Today’s NYTimes story by former colleague Brian Stelter on the dismissal of WashPost columnist Dan Froomkin over, at least in part, the decline in traffic to his Web column got me thinking: Are we now in an era when newspaper columnists and maybe even regular journalists will be subjected to the same need to self-promote as book authors have labored under for years?
Book authors have long lamented that the only way to get a publisher to promote a book was if their name was already big enough that the promotion was a sure thing. It’s like the old joke about bank loans: The only way to get one is to prove you don’t need it. In effect, authors are forced to use their slim advances and boundless energy to try to push a book over the top, see if they can jack up sales, get enough interest and notice to get that second deal on better terms, and whatever other benefits the book may reap (speaking and consulting gigs, sales of T-shirts and coffee mugs...). The new tools authors have to promote -- free or cheap social media feeds, email blasts, Web tools and more -- gives them the ability to do it better than ever.
But newspaper columnists have not been used to the need for such self-promotion. Would Froomkin’s fate have been different, for example, had he garnered a bigger Twitter and Facebook followings (4,621 and 1,880 as of this moment), so that he could have driven more traffic to his WashPost columns online?
This logic is even trickling up to Hollywood stars. By pushing hard to break the million-follower level on Twitter, Ashton Kutcher surely has given himself some buffer against the whims of a Hollywood executive who might be able to let him go on allegations of a lack of fan base or similar excuse. In a system when the stars, not the studios and not even their agents, can “own” their public, they’re empowered -- but they also have to do the work to cultivate that following.