The power of a personal media empire

I don’t believe in media brands but in personal ones. I can’t relate to Vogue, The New York Times and CNN but rather to Anna Wintour, David Carr and Piers Morgan. Media consumption today, and definitely in the years to come, is built upon relationships between people – not brands. If previous generations consumed a magazine or a TV show because it was that thing and it was important what it said, we now read writers and columnists, follow photographers and stylists and look at people we like. The individual in front of the platform on which he or she communicates.

This belief is the founding vision of our company, Sydney Stockholm. This evolution is also something that is happening right now at The New York Times. The Grey Lady’s strategy so far has been to empower influential individuals (either recruited or promoted ones) like Andrew Ross Sorkin, Nate Silver and Andrew Sullivan by resourcing their respective mini-media empires; Dealbook, FiveThirtyEight and The Dish. The strategy helps to keep the personal influencer and their following within the big media brand.

With both Nate Silver and Andrew Sullivan leaving (Silver was recruited by ESPN and Sullivan relaunched his platform independently) we’re also encountering the next challenge; with individuals more powerful than the platform – every media employer is essentially competing with its own staff. Balance of power change and traditional recruitment is replaced by mini-media entity acquisitions. In theory, a large media brand could pay a staff member to build a personal following, only to see that individual leave – followed by the masses.

New Republic recently published a list of things The New York Times could do to ensure its survival. One such proposal was to further empower influential individuals. Mathew Ingram on GigaOM commented:

The most powerful resource the New York Times has at its disposal are the relationships its writers have created with readers, and that is where the future of monetization in media lies.

True. And I would be seriously thrilled to see a David Carr driven mini entity covering the media and entertainment industries. But in that very sentence we also come back to the main question; how will The New York Times protect its investment? How can any media company? Carr happens to be a devotee and is not going anywhere but with a lot of money on the theoretical table, a lot of things could theoretically change. They always do.