One definition of a personal brand in the intellectual realm is someone for whom you read everything they write no matter the topic or outlet.
The web makes it infinitely easier to both establish a personal brand and follow one. Consider my list of icons / heroes. It's easier to have such a list of personal icons because individuals can now publish their ideas all the time, in organized chronological form — and I can follow them.
For people in the business of spreading ideas, it's critical to establish a brand and develop a following independent of an overarching media brand.
Patricio Navia is one of the most influential columnists in Chile. He writes a column in a top newspaper, he maintains a large Twitter following, he appears on TV, he has a mailing list. To me (and most people) it's irrelevant that Navia is at La Tercerca.
Vivek Wadha is a research professor at UC-Berkeley, but he publishes all over the place: on TechCrunch, on BusinessWeek, on his email mailing list, on Twitter. He is known more for being Vivek than for being at UC-Berkeley.
Another example: I read Jonah Lehrer in Wired, the New Yorker, Nature, on his blog, on Twitter, etc. To me the medium, topic, or media outlet is irrelevant: I have a "relationship" with Jonah individually and want to read everything he writes.
Even though big media companies — and the one-size-fits-all information bundle they deliver — are dying, I'm not sad. I see a future that's increasingly made up of customized information blends which in turn will be made up of content and reporting and analysis delivered by individuals I respect and follow.
In other words: think about information bundles driven by people not topic. A magazine not about "sports" or "business" but rather one featuring commentary by five individuals of my choosing (and I can rotate the five individuals as I wish).
Bottom Line Brainstorm: Perhaps the journalists of tomorrow will remain agnostic to formal institutions and eschew exclusive content distribution deals (e.g. Friedman only appearing in the NYT as he does now). They will be able to do this because their ability to connect direct to customer will be so great. This will allow distribution-only media entities to create lots of different bundles of personal brand driven content. I would pay money for print delivery of a bundle a week's worth of content from, say, Tom Friedman, Richard Posner, Catlin Flanagan, Peter Beinart, and Lee Siegel.
God Bless the Economist, but I predict a decline as I expect someday soon they will no longer able to attract journalists who will refuse to work at a place where they cannot develop their personal brand, due to the magazine's lack of bylines.