticity so raw that it cannot be replicated, be afraid. Be very afraid.
Once upon a time, bloggers were the outsiders. The outcast wannabes. Those who pretended to write. Oh, how times (and perceptions) have changed. And, oh, how laughable it is from where I sit. Proof that when something new is being lambasted, it’s wise to look at who is hurling the criticism and what old-school mainstay the shiny, newfangled thing is threatening.
Turns out readers are pretty savvy. They don’t want to be marketed and “messaged” to as a demographic. And they’ve sharpened their bs-sniffing skills. Readers like bloggers, and their can’t-be-bought agility and irreverence. A lot. In a mediascape where every click is counted and measured, where clicks are collateral, lil old free-flying bloggers ended up wielding a thunderbolt of power that is electrocuting the content world.
Last week, when my New Yorker magazine arrived in the mail, I was scanning the Contribs Page, and noticed, much to my delight, that the contributor bios directed readers to writers’ blogs, yes, their New Yorker blogs. Four words that once formed an oxymoron, The New Yorker and blogs, were now cosied up bosom buddies. Wow, I thought.
Then yesterday happened. As you may have heard, there was quite a shake-up at Hearst Magazines Digital Media as the powers that be cleaned house. A friend of mine was filling me in last night as my eyes widened, with sheer delight, no doubt. If content is king, then Bloggers are the heir apparent to the throne. They know it now. They are placing the jeweled crowns on their heads. And many of us are thumbs-upping them from afar as the ultimate rags-to-riches, outcasts-turned-insiders, changemaker-takeover, don’t-wait-your-turn story.
Come along and dissect with us. The press release The Blot obtained, which Hearst sent to its employees yesterday via email, reads:
“Fashion and Lifestyle Experts Join Hearst Magazines as Company Continues Investment in Digital Talent.”
Hm, bloggers being rebranded with that ultimate means-nothing-but-sounds-important title, “expert.” Outcasts reborn, eh?
It goes on, “Hearst Magazines Digital Media today announce two editorial appointments for its leading young women’s brands.”
Are you with me here, the company’s top brands, being handed over to…bloggers. Imagine that.
Later, it reads, “The hires are part of HMDM’s ongoing investment in talent, new product, technology and content.”
Yes, that’s the spot, right there. Scratch it. Bloggers, once the ugly stepchildren, show their true swan-like sensibilities, holding the flashy and innovative bundle of skills Big Media can’t replicate but wants to buy (and can only rent).
Onward. “Cosmo and ELLE are starting important conversations, breaking news and offering commentary on the big stories that matter to our readers.”
Ok, are you relishing this as much as we are? Let’s see here, key words: important conversations, breaking news, commentary on the Big Stories…brought to you by…Bloggers. Go get ’em, cowgirls!
Then, “Amy’s well-respected point of view will drive Cosmo as the site evolves its content.”
Oh, Blogger, how authentic and organic and original your can’t-be-bought, no-one-is-sponsoring-you? brand. My, how the readers have clicked.
“Leah’s deep knowledge of the industry and her news sensibility will grow Elle.com’s influence….”
Wowza. You got that: deep knowledge, news sensibility, influence…all poached from the Fashionista…blog.
Now, keep up with me here: So, Odell was poached from that newcomer to the media scene, BuzzFeed (launched in 2006, same year as Politico). She had been a fashion-sections editor there just 1.5 years (she started in the role in Feb 2012) — somehow enough time to launch BF’s first women’s interest section, whose traffic soared to 6 million uniques (clicks are the new cash).
The innovateur also was a founding ed of TheCut, NY Mag‘s much-worshipped, oft-imitated fashion blog — where content was updated (take a seat) every 20 to 40 minutes. Damn, Girl! Hot. To. Trot. Founding, launching, creating, starting. “Talent, new product, technology and content.”
But, wait for it. Yes, it gets better:
“Chernikoff was the editorial director of Fashionista.com since 2010, where she reported on and edited fashion industry news…”
OK, so a top-level editor who not only shaped others’ content but also kept her own writing and reporting chops sharp by continuing to contribute her own content and voice to the mix. Yep, impressive.
“…taking the site from 250,000 unique visitors to just under 2 million.”
Click. Click. Click.
“Before that, she was a features reporter at the New York Daily News since 2007.”
Jumped ship from the dying dino print newspaper. Smart girl refusing to sink with the ship. Hey, isn’t that where Nora Ephron, one of my ultra heroes, started, or was it the New York Post?
“She has freelanced for the Wall Street Journal, Bon Appetit, NYMag.com and more.”
Yeah, babies. Now, that’s one helluva kicker. Because I’m sure you remember when, during the worst parts of the bad-economy-that-never-ended, the word freelance took on that horribly false, new connotation of just-been-laid-off-cant-find-a-job. It was used as the “cover-up” to which people would wink, and say, “Ahhhh, right, freeeeeelance,” trying not to sound too pitying. Back then, people were embarrassed to say they had been laid off.
It’s because of this watering down of the term we began hearing “consultant” and “content strategist” in LinkedIn profiles. True freelancers couldn’t stand the idea of representing a class of thumb-twirling do-nothings. Now, people wear lay-off’s like a badge of honor, a completed initiation process that officiates their membership to the “been-there, survived-that” club.
Alas, back to it–there a few last core observations to throw into the mix: Amy Odell, at Twitter handle @AmyOdell, has attracted nearly 32,000 followers (while she follows a meager 1,131). She has a website: AmyOdell.net, of course. Where she blogs. Leah Chernikoff favors Instagram, where her name, Leah Chernikoff, has collected 1,338 followers, while she follows just 233. Her Twitter handle, @LeahChernikoff, has attracted 1,631 followers, while she follows only 439 there.
I have never met either of these women, though I’ve seen them around Twitter. Yet I know much of what I need to know about them in those few graphs above. The girls move. They shake and shimmy and weave. They understand how to make things happen. They know how to get in and get out.They’re agile. They are their own brands, that can be rented but not bought. They built their mini empires — and will sling them over their shoulders wherever they go, picking up right where they left off. Neither one will ever start at ground zero ever again.
But back to the we-bear-all culture of now. Executive director of Elle.com, formerly, as of yesterday, posted the news of her lay-off immediately, not as a Tweet, but as the bio on her Twitter handle @Drrramina: “Formerly of ELLE.com. Free Agent. Hire me, really.”
She’s wrangled some 10.3K followers. I met her in the hall when I worked at Elle, just after she had just been swooped up from New York Magazine. She was sassy and dynamic and friendly. Hire Her…Really!). I liked her, very much, and having loved my stint as a party reporter for NYMag, I also liked where she came from. I’m not worried about her one bit. (But girl, get yourself a blog and a website). Now, @AbbyGardner was not so verbose on Twiter; but hey, with some 13.6K followers, I’m not worried about her either. These two brands, er ladies, will be just fine.
Fierce. Bold. Good on @Drrramina. Because, let’s be honest, who survived NYC from 2009 on and has never been laid off? No talent worth knowing or talking about, that’s sure. Indeed, a headhunter recently called me about a head of content job at an upcoming start-up and told me on the phone that she does not look at anyone who has been in the same office gig more than two years. That’s stagnant. That’s boring. That’s stuck. It’s the movers who are dynamic and skills-sharp. Hey, I could not write “new media”s story any better than the way it is unfolding.
Well, here’s to restoring the word freelance to its true translation: Class-A Hustla. No drama. No hassle. Hardscrabble. The gal (or guy) gets shit done. Booyah. Go, get something done already.