Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

Archive for February 2010

One Degree of Separation Through Digital Media

with 3 comments

One of the fascinating elements of social media for me is the elimination of barriers between the Big Bosses and the Newbies. Twenty years ago when I started my career in advertising, my only access to senior management was in meetings or in the elevator. I never had the opportunity to develop a rapport much less a relationship with the poweful, connected people at the top.

These days, young new hires have the advantage of direct access to industry leaders via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. No longer are our opportunities limited to a good cover letter or the long shot of a cold call being returned.  We have the opportunity to “friend” management on Facebook, start conversations with them via Twitter and reach out via email and LinkedIn.

I found out first hand this week just how connected, and therefore small, the media community is. In late February I got a tweet from Mathew Ingram, a Toronto-based media blogger whom I follow on Twitter:

Jim Brady says that he follows people who apply for jobs on Twitter, to see how they use it, and if they don’t use it “that’s a problem”

I found that to be a powerful statement and saved it so I could blog about it later. But first I had to verify that Brady, the former washingtonpost.com editor, actually made the statement. I set out to contact him directly but couldn’t find an email account on his new company’s web site. My next thought was to send him a message on Twitter, knowing that with the number of people following him, my chance of a reply was slim. A direct message wasn’t possible because he doesn’t follow me, so I went for it and sent out a public tweet:

@jimbradysp Please DM me. Want to blog about how you follow job seekers on Twttr to see how they use it, “If they don’t, that’s a problem.”

Within a minute, a professor of mine sent me a direct message saying other professors at Cronkite know Jim Brady personally and that I should ask them for an introduction. Sure enough, one check on LinkedIn showed that three people I knew (including, surprisingly, my husband’s college roommate who works for AP) were two degrees of separation from him.

Brady’s LinkedIn page featured a personal website he set up to chronicle a cross-country roadtrip with his wife and two dogs. It included a gmail account. I assumed this wasn’t his primary email account but decided to send an message. I had seen in his Twitter feed that he had directed a tweet at my professor Dan Gillmor, so I mentioned that my blog was for Dan Gillmor’s class at ASU.

Within 24 hours, this unknown journalism grad student was exchanging messages with one of the most influential online editors in the country. It took all of an hour of exploring his social media accounts to make it happen.

More on what I found out in the next post…

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

February 25, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Every Day (and Every Page View) is an Interview

with 2 comments

On any given day, being a grad student at the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication can feel like being in a journalism version of Raphael’s School of Athens. We pass Pulitzer Prize and Murrow Award-winning professors in the hallways and sit in their classrooms. (More than once I’ve heard someone say, “I can’t believe I just talked to …”) Pioneering new media heavyweights teach us about digital entrepreneurship and invite sought-after venture capitalists to share their insights and encourage our creativity. Not only do we have top-tier faculty to tap into, but there’s also the steady stream of major news outlets whose representatives visit Cronkite to recruit interns and hire recent grads. The collective experience and influence at Cronkite open doors for us that simply aren’t accessible at many other journalism schools.

File:Sanzio 01.jpg

Source: vatican.va

That’s why I try to approach every day in the building as an interview. No, I don’t wear a suit or bring a resume to class. But in general, I try to be aware that we could be invited at the last minute to join the faculty for lunch with a distinguished visitor. Or that the person chatting with me in the elevator could be the speaker at that evening’s event. I try to go to class prepared and participate in discussions, follow my professors and classmates on Twitter and add what I hope are thoughtful comments on their blogs. ( I’ll admit I have yet to master the typo-free tweet. I need more sleep to be able to tame that tiger…)

Professor Tim McGuire recently wondered out loud why some students aren’t more strategic in the way they approach their time at Cronkite, as if they aren’t aware that they’re making impressions and defining themselves every day in class and through social media. In fact, many professors end up becoming friends with former students on Facebook and connecting with them on LinkedIn, giving the once semester-long relationship potential for a much longer life. This added dimension to the student/professor dynamic makes it that much more important for us to build our professional networks within the school.

It may be that because I am an older student and worked in advertising before going back to school, I tend to think of school as my workplace. But I don’t think this career awareness is about age; some of the most impressive, strategic-thinking classmates of mine are –gulp– nearly half mine. They take advantage of opportunities, write well-crafted tweets and choose niche blog topics that as a whole clearly indicate the type of specialized journalist they want to be. In this era of the journalist as brand, they’re playing really good offense.

And most impressively, they’re taking risks to reach out to these seemingly larger-than-life faculty members and seeking their advice and encouragement. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re already connecting with them on LinkedIn.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

February 21, 2010 at 11:25 pm

The Entrepreneurial Journalist

leave a comment »

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Carnegie Corporation’s two-day summit A Way Forward: Solving the Challenges of the News Frontier, held at the Paley Center of Media in New York. Deans, faculty members, students and journalists gathered to discuss how “journalism education should transform in order to best prepare students for careers in the 21st century.” A tall order, to be sure. One moderator joked about the seemingly presumptuous, or at best overly ambitious, task of “solving the challenges” in the course of a two-day gathering. But for the most part, the event’s speakers earnestly tried to address how this generation of journalists will need to adapt their skills and enrich their knowledge base to compete in the digital media age.

Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Comm faculty and grad students at the Carnegie Corp. and The Paley Center for Media’s Summit on the Future of Journalism Education

It’s a topic we grad students at Cronkite examined at length last fall in Professor Tim McGuire‘s course on 21st century new organizations and entreprenuership. (Unfortunately, the blizzard caused Tim’s flight to be cancelled and he couldn’t attend with the rest of us.) From early in the semester, Tim stressed that the days of a journalist spending his or her entire career with one organization were a thing of the past. More likely, he said, journalists will be identified by their names rather than their association with a particular news outlet. Our task will be to strategically cultivate a personal brand, with a distinctive voice and unique subject-matter expertise, which will allow us to create our own job opportunities. This career strategy, which incorporates blogging, tweeting and using social media to develop professional contacts, seemed like a reasonable approach to the majority of us in his class.

Yet during a panel discussion on entrepreneurial journalism moderated by Jeff Jarvis (who spoke to Tim’s class via Skype last fall,) Geneva Overholser, director of Journalism at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, acknowledged just how radical a shift this is:

“Five years ago I’d rather have cut my tongue out than tell a journalism student, ‘Be your own brand.'”

Nonetheless, there she was, urging us to accept the reality, evolve our craft and create our own career paths. Clearly these are revolutionary times in media.

As John Thornton, chairman of the Texas Tribune put it, “Things are fuzzy. People who aren’t comfortable with ambiguity aren’t going to make it in entrepreneurship.” (We’ve heard this from Dan Gillmor and CJ Cornell in our Digital Media Entrepreneurship course.)

Still, those who have gone before us into the new media frontier, such as POLITICO editor-in-chief  John Harris, offered reassurance to the students in the audience that respecting time-honored principles of journalism, such as reporting credibility and authority, can still guide us and lead us to rewarding experiences.  “I’ve always thought that you can be loyal to enduring values of journalism while still finding your voice. Focus on your distinctive value and learn how to market yourself, and you’ll have more fun, and probably get more pay.”

More fun and more money. Sounds good to me.

That may be counter to everything the current climate of layoffs and upheaval seems to suggest, but if these journalism educators and industry leaders can adapt and optimistically embrace what the new media realities offer, we entrepreneurial journalists surely can, too.

"Hellum… Jennifer Gaie Hellum."

with 3 comments

My maiden name is my currency, my online currency. It’s what distinguishes me from Dr. Jennifer Hellum, a lecturer in Classics for the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and what keeps me from being buried on page 5 in Google searches.

When I was an at-home mom, the only hit I got on a Google vanity search was one sole mention as Jennifer Hellum, Erik Hellum’s wife, but my days of online obscurity are now over! As a graduate journalism student at the Cronkite School at Arizona State University, I’ve been blogging, tweeting and contributing to hyperlocal new sites. I realized early on that if I wanted my journalism work to be found by search engines, I’d need to resurrect the unique professional name I’d used as an advertising media planner: Jennifer Gaie Hellum.

When my professor Dr. Leslie-Jean Thornton assigned us blogs as part of our multimedia bootcamp, I asked her if I was making a big deal out of what to call myself. She told me not only was I making a smart choice by trying to distinguish myself from a published author, but she herself had made a concise choice of a professional name. “There are a lot of Leslie Thorntons,” she said, “but there’s only one Leslie-Jean.”

How we manage our online identities as journalists is increasingly more important as the news industry goes through revolutionary change. Journalism school grads no longer have to accept the traditional employment path of starting in a small market with hopes of making it to a legacy organization someday. Instead, entrepreneurial journalists are strategically defining themselves through social media and niche specializations to set themselves apart from their peers, develop relationships and create their own opportunities.

This blog will discuss the changing media employment realities, as well as the journalists who are creating their own brands and the social media tools they’re using do to do so:

  • Twitter
  • Blogs
  • Flickr
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Ning networks
  • Professional associations and listserves
  • Brand-building web sites
  • Search engine optimization

Along the way, I’ll share the ways I’ve tried to cultivate my own brand through social media and let you know if it has paid off. Who knows, I may even send a friend request to Dr. Jennifer Hellum (and then tweet about it.)

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

February 16, 2010 at 1:54 am