During the recent mesh10 conference in Toronto, I interviewed Jason Fry, former columnist of The Wall Street Journal Online. As a panelist of the session “How Do Platforms Change Content Consumption?” he and three others discussed the onus put on new high-tech devices to save traditional media and convince the public to pay for content. Afterward, we focused on journalism as it stands today.
But since the mesh conference is all about social and new media, we decided to keep the topics related. Jason gave me insight on his latest ponderings on the intersection of journalism and personal branding: How much personal information should journalists reveal online? Should journalists’ personal brands outweigh those of the news agencies they work for? How much self-branding is acceptable in this “me” era?
“Social media is now considered the norm and is integrated in most journalists’ lives in some way or another,” says Jason. “It is a tool and a way to build relationships with your audience and peers. And more often than not, many journalists start out as part of a media entity and then branch off on their own.”
An example: Carson Daly, an icon during my adolescence, started out as a Los Angeles radio DJ, then hosted with MTV, and now has his own late-night TV show.
“Exactly,” Jason confirmed. “And usually in those days it happened faster with TV and radio personalities. With social media, however, it becomes easier for them to use networks such as Twitter and Facebook, etc. to promote their own brands than ever before.”
One thing is certain: The social conventions of the web are changing and are not really in anyone’s control. Jason said that, five years ago, it was considered odd and rude to Google someone. Today it is the other way around.
“It’s almost considered rude for someone not to have voicemail set up or not to reply to a text message,” Jason says. “But ‘Googling’ someone before you even meet him or her in person is practically expected.”
When he asked me if I had happened to search him on Google before our interview, I sheepishly admitted that I had. I proved his point.
Jason’s three passions in life are what he writes about: digital journalism, the New York Mets and Star Wars. He recently apologized to his followers in his social networking sites for the other two subjects they might not be interested in following. His guilt has even led him to consider separating the three instead of letting them live together on Twitter. Given the whole discussion on personal branding, I suggested that his fans wouldn’t get to see who he really is as a multi-faceted person, and in turn, he wouldn’t be able to promote his own personal brand.
Since his days at WSJ.com, Jason has been helping news organizations reinvent themselves to cater to consumers’ growing desire for news delivered online and through social media. To follow Jason Fry’s view on the challenges and opportunities for digital-age journalism, visit: Reinventing the Newsroom  or on Twitter: @jasoncfry .
Aside from Jason’s session, I was also very impressed with the workshop session on “Death and the Digital Legacy” by Adele McAlear. Covering one’s digital assets after passing is not often brought up or even discussed in this digital age, although covering our physical and material assets might be.
Or learning from Kim Fox on how the CBC used social media to help Canadians identify and find their friends and family during the disaster in Haiti in her session, “Social Media and User-Generated Content in the Newsroom.”
The Mesh conference was created in 2005 by five Toronto-based founders — each unique and with different backgrounds but sharing the same vision of putting together a top-notch social media conference. Their goal was to provide a platform for their fellow Torontonians to discuss, inspire and connect with other like-minded people who are interested in the web’s impact on media, marketing, business and etc. Most of the attendees and the panelists this year were from different parts of North America.
So, whether or not you live in the Toronto area, the question to ask in 2011 is: Do you mesh?