Why are so many news organizations, most of which are strapped for cash, hiring “stars”? Wouldn’t the money be better spent on talented but less well-known reporters?

Ken Doctor of Newsonomics tackles that question at Nieman Journalism Lab.

“The intangibles are how many new unique visitors the Zakarias, Finemans, and Grosses bring with them from their old haunts,” he says. “How many of those new customers become regular customers of the outlet? That gets you to some annual and/or lifetime value metrics. As metrics are collected and tested, we’ll see some more science brought to what is now a star-search art form.”

And the hiring of a big-name journalist lends legitimacy to a startup. “They are magnets to other, lesser-known talent, signaling, “it’s okay to come here.’”

At the same time, he says, legacy companies are going in the opposite direction. So as the Huffington Posts and AOLs of the world snap up legacy journalists, Forbes, National Journal, and more are hiring cheaper, non-name-brand talent.

The upshot? “The likely result of these moves? By 2015, news companies will pay top dollar, and pound, euro and yen, for top-end talent, and they’ll pay as little as possible for good-enough newsy content that fills many topical and local niches.”

2015 is not that far away. If Doctor’s right, anyone who wants to make a living in journalism will need a brand and a following by then or risk being shut out.

Photo: visualpanic