Forget the medium, it’s the brand that counts

My name is Mark, and I am a newsaholic. (Hi Mark.)

My name is Mark, and I am a newsaholic. (Hi Mark.)

It all started when I was a kid, watching Walter Cronkite read to us about the day’s news. Walter was a bridge to the big world, but he was also a buffer. He took all the scary stuff and handed it to us in our nice, safe living room.

We didn’t so much ‘watch the news’ in as much as we ‘put on Walter.’ When you experience news from such a branded source, it changes the way you feel about the information. When you consume the information, you’re consuming the brand too.

When the first glut of news hit the Internet, there was a euphoric rush of excitement. We were finally going to be free of other people’s interpretation of the news; we would be able to experience it firsthand, from the source. The euphoria soon turned to dyspepsia as it became clear that there was way too much information to wade through, and some of it was just plain wrong.

Information overload is not power, it’s debilitating. Knowledge is power. The fact that there’s too much information out there means I find myself craving context.

I’m not the brightest bulb in the pack, so I need someone to give some perspective on what’s happening, why it matters, and what I can do with that knowledge. Up-to-the-second reporting lacks that, so I tend to go to periodicals like The New Yorker, The Economist, Harvard Business Review, and to various trade publications.

For the times when I do need up-to-date information, I turn to trusted brands again. For example, the New York Times delivers stories to my e-mail address, and it sends out breaking updates whenever Alan Greenspan opens his mouth. Other than that, the local fishwrapper with the morning coffee is a great way to start the day.

In the old days, if you had enough capital to put out a newspaper, chances were you were close to being reputable, given the high cost of failure to deliver. The ease with which almost anyone can publish information on the ‘net means that branded news sources are even more valuable in that arena: They’re the only ones you can trust. This is great for the existing brands – not so great for the new ones trying to establish themselves.

I read an interesting article once (write me and I’ll get you the citation), which points to the fact that computer mediated communication doesn’t necessarily change social norms and hierarchies, rather, it tends to entrench them. In my case that applies to the way the ‘net has impacted on the way I consume news. There’s always going to be an intermediary. The question is, do you trust them and do they give you easy access to what they offer?

So these days I’m back to square one. Despite new technology, there’s still a role for branded news sources as an intermediary. In fact, it’s actually made them more important to me.

I am an unrepentant news junkie, and I need to feel good about the source of my news, which means I look for brands that I trust. Instead of just having Walter Cronkite reading to me at night, now I have knowledgeable people keeping the facts straight, helping me learn stuff I can use, and making it available when I happen to need it.

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Mark Szabo is an account director with Parallel in Calgary. He can be reached at mark.szabo@parallel.ca.