MEDIA BRANDS: Dobb's new anti-offshoring stance shows effects of rebranding for television reporters

Politicians are regularly excoriated for changing their platforms with the slightest breeze of public opinion, but they do it nonetheless. Celebrities suffer less judgment but are watched with no less fascination when they undertake makeovers to prolong their careers. Given this, it's only natural that name-brand journalists, who fall somewhere between the two, are just as subject to overhauling that brand when the winds of political, economic, or cultural thought have changed. If there's any doubt about this, just look at CNN's Lou Dobbs.

Politicians are regularly excoriated for changing their platforms with the slightest breeze of public opinion, but they do it nonetheless. Celebrities suffer less judgment but are watched with no less fascination when they undertake makeovers to prolong their careers. Given this, it's only natural that name-brand journalists, who fall somewhere between the two, are just as subject to overhauling that brand when the winds of political, economic, or cultural thought have changed. If there's any doubt about this, just look at CNN's Lou Dobbs.

These days the anchor's show, Lou Dobbs Tonight, is best known for taking US firms to task for sending work overseas. Under the slightly awkward "Exporting America" title, the show regularly runs off a corporate rogues gallery of offenders, and its website maintains a list of "US companies either sending American jobs overseas, or choosing to employ cheap overseas labor, instead of American workers." Dobbs has done verbal combat with guests who disagree with him. Dobbs' anti-free trade stance marks a clear reversal from his earlier CNN persona, that of a business-friendly but opinionated interviewer with the credibility needed to get face time with some of the US' most important executives. Of course that persona was carved out in the 1990s, a relatively scandal-free time when it was easier to be pro-business. It was also before the rise of Fox News Channel, whose model of aggressively opinionated hosts goosed CNN into basting its programs with more attitude. These conditions and the fact that outsourcing is a hot issue in an election year have yielded a new Dobbs. To be sure, he isn't the only journalist to undergo a rebranding, though usually the process is more visually than ideologically oriented. And while it's more common to TV journalists, where the nature of the medium makes personality more important, one can only imagine that the age of convergence, with reporters otherwise only known as bylines popping up more often on TV, will only make establishing a personality more and more crucial to their competitive survival. As any PR pro knows, branding is an intellectually violent process based on the need to disseminate consistent messages that vanquish those of competitors. This is as true for a new consumer product as it is for a journalist's on-air persona. And the likelihood for business brands colliding with those of journalists - amid conditions infinitely more complicated than the standard liberal-media bias complaint - will only grow. Robert Cathey, VP at Ackermann PR, which has a client that advises firms that outsource, offers practical advice: "Some journalists are simply going to take a point of view that is adversarial to yours. If you think they're dug in, and if they're also not that important to your communities, seek other avenues to get your message out, at least in the short term." -matthew.creamer@prweek.com

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