Branded to Death on the Way to Extinction

by Steed Dropout
Nov. 10. 2012

Berkeley, Ca


I’m not Coca-Cola or Levis, or anything like that, but ever since I began my recent career in on-line journalism several years ago, I was advised to land high on Google search results pages. AND to brand.

Yeah, I took a marketing course in 1958, where I learned branding. But I never thought journalists would be urged to brand. (A branding workshop for journalists, was held recently in Manhattan).

But why brand journalists, since we’re supposed to be objective in a world where journalism ranks sixth among psychopathic occupations, and no one believes a word we write. The answer: because on-line free-lance journalism, the dumping ground for laid-off reporters, is more competitive than even before, when it was also highly competitive.

'Patches' selling patches on Berkeley's Telegraph avenue a few weeks ago, along with weed. 'It wasn't marijuana,' he said 'but cookies.' This was a heavily-voiced (branded) Ted Friedman story for the Berkeley Daily Planet, where this picture was recently published. Photo by Ted Friedman.

The branding workshop was, reportedly, well attended.

Self-taught in branding — and as an exhibitionist, a natural, I have grabbed off quite a few search results pages. But my brand is too brandy, or something not good, like Edsel.

At first I called it off-beat reporter (weak), and then “just a Ted Friedman story,” and when I started Berkeley Reporter, I became both Ted Friedman (on our banner) and Steed Dropout on the stories.

Each character has a different voice, but it’s like Bergen and McCarthy — one voice. It’s what one local editor called a big voice, and which another thinks is too much voice altogether.

The voice is based on several flashy writers at the old San Francisco Chronicle, all its colorful feature writers long dead or gone. I can evoke Damon Runyon, perhaps Twain, but so what? Sometimes I’m almost as reckless and irresponsible as Hunter S. Thompson when he was a working journalist.

Some of my harshest critics barf when I start comparing myself to great writers. In a recent dispute with my Berkeley Daily Planet Editor over the F word, she said you’re “no Chaucer,” after I tried vainly to invoke his name.

I wish I had said, but Chaucer gave us these wonderful words.

Expletive Deleted: A Good Look at Bad Language, by Ruth Wajnrb, an anthropologist-linguist, concludes these dirty words lose their charm after over-use. (I accept that.) I try to use them sparingly, although regularly.

Are editors telling me that only Chaucer and Shakespeare can use these thrilling words, or are they resisting my brand?

Don’t get the idea I’m all about fuck, shit, and bitch (recently).

The ghost of Hunter S. Thompson is telling me, fuck you, but I’m not sure whether he is directing the ef-you at me or my editors.

People don’t need my kind of cute any more. And they have little patience for my sob-sister routine here.

In fact, the first fatality in the death of print journalism is the feature story (descended from sob stories), my strong suit. Recently, however, as I have done more news and news analysis, my feature-voice (brand) has intruded.

All I know is that my days at the Berkeley Daily Planet could be numbered, if I don’t control my brand. I have my best story ever, and I can’t tell it in my own voice.

“Can’t you, for once just report the story straight,” my editor hissed.

But I really can’t. I’m branded.

I wrote three different versions of this story, trying to tune down the voice, while at the same time using I was told this or that, for a source.

Who’s speaking here, Steed or Fried (man), or both? You figure it out.

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