Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

Archive for the ‘Flickr’ Category

A j-school graduate’s defense of (figuratively) branding journalists

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When I decided to call my student blog Brand Me a Journalist, I chose the name because I thought it was somewhat clever and easy to remember. I hadn’t fully contemplated its inherent call to action – that is, until I read Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten’s response to a student who asked how he developed his brand:

The best way to build a brand is to take a three-foot length of malleable iron and get one end red-hot. Then, apply it vigorously to the buttocks of the instructor who gave you this question. You want a nice, meaty sizzle.

I had two reactions to his advice:

  1. I hope he never takes my blog name literally. (The guy clearly has the technique down, and I’m not into body modification.)
  2. I hope he’s not a mentor.

As a graduate student at the Cronkite School, I learned about personal branding in Tim McGuire’s 21st century media organizations class and later began this blog for Dan Gillmor’s digital media entrepreneurship class. These classes addressed the economic realities and creative possibilities in the new media landscape. Both professors, whom I consider mentors, encouraged me to write this blog and impressed upon us the need to strategically begin creating our digital footprints as students – a powerful career-launching tool that was not available to j-students when I got my undergraduate degree in 1989.

These respected newspapermen understood the increasingly important role of personal branding for journalists, so I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that Medill professor Owen Youngman had assigned a graduate student, identified simply as “Leslie”, to reach out to Weingarten about the topic.

I was completely caught off guard to read the way Weingarten treated Leslie, not being familiar with his distinctive brand. I’d made similar cold-call requests of veteran journalists such as Worldcrunch’s Jeff Israely, and they gladly discussed their brands. But instead of enlightening her with how a “hungry young reporter in the 1970s” came to be a two-time Pulitzer prize-winning columnist (he even has a tagline, a considerable branding asset) at one of the country’s most prestigious news organizations, Weingarten used the occasion to decry the hijacking of journalism’s noble mission by marketing departments and user-generated content.

As Steve Buttry pointed out in his reply to Weingarten’s non-answer to Leslie’s question, Weingarten was not interested in admitting his considerable success is due in part to the strength of his well-cultivated personal brand. His disdain for the word “branding” prevents him from recognizing that it simply is about defining yourself as a journalist and establishing your reputation among your audience, which is no different than what journalists have historically done; it just used to be called “making a name for yourself.”

Indeed, Weingarten has established a formidable reputation name brand, which is supported by his publishers’ marketing efforts and his deliberate social media presence. At various points during his four-decade career, he strategically positioned himself:

  • by committing himself to covering a specific beat to the best of his ability
  • by developing valuable relationships with readers and sources
  • by associating with other journalists doing similar work
  • by pursuing related opportunities that complemented his position

All of these are elements of branding. Whether he wants to admit it or not, he’s very deliberately built his brand.

But rather than seeing Leslie’s overture to a veteran journalist as an opportunity to pass on his professional insights to the next generation of reporters, Weingarten dismisses us as unworthy, talentless self-promoters who aren’t willing to work hard “to get great stories.” Leslie tried to get a great story, one about an accomplished journalist who started out as a “hungry young reporter in the 1970s”; instead, she got a lecture.

So while Weingarten finds comfort in longing for the way things used to be, we aspiring journalists will continue to take advantage of digital media tools available to launch our careers:

  • by building innovative portfolio sites that show our command of writing and programming
  • by posting video resumes on YouTube to show our storytelling, camera work and editing skills (we multimedia journalists do it all)
  • by uploading photos to Flickr and Instagram
  • by finding sources via Facebook
  • by connecting with colleagues via Twitter, journalism chats such as wjchat, LinkedIn groups and conferences to learn about the jobs we aspire to have
  • by staying up until 3 a.m. to write blog posts that very likely won’t be seen but that reveal our passion for writing and commitment to our beats
  • by reaching out to those veteran journalism pros who get that branding is just a word, not a threat

All this before we’ve been hired. Through our initiative, focus and hard work, we’re assembling bodies of work, “making names for ourselves” and pursuing our goals as journalists.

So you can keep your red-hot iron, sir; we’re building our own brands.

Creating a Flickr Account Suitable for an Aspiring Multimedia Journalist

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(This is the third of 30 posts referring to 10,000 Words’ 30 Things Journalism Grads Should Do This Summer, as I work my way down the list of recommended digital media tasks.)

The first two posts of this series focused on establishing a blog and then using Twitter to bring traffic to it. With a year of blogging under my belt, I was in my element and wrote the posts to prove it. And as I indicated in the tease at the end of the last post, I felt equally confident about the upcoming task:

Task #3: Shoot 100 amazing photos and post them on Flickr.

As was the case with blogging, I felt a step ahead of this challenge because I already had a Flickr account. I’ve been an amateur photographer since I lived in Manhattan in the late 1990s, where I took an introductory photography class at the New School in Greenwich Village. I take my pocket-sized digital camera with me everywhere I go and recently have been testing out my new Canon EOS Rebel T1i digital SLR, so I have plenty of new photos to post.

However, when I went to Flickr to add those photos to my account, I realized I had a bit of work to do to make my account an effective element of my personal branding strategy. I had set up the account before I decided to go to graduate school and used it to share photos with my family and friends. I selected what at the time was a suitable Flickr web address:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/hellumfamilypics/ (Oh, is that link not working? I’ll get to that in a moment…)

Although I chose a great address name for helping Grandma find the Christmas photos, it’s not something I’d want on my portfolio page for potential employers to see. Unfortunately, changing a Flickr web address is as difficult as changing your birthday.

That is to say, you can’t.

Flickr unequivocally does not allow you to change your web address and says the only solution is deleting the account. But even after I did that, my problem wasn’t solved. Because I used “Jennifer Gaie Hellum” as my screen name on the deleted account, I now can’t get access to my name for the new one. I’ve been through three days and two levels of Flickr Member Support, hoping that in the end I’ll be able to have two accounts: one for professional use, and one for sharing pictures with the Facebook holdouts in my life.

Rather than give a lesson here on setting up a Flickr account (ehow.com has several tutorials on the subject), I’ll instead sum up what I’ve learned about using Flickr as a forum for career-related photography and as an element of my personal branding digital strategy.

  1. Think through what you want to accomplish with your account before you set it up. If the Flickr support team comes through for me in the end, I’ll be the first to give them a thumbs-up. But I urge you to think it through before you start so you won’t go through the frustration I have in trying to make changes.
  2. Use your professional name as your Flickr web address and screen name. As much as possible, use the same name on all your social media accounts to maximize your search potential.
  3. Create “sets” of photos that address the kind of work you want to do. Journalists increasingly are responsible for shooting photos as well as gathering stories. If you are considering a particular beat, think of the kind of images associated with the stories you’d be telling and seek opportunities to take photos of people and scenes that would accompany those stories. Organize and label your photos on your Flickr page so it’s ready to be linked to your professional portfolio site.
  4. Be your own photo editor. Flickr only allows you a limited amount of uploads per month, so you need to be selective. Show your best work.
  5. Find a separate forum for sharing personal photos. If a photo doesn’t tell a story, capture a detail or share a compelling, well-composed image, save it for Facebook or some other personal photo-sharing account.
  6. Decide what you want to say through your photostream. Perhaps you aspire to be an award-winning photo journalist. Or maybe you simply want an employer to know that you know how to compose a picture and use a photo-sharing site. Having a Flickr account will allow the public access to your work and evaluate your level of talent, so make sure it supports you career goals.
  7. If you are serious about photography, consider joining Flickr groups. Take the time to comment on others’ photos and invite discussion about yours. Actively participating in a social network of photography enthusiasts can earn you “testimonials” on the site and will highlight your commitment to the craft.

As for checking off Task #3, I guess I’ll have to take an incomplete. I promise to update this post with my new-and-improved Flickr web address and recent photos as soon as I get my case resolved with Flickr. I hope to max out my account’s upload quotas in the fall when I take my first photojournalism class. (That’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was an undergrad back in 1985, when I couldn’t afford the cost of all the film!)

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Next up: Task #4. Friend at least 50 journalists on Twitter who in turn follow you back. Now this one has to be as easy as it sounds…

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

July 21, 2010 at 3:46 am