I am a brand designer and consultant. I’d like to disagree and agree with your assertion. I work from this definition of a brand: “A brand is a promise that is experienced as made and kept, over and over, until every encounter with the bearer of the brand brings to mind that promise.” A brand is more than a logo and slogan. a set of skills and descriptors. It doesn’t exist as a brand until that criteria of “made and kept, over and over” is met.
I understand your objection: from my perspective, it pivots on your phrase “marketable quantity”, which implies a superficial grab the money (or story) and run code of ethics. And, yes, “brand” evokes a world of cold transaction rather than one of personal passion and moral position. But for me “brand “ is just one label on that promise, a promise that lies behind the actions and design of all of us as individuals as well as behind the facades of corporations and businesses.
That promise, that brand, for some of the journalists you described, may include riding roughshod over the feelings and sensibilities of the injured and grieving. The promise you strive to make and keep is far loftier and more admirable. And while you may reject, understandably, the label of “brand”, it will be important to your career that your “marketplace” experience that promise, grasp the inviolability of your ethics, in order for your reputation to build and to grant you trust and access to areas where others are denied.
In that sense, the mechanism of branding applies. You may reject the label and its associations, but the reality and the power of a trustworthy promise remains. The test for me is in my reaction as a “consumer” of your product (and as a former journalist): based on what I have read, would I buy your brand of thinking, exploration, and writing?
Yes, I would.
The caution you advise to the admonition build your brand, for me, seems aimed at the cynical and insensitive exploitation of one’s reputation at the expense of all other considerations. I resolutely agree with that. Yet I also affirm the parallel need to leverage my reputation in pursuit of those things I feel passionately about, those goals and ambitions which lie within the boundaries of my ethical choices. For what is my reputation except the sum of how others experience me, experience my promise, made and kept, over and over?