For the past few years, Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication professor Tim McGuire has had me speak to his 21st Century Journalism class about developing their personal brandings. I love meeting each new graduate cohort and the Barrett Honors College students, and, in general, the students really seem to take my advice to heart.
From time to time, however, a student or two have questioned the value of putting in extra time and energy to manage portfolios, personal blogs and the countless social media profiles recommended for journalists. Each time, Tim has mentioned my blogging experience and other students’ social media use as examples of extracurricular online efforts that have helped launch careers. But when I spoke to his class last month, I had a fresh example of how that strategy had paid off for yet another Cronkite alum. I got to tell Tim’s class a fantastic story about Chierstin Susel, one of his former students who just got hired to do her dream job – without applying for it.
Without even knowing such a job existed.
In a phone conversation from her parents’ home in Ohio, Chierstin told me how her deliberate decision to create an online presence paid off. Her story is a great lesson in being authentic and strategic.
Chierstin graduated in May and returned home to search for a sports reporting position in Ohio. A few months into her job search, she received an out-of-the-blue email from a hiring manager who found her sports reel on YouTube and suggested she apply for a job opening with his news organization. When he followed up the next day to discuss the opportunity, Chierstin said, she asked a pointed question.
“I said, ‘Hey, I just gotta ask you, how did you find me online?” His reply was as surprising as his initial call, according to Chierstin.
“He said, ‘Well, I was looking at someone’s reel that had applied, and I’ve never really done this before, but I randomly decided that I was going to search the videos that popped up on the side on YouTube,’” Chierstin said. He looked at several and was one click away from clicking on a Jimmy Kimmel video when he decided to look at one more reel.
“So he clicked on my reel,” Chierstin said, adding he knew the Cronkite School and had always been impressed with it. “From there he decided to Google me.” When he searched for her name, her blog Faith, Fashion, Fitness popped up, and she said it was then he knew she fit the description of who he was looking for.
Wait – Faith, Fashion, Fitness?
Conventional knowledge would suggest having a religion-centered blog is a rather bold move for a rookie journalist. In fact, Chierstin said she gave a lot of thought to the risk involved in revealing her faith through her blog. She and Tim had discussed that her Twitter profile and tweets clearly showed faith was very important to her and that it had the potential to set her apart from other journalists. The question was whether embracing that distinction was a good thing or a bad thing.
“I always thought that faith was something you should just leave out, that no one should know your faith or whatever. But at the same time, that’s a huge part of my life,” Chierstin said. “For (Tim) to come up and tell me that was like, alright, I’m totally going to include that in my blog.”
It turns out the decision to reveal her faith was a very good thing for Chierstin. The hiring manager who saw her reel had called from Liberty University’s Liberty Flames Sports Network, which had an opening for a program launching in January. In case you aren’t familiar with it, Liberty University is the world’s largest Christian university.
“Who would have thought sports and my faith would tie together?” Chierstin said. Despite her deliberate decision to blog about religion and sports, Chierstin admitted her getting a position that combined her interests exceeded anything she could have ever imagined. “I never really thought that I could tie the two together.”
Chierstin had initally created a fashion blog as an assignment during her sophomore year, but after the class ended, she took it down because it wasn’t something she was passionate about. (Now here’s the part of the story that completely surprised me … ) Apparently, Chierstin decided to start blogging again after she heard me speak in Tim’s class two years ago.
“It wasn’t until you came in and spoke about really branding yourself through a blog. That’s the only reason that I started it; it had nothing to do with an assignment,” Chierstin told me. “You had talked about starting a blog about something that you’re interested in. I had an interest in sports, but I didn’t know what I was going to pursue. And so at the time, (I thought) faith … always a big part of my life … I love fitness and fashion … so why not, you know? So I put it out there and started the blog.”
Chierstin started her dream job last week. You could say it was serendipity that led the hiring manager to her YouTube post and blog, but that would discount the critical thinking that went into her decisions – ones she made with her eyes wide open. Chierstin understood the importance of personal branding, the power of being authentic and the strategies for using the online tools that are available to all journalism students launching their careers, even when it’s not an assignment.
“It’s all a matter of just having yourself available and putting yourself out there – your reel and your resume and everything online digitally – so it’s really easy for people to find you.”
When I speak with journalism students about their personal brands, I always stress they shouldn’t wait until they’re graduated to establish their online presences. Everything they need to share their bodies of work and begin distinguishing themselves within the profession is right at their fingertips. Seriously, it’s all there.
So where should they begin?
I’ve created a blog resources page that lists the links I provide students to get them started. It reflects my approach to personal branding for journalists:
- Know yourself.
- Know your goals and values.
- Know how, where and to whom to communicate those qualities effectively.
Understanding your personality, skills, talents and life experiences allows you to make smart choices about where you fit in the newsroom. If you can articulate your career goals and value system, you can target employers and opportunities to reflect them. Ultimately, the self-awareness you gain from defining your brand as a journalist will make it easier to authentically engage your audience, connect with colleagues and build trust with the public.
Last week I had the very unexpected opportunity to attend the invitation-only annual journalism gathering called News Foo, which was hosted by O’Reilly Media at ASU’s Cronkite School. The three-day event included loosely structured “un-conference” sessions and two evenings of Ignite Talks (which hopefully will be posted online as they were last year.) Tim O’Reilly and his team brought together 150 brilliant, fearless innovators in technology and journalism (Friends Of O’Reilly, or FOO) who wouldn’t necessarily cross paths but nonetheless share the same goal of improving the way we create, distribute and consume news. He encouraged the attendees to put down their devices and actively participate, to reach out to folks they didn’t know and to attend sessions unrelated to their work. It truly was about getting out of one’s comfort zone and embracing intellectual stretch.
I can’t express how intimidating, inspiring and, frankly, inconceivable it was for me to be with this accomplished group of people. These creative, driven men and women are empowering journalists in conflict areas, crafting visual representations of data that elegantly express the outcomes of government policy and creating digital tools that change the way we tell stories. I left the event determined to figure out how I can rise to their level of knowledge and make a meaningful contribution to providing high quality, relevant information to society.
Although I wasn’t able to stay for the entire event, I did follow #NewsFoo tweets closely and read blog posts that followed. Here’s my curation of news, tweets, photos and posts about News Foo 2012.
News Foo 2012
December 3, 2012 · Downtown Devil · By Alexis Macklin
NewsFoo caps its number of invited attendees at 150 in order to bring the freshest ideas for the news industry back each year. (Alexis Macklin/DD) Heavy hitters in the news and technological industry conversed at the fourth annual NewsFoo Camp at the Walter Cronkite School this weekend. NewsFoo is an exclusive conference with a focus on innovation in news creation. The discussions are not planned until the participants arrive to provoke new …
@TimOReilly kicking off #newsfoo by explaining the history of unconferences at O’Reilly Media. As usual, proud to work with and for him.
November 30, 2012 · Instagram ·
The most retweeted #NewsFoo tweets: comments on Ignite Talks and un-conference sessions
When writing news for social media “your primary audience isn’t your reader, it’s your reader’s contacts” @SaraCritchfield #newsfoo
— Tim O’Reilly (@timoreilly) December 1, 2012
Love that @waldojaquith uses github.com/unitedstates to share public data sets and code related to US laws #newsfoo #opengov
— Tim O’Reilly (@timoreilly) December 1, 2012
Today’s questions at #newsfoo – how do you call for a revolutionary action on the internet without being immediately arrested? Anyone?
— Laurie Penny (@PennyRed) December 1, 2012
“I wish the women would talk more and the men would interrupt less.” – someone to me just now at #NewsFoo
— rachelsklar (@rachelsklar) December 1, 2012
Overheard at #newsfoo about the Filter Bubble: “Do people want to be informed or do they want to be reassured?”
— Jim Frederick (@Jim_Frederick) December 1, 2012
Listening to @lara talking about trust and serendipity. The more you trust a curator, the more likely you’ll go along for the ride. #newsfoo
— Andy Carvin (@acarvin) December 1, 2012
@acarvin serendipity is unexpected relevance. #newsfoo
— Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) December 1, 2012
How to build a more diverse speaker roster for your conference, for @tasneemraja’s great #newsfoo panel http://www.racialicious.com/2012/11/30/solving-the-pipeline-problem/
— Joe Germuska (@JoeGermuska) December 1, 2012
Neat #search tip from @mattcutts: drag an image onto the logo on google.com to @google it. #newsfoo
— Alex Howard (@digiphile) December 1, 2012
“Hackers” has become an overdetermined term – includes activists, artists and criminals all in the same term. @oddletters at #newsfoo
— Ethan Zuckerman (@EthanZ) December 1, 2012
Journalists need to plan for and report on what *doesn’t* happen as much as what does, says @derekwillis in great #newsfoo ignite talk.
— Christopher Sopher (@cksopher) December 1, 2012
Post-Foo blog posts: reflections, resources and a photo collection
December 2, 2012 · The Linchpen
NewsFoo just wrapped up its third event. I haven’t been since 2010, but I followed along on Twitter again this year. Below are some good bits from the unconference (in chronological order). [View the story "#newsfoo 2012 highlights" on Storify] #newsfoo 2012 highlights I wasn’t there, but I followed along on Twitter. Here were some awesome bits from the event (in chronological order). Storified by Greg Linch · Sun, Dec 02 2012 19:56:35 How do revolutions report on themselves? @BaghdadBrian …
December 3, 2012 · Derek Willis
@A_L: I’ve never been to #newsfoo, but @derekwillis’ account is the most honest I’ve seen of the event yet. http://t.co/WQUOz4PO
Fine #newsfoo talk Sunday on keeping source identities safe, by Danny O’Brien of CPJ. Get the guide at http://t.co/AXDokH05
December 3, 2012 · Steve Doig
Fine #newsfoo talk Sunday on keeping source identities safe, by Danny O’Brien of CPJ. Get the guide at http://t.co/AXDokH05
December 3, 2012 · Hey Elise · by Elise Hu
The spawn, the spouse and I just got back from NewsFoo, an unconference put on by O’Reilly Media and the Knight Foundation. The 150-ish attendees are all involved in technology and/or journalism in an interesting way and I’m certain I was the dumbest person there. If you’ve never unconferenced, the main idea is that at more traditional and scheduled conferences, all the best connections and interesting conversations end up happening at lunch or during coffee breaks. So unconferences …
December 4, 2012 · oddletters.com · by molly
Sometime between the power outage Thursday night that left most of Cambridge in the dark and severely messed with my ability to construct my Ignite slide deck, and getting up at 5AM to catch a taxi to the airport, I started to have serious doubts about whether I should go to NewsFoo at all. Reading over the guest list (NewsFoo is a by-invitation conference) was an exercise in “Oh God, everyone …
December 5, 2012 · Knight Foundation
It was a real pleasure to attend my first NewsFoo conference this past weekend. Sponsored by O’Reilly Media, Knight Foundation and Google, NewsFoo gathered a cross section of folks (read: rock stars) in the digital news space to talk about an agenda created on the spot. One of the most interesting …
December 6, 2012 · knightlab.northwestern.edu
We wanted to take advantage of the great brains assembled at last week’s News Foo event, so we proposed a panel to suss out “big questions in journalism” that the lab should tackle. As might be expected from an unconference, the conversation ranged a lot more widely than our official topic. For starters, a number of folks had general questions about how the Lab works: Who are your stakeholders? Will your tools …
December 6, 2012 · Saila’s Miscellany
“We need to put more digital designers into our news operations. I am talking about those visual designers who can realize ideas and experiences into code because knowing how to write code helps produce better prototypes, and the best way to communicate an idea is through an interactive prototype. Producing quick prototypes brings ideas to life sooner, quickening the pace of decision making and software development … Ultimately helping Journalism respond faster to how quickly technology changes on the internet.” …
December 2, 2012 · Ryan Osborn
Some sites/tools at @Newsfoo: http://t.co/IDwgtIfI #newsfoo
Flickr · 32 photos | 135 views
Items are from between 01 Dec 2012 & 03 Dec 2012. Subscribe to the set “NewsFoo 2012″ Grab the link: Here’s a link to this set. Just copy and paste!
I recently got a Twitter notification announcing my third anniversary as @jghellum. I joined Twitter in the summer of 2009 as the first assignment of my journalism grad school “boot camp.” Our cohort hashtag was #bc9, and it’s been fun watching the subsequent classes’ hashtags emerge each fall – the latest being #bcxii – as Cronkite school associate professor Leslie-Jean Thornton (@ljthornton) guides the aspiring journalists through the art of the well-crafted tweet.
When I saw a recent tweet from Fast Company soliciting Twitter best practices under the hashtag #TheRules, I thought of those aspiring journalists navigating a medium that doesn’t actually have written rules and trying to figure out how to use it professionally.
— Fast Company (@FastCompany) September 10, 2012
Many Twitter users offered helpful advice. However, some took exception to the use of #TheRules, defending the organic nature of how Twitter etiquette has emerged. I contributed several strategies of my own, and in a nod to the objections, adopted a less rigid (and perhaps less intimidating for newbies) hashtag, #TheTips:
— Jennifer Gaie Hellum (@jghellum) September 10, 2012
Because Fast Company’s crowdsourced rules weren’t specifically geared toward journalists, I thought I’d share the effective tweet-crafting practices I learned during my Twitter boot camp, conventions I’ve picked up along the way and #TheTips I’ve shared with colleagues in the newsroom as they joined Twitter.
- Use your byline or a form of it as your Twitter handle. Each tweet is an opportunity for connecting with your audience. If they can’t connect your handle with your byline when you share worthwhile information, you’ve missed the opportunity to build relationships and become part of a community.
- Select a headshot, whether a candid or a studio photo, as your avatar. When your tweet shows up in other’s Twitter feeds, you want them to feel like you’re having a conversation, like you’re looking them in the eye and they can trust you.
- List your location and link to your blog, portfolio or LinkedIn account. Twitter is about connecting; provide opportunities for others to connect with you locally and online.
- Maximize your bio profile content to communicate your brand. Avoid generalizations and obscure references and instead list the qualities of your brand (your current position, unique experience and/or professional aspirations) that set you apart from other journalists and compel others to follow you.
- Write concisely. Use your 140-character limit to tighten up your writing. Use fewer than 140 to allow for easy retweeting.
- Avoid serial tweets. If you need more than three tweets to make a point, write a blog post instead. Series of tweets are difficult to RT; blog posts aren’t.
- Know the keywords related to your beat. Use Google Trends to compare terms and find those most frequently used to increase your tweet’s exposure beyond your followers.
- Use hashtags. They flag your tweet when the subject of your tweet isn’t part of your message.
- Learn the shorthand. Use RT when you retweet a message in its entirety; use MT if you’ve modified its content to the point of altering its message. If you create your own message based on information you learned in someone else’s tweet, credit them at the end with a HT (hat tip.)
- Monitor your Twitter page as a snapshot of your brand. When you follow others, they in turn will make a split-second decision of whether to follow you, based largely on your bio and most-recent tweets.
- Engage your audience. Ask questions and respond to @mentions. Share links relevant to your beat and join conversations that are already happening.
- Always attribute tweets to the original source. It’s bad form to hijack shortened links posted by others and present them as you own.
- Avoid the #humblebrag. Presenting self-congratulatory news in a self-deprecating way looks desperate. Most people will see through it and some may question your sincerity.
- Don’t protect your tweets. If you’re there to engage your audience (why else be here?), don’t protect your tweets and prohibit interaction with the public.
- Take private conversations offline. Twitter is about sharing information at least some of your followers will find valuable. If no one else gets it, send DMs instead.
- Play nice. When engaging in a discussion on Twitter, be a good listener and be professional. No one likes a bully, and any tweet can be captured in a screen grab.