How Thought Leadership Can Save Journalism

Tom Popomaronis | September 3, 2021

If you look closely, you can see the warning signs of a journalism industry in its final hours – at least as it’s currently constituted. Often, many news outlets have multiple stories per day that simply report Twitter’s reaction to some news story instead of covering the story itself. As a result, journalists have been reduced to scouring the internet looking for the most outrageous social media comments to hold up as the news of the day.

There’s a seismic shift happening in the way the world reports and consumes the news. No longer will a journalist, who may have little knowledge or experience with the subject they’re reporting on, be a primary source for current events. Instead, the internet now allows experts with firsthand knowledge and experience to report the news — or powerful, personal narratives from qualified contributors.

This development has several crucial benefits to society. First, having an expert report on the news can cut down on misinformation (although society still needs to iron out all the details of who is an expert and who decides what’s worth sharing). Second, it allows people to find sources they trust and get insights from experts with experience with the topic at hand. Would you prefer to get your real estate news from an agent who’s closed dozens of deals this year or from a journalist who has never even owned a home?

The most accuracy, however, comes from the potential to eliminate sensationalism. With the way modern advertising works on the web, the outlets with the most ‘clickbaity’ headlines get the most readership. Every media outlet is constantly trying to one-up the competition for the most outrageous headline.

Top-tier publications have recognized this and opened up contributor networks, both paid and unpaid, to increase content production from meaningful experts — or, rather, that was the goal.

HuffPost was known for having one of the most robust contributor networks by volume, ballooning to 100,000 unpaid contributors. However, in 2018, the program was abruptly shut down and their Editorial Chief, Lydia Polgreen, cited:

“…one of the biggest challenges we all face, in an era where everyone has a platform, is figuring out whom to listen to. Open platforms that once seemed radically democratizing now threaten, with the tsunami of false information we all face daily, to undermine democracy. When everyone has a megaphone, no one can be heard. Our hope is that by listening carefully through all the noise, we can find the voices that need to be heard and elevate them for all of you.”

To avoid the fate of HuffPost, publications that accept contributors have new standards to uphold that ensure a new expert voice will meet, embody, and represent the necessary quality to command authorship real-estate.

This is accomplished through executives that can report on industry shifts, insights, leadership, and news as it avoids sensationalism and focuses instead on establishing authority and expertise. This also aligns with the executive as it positions them for long-term value to the audience rather than short-term gratification.

Take note of your own readership consumption habits. Do you follow internet nobodies for your investment news, or do you seek out the experts who actually help you become a better investor? People are much more likely to build an emotional connection with someone who’s delivering them value on a regular basis.

Integrity in business breeds integrity of information. As journalism dies a slow death over the next decade, it’s incumbent on the experts who take its place to deliver news that readers can count on. With questions like who decides what’s true, who decides what’s valuable to report, and which platforms will ultimately arise to connect experts to consumers, there are still plenty of developments to take place. Make sure you’re poised to do your part to make news valuable.

Are you worthy of wielding the Sword of Truth?

EVP, Innovation
Tom is a serial entrepreneur, product development expert, and content management strategist. Every hour of every day (perhaps too many hours) he focuses on strategies for our Executive Leadership Branding clients to build a powerful and credible online reputation.