It’s a subject that turns the stomachs of most journalists. After all in journalism, “marketing” and “branding” are dirty words. But given the media fall out as a backdrop for the global recession, it’s time that newspapers, and the journalists who write for them, realise that the masthead of their paper is a brand.

Knowing what people think and feel when they see your newspaper’s brand is more important than ever.

The global recession has driven home one fact that many in media seem to have forgotten about: newspapers and media as a whole are businesses. While they are “in the business of news”, they’re also in the business of making money. Fail on the latter, and the former ceases to happen. 

Managing the newspaper’s public facing image and brand is critical to its success. If the public decides they don’t like your paper, then your paper is less likely to sell print copies or record significant enough unique web visits. But if your paper is well-liked and seen as an asset to readers’ daily lives, the paper wins out. 

What I’m suggesting is that newspapers assign more of their resources to ensuring its brand image is in good standing and that the paper is doing all that it can to inject itself into arenas that would reflect positively on the paper.

If you’re a journalist reading this, the above paragraphs probably amount to heresy in your eyes.

The immediate question journalists will have is: What does this mean for me? Another thing the media collapse has taught us is that newspaper employees need to have a greater stake in the success,  both in business and reputation, of the newspapers they write for.

In fleshing out my ideas for this blog post, I took to Twitter to get the input of the media professionals who follow me.

Saleem Khan, Canadian freelance journalist and National Chairman of the Canadian Association of Journalists, makes the point that journalists would have a role to play.

Some journalists will likely have some difficulty reconciling the role of someone who champions their employer’s public face and reputation with their role as objective reporters. The point that Saleem makes is a very good one. Reporters are the public face of any newspaper.

The more well-known and well-liked a reporter is, the better it is for the newspaper’s reputation. Case in point: New York Times tech maven David Pogue and expert economist Thomas Friedman. While they don’t define the papers they write for, their presence and reputations make significant contributions to the New York Times’ reputation.

Those are examples on a larger scale. Mark Hamilton, journalism instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Canada, has a good example on a smaller scale:

This is a good example of personal branding fusing with organisational reputation to become something that is mutually beneficial to the individual and to the organisation. A brand manager would be acutely aware of this. Part of their job would be to understand what readers think of these star reporters and determining how they can be positioned within the organisation so that the mutually beneficial relationship reaches new heights.

Sounds like a lot of marketing jargon, right? That’s true, it is. A brand manager would have one foot firmly placed in the marketing department at any newspaper. But there’s more than one stakeholder here. A brand manager must act as three-way conduit between readers, editors and publishers.

The brand manager would work with a wide array of people at the newspaper. Among them would be the paper’s community manager. Holly Seddon, head of community management at FreshNetworks weighs in: 

By working with editors, publishers, community managers, reporters and the advertising side, a newspaper brand manager would have all the data and input they would need to make informed decision about the direction at the newspaper as a brand and organisation should take to ensure its continued success.

Many newspapers fell apart because there was so much about their readers and brand that they just didn’t understand. Why won’t they pay for our paper? Why won’t they pay to read online? Why is no one reading us? What are we doing wrong? 

Newspapers can’t be expected to win the fight to be the leading source of news and information for their readers if they aren’t armed with the necessary information about what people think of their brand.

A brand manager would have access to all of the relevant data that they need. They would also work closely with the paper’s stakeholders to elicit their feedback. With that, the brand manager can work directly with the publisher or CEO to plot a coherent, informed strategy both for the company as a whole and the brand.

As many newspapers enter the rebuilding phase, they would be smart to bring someone into the fold with sharp business, marketing and brand skills. Being afraid to try something new is no longer an excuse.