1 min read

Bye line

Bye line

Journalism is going through a fascinating transition. For the very top names at a paper, it has never been easier to go it alone (what Ben Thompson calls being a sovereign writer).

Writers that are willing to take more risk can make far more money by going direct to their biggest fans. The risks are real: pay for your own benefits, no leave policy, no backup salary if you get hit by a bus or extremely sick. But the income difference can be real too. The highest performers can make mid 6 figures, or even 7 figures.

That creates a tension. Big media companies underpay their best talent - but they also help make their best talent. The spotlight and brand affinity helps recruit talent and make some of that talent stars. But once someone is a star, they have a ton of market power, and can leave on their own. So how do companies resolve it?

I think there will be two dominant strategies. One: they can hide the byline - the economist successfully does that, putting the brands voice up front. That tends to lead to turnover, but the market dynamics lead to turnover anyway. I think this strategy has some limits - only the highest prestige (or highest paying) brands can get away with it. Everyone else would probably be at a disadvantage.

The second way to embrace the turnover, is to think of the brand more as a talent agency, continually finding, training, and growing talent. Many of them will strike out on their own, but their success shines back on your brand, creating a feedback loop where raw talent wants to launch their career with you. I think the Ringer is an interesting example of this, having launched many names into their own media careers (Wesley Morris, Crooked Media, etc.).