Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sourcing vs. Brand

If I tell you a story about something that happened at the University of Arkansas, depending on the story, you might believe me. I would be a source, and perhaps a credible one because I work at the University of Arkansas.

If you read the same story on a local blog, say Fayetteville Flyer, would you believe it?

If you read the same story on a local message board, say WooPig or Hogville, would you believe it?

If you read the same story at net media website like Arkansas360, would you believe it?

If you read the same story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette or Morning News of Northwest Arkansas, would you then believe it?

This is the stamp of Brand in the media market -- if an established name plate or call sign reports a story, it must be true. We invest belief in news brands, and our prejudices and predilections drive our selection of those brands. Don't think so? Why I wouldn't believe that trash from Fox News/MSNBC because they're a bunch of conservative/liberal pigs. See the point?

But you believed me because you knew me, and you knew where I worked. Would you then believe the same story told on the university's official website -- or

This imprimatur of news brand is fascinating stuff because decades ago, it really didn't matter. You dealt with the reality presented to you by your local media, and in many cases it was a chamber of commerce Potemkin Village portrayal of your world. That didn't mean people didn't know the real story, and trade in the real story. It just didn't get into the history books.

What in the hell does any of that have to do with the title?

Your patience with the lengthy set-up shall now be rewarded (call it a test of the digital native's attention span).

The next great wave of creative destruction is upon us, and it is all about source vs. brand. Quickly to one of the hottest fronts in the war -- Hollywood. Here is an industry that lives, thrives, on insider information, gossip and innuendo -- college football recruiting only thinks it has this problem when compared to the alternate realities of the movie industry.

Reporting is at the heart of the beast, and having the best sources is the only way to compete. So the old legacy brands like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter are reduced to PR organs and transactions of the day loggers as net media types like Nikki Finke and Deadline Hollywood Daily become the pulse of the industry. The Financial Times has an outstanding recap of the ensuing battle between the established Finke and two new upstart net media productions, Big Hollywood and The Wrap.

The lesson in it all for journalists is like her or not, Finke is the new age net journalist. She's networked. She's connected. She's social. And she knows your inner most secrets and is willing to publish them five minutes after she's confident they are true.

Plus, she gives us a new brutally honest assessment of what works in net media:

“People [in Hollywood] want you to tell them what they don’t already know,” she adds. “That’s what my site is all about."

How did I -- a flack in the college athletic world -- know about the story? Drudge Report. The ultimate net media mash-up -- nothing but links, nothing but breaking, nothing but the edge (of course, as defined by Matt Drudge). Like rock breaks scissors, sourcing trumps brand.

FT's reporter Matthew Garrahan gets the payoff line at the close of his article:

The media industry, at least in Hollywood, is thriving online.

I'll close with my own Hollywood dialog homage.

I want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Yes sir?

Are you listening?

Yes I am.


How exactly do you mean?

There's a great future in sources. Think about it. Will you think about it?

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