A Lesson from Tucker Carlson

When personalities believe they are more powerful than brands, they often find some hard truths

A Lesson from Tucker Carlson

Various proposals keep circulating about using unbranded or carelessly branded platforms and servers to post and distribute papers to fulfill a belief that more and redundant information of uncertain quality is better than well-vetted information distributed to well-defined communities by outlets with a stake in the outcome.

Another such proposal surfaced on arXiv last week, itself a branded platform — which helps to prove the point — any and all proposals that ignore brand power reveal an ignorance about the media space.

Glenn Beck was once one of the most powerful voices in the media, dominating Fox News. He left Fox at the peak of his prominence, and I’ll bet you haven’t heard much from him since. Jon Stewart was one of the most powerful voices in political satire, but after he left his perch atop The Daily Show, his ability to drive the political conversation petered out, and even with his streaming show, he is effectively on the sidelines. Donald Trump became far more marginal without Twitter and Facebook to elevate and amplify his speech.

The same thing is about to happen to Tucker Carlson.

What does this have to do with scholarly publishing?

It’s simple — the power of a single author or even a group of authors to raise their message above the background noise of the media space is severely limited. Cutting through the clutter has become a far greater challenge as outlets and options have proliferated, and the pace of information flows has accelerated. Brands and related branded platforms (i.e., societies, metric sources) are probably more important than ever when it comes to elevating and amplifying ideas, names, personalities, and messages.

The level of branding a creator can become associated with is, for some, an afterthought, but it is crucial if a paper, author, book, film, or recording is going to successfully enter a crowded media space.  

People brand things and respond subconsciously to brands, whether they realize it or not. Even the most basic scholarly screening and hosting solutions — preprint servers — have evolved a two-level brand strategy, using the “Rxiv” to denote a preprint server, and a prefix of some kind (“bio,” “med,” “soc,” etc.) to indicate an area of focus.

The age of social media news may be winding down precisely because social media platforms undermine media brands — newsfeeds don’t remain stable and discoverable, temporal relationships are unclear, and source validity is questionable as social algorithms seek to optimize advertising revenues over coherent user experiences or reasonable content matching. These approaches make it impossible for users to reliably identify trusted, branded content, making social media more about marketing, entertainment, and time-wasting than anything else. YouTube is perhaps an exception, but only because it allows branded channels to create stable and predictable programming.

Brands matter to readers, viewers, users, and consumers, but also to authors, reporters, writers, researchers, and scholars.

Without affinity with a powerful brand, most content — and the authors of it — will fail to make a dent in the collective consciousness of their community, or rise to a level of recognition that might improve their prospects. This is a main reason why so many proposed distributed solutions can never work — there is no central brand unifying, signaling, and elevating the content on a consistent basis.

Serious solution proposals need to address the power of brands and the platforms they provide. Ignoring brand power means losing out in the media space.

Tucker is about to find this out.