Archive for December 2011
Could you state your value as a journalist in 30 seconds? What about in three paragraphs, or in 160 characters?
How readily could you give an elevator pitch about yourself?
Most journalists have heard the term “elevator pitch” used to describe a quick, concise statement that presents a story idea. They understand the importance of spending time crafting a compelling yet brief speech about a story’s unique angle and how it differs from other treatments of the same topic. In fact, pitching is part of journalism; every day in newsrooms across the country, reporters present persuasive, strategic arguments to build credibility with sources, gain access to information and get buy-in from their editors. Yet I imagine many of these same journalists would be very uncomfortable with the task of creating a personal pitch, or brand statement, to define what makes them unique, credible and valuable as journalists – and even more reluctant to publish it as such.
The truth is anyone who has filled in the bio section on a Twitter account or a summary statement on LinkedIn has written a pitch to the public. These brief blocks of information play a significant role in the decision to “Follow” or “Accept”, and a poorly written one for many is a dealbreaker. I’m always surprised to see when journalists forgo these opportunities to establish credibility and trust and instead leave them blank.
Despite all the anti-marketing, anti-PR angst from journalists concerned about personal branding efforts compromising their integrity, the reality is that just like anyone who has ever applied for a job, journalists need to be able to readily and clearly state why others should care about what we have to say. “I like telling stories” and “I find people interesting” aren’t unique statements; they describe 99% of journalists. The purpose of having a well-defined brand statement is to express the unique qualities that distinguish you from other journalists. So you get the sources. And the information. And the story.
In my case, saying I have a master’s degree in multimedia journalism and specialize in social media doesn’t make me particularly unusual among journalists. But including that I got that degree while in my 40s, after studying PR as an undergrad, having a career in advertising and living in several of the top 10 U.S. cities, and while blogging about personal branding for journalists, hopefully reveals a depth to my life experience as well as credibility to my focusing on social media. It’s true that I, like most journalists, am curious and enjoy storytelling, but my online profile statements go further by describing how my curiosity aids my journalism (by seeking ways to help reporters find stories) and why I’m qualified and credible enough to use social media to tell a particular story (through my blog, PR background and job experience.)
I spoke to a group of business journalism students who were given the task of creating personal brand statements. Many described themselves with words such as “hardworking”, “ambitious”, “curious” and “creative.” Although these are admirable qualities, the frequency of their use among the classmates made it clear they weren’t unique or exclusive. The key to a compelling journalist’s brand statement is to present relevant qualities and specific experience that as a package would persuade others to trust you to tell their stories.
4. Extensive experience
5. Track record
8. Problem solving
9. Communication skills
These positive yet impotent adjectives and nouns don’t do anything to express what you have to offer.
LinkedIn senior manager for corporate communications and consumer PR Krista Canfield suggests using such general qualities to inspire detailed descriptions in summary statements and throughout LinkedIn profiles.
“Don’t just say you’re creative. Make sure you reference specific projects you worked on that demonstrate your creativity,” says Canfield. “Rather than saying’extensive experience’, make sure you list all your actual work experience on your profile. ‘Extensive experience’ is all in the eye of the beholder; it’s better to be specific.”
Read through your online profile bios and summary statements and ask yourself if the words you’ve used adequately and authentically tell your story. Then ask yourself if reading the same introduction on someone else’s bio would be enough to make you consider letting that person tell your story for you. If not, take a few minutes to revise your journalist personal pitch:
- Tell who you are, what you do and what makes you uniquely qualified to do it credibly.
- Work it into your Twitter bio, your LinkedIn summary and your blog’s “About” page.
- Get familiar enough with it that you could fire it off in a tweet if someone asked, “What do you do?”
If you feel you or someone you know has a strong Twitter bio, LinkedIn summary or personal brand statement, share it in the comments below.
As I mentioned in a recent post, my blogging about social media and personal branding played a major role in my getting hired as a social media producer at azcentral. My multimedia journalism graduate degree and familiarity with social media tools allowed for a smooth transition into Republic Media’s converged TV, print and online newsroom.
But after less than a year in the position, I had to quit my job a few weeks ago because the company my husband works for has decided to relocate us to the NY metro area. I’m now focusing on preparing for our move but will continue to write this blog, do freelance social media work and give guest lectures until we’re settled. I’m sad to leave Phoenix and my colleagues at azcentral. I have to admit, however, that I’m really excited about the career opportunities this move will offer in New York.
Although I worked at azcentral only briefly, it was enough time to recognize which parts of the job energized me and what I have to offer as part of a news organization. My main responsibilities involved posting stories on Facebook and Twitter, monitoring social media for trends and breaking news and engaging our audience. I definitely enjoyed that role, but after a while, I found my most satisfiying times in the newsroom were when I was using social media to help other journalists with their reporting. So I actively started approaching reporters and finding ways social media could assist them with their stories. Whether I was finding sources on Facebook who had been specifically affected by the massive Wallow Fire or using Storify to crowdsource reaction to a unusual local weather phenomenon, I loved how social media enhanced stories and did my part to show reporters how to take advantage of it. Those experiences eventually defined my contribution to our social media team and refined my brand.
Finding breaking news sources using social media
My day usually began by scanning my TweetDeck streams for local and national news that had broken overnight. (I loved being paid to know what was going on.) Our converged newsroom meant I was a few feet from the breaking news desk, print reporters, online team and television producers. If I saw a tweet from a Twitter user or another news organization that mentioned a developing story, I’d be on my feet to check if they knew about it. This responsibility suited my personality well; it’s my nature to be helpful and to share information with people. I monitored news tweets, hashtags and social media comments for relevant content and passed it on whenever it might be useful.
One highlight for me was when a Breaking News tweet I saw helped turn an international story into a local one for azcentral. I heard an early morning story on NPR about a Russian plane crash and later saw a @BreakingNews tweet announcing the plane was carrying an entire Russian hockey team.
I clicked the link to the NHL press release and found the coach was former Phoenix Coyotes player Brad McCrimmon, so I alerted the breaking news desk and told the home page editor about it. He searched our archives, found dozens of references to the coach and called the reporter who covers the Coyotes. Within 20 minutes, we had the enhanced wire story on our site. We posted our local story on Facebook and Twitter within the next hour.
This example elegantly highlights how social media’s role as part of a converged newsroom dynamic led to comprehensive news coverage of a local, and yet international, tragedy.
Crowdsourcing special projects
Azcentral’s social media team encouraged reporters to tap into our social media followers (as well as their own) to crowdsource, and I let them know I was there to help. We used live chats to generate questions for interviews with experts, turned to Quora to find answers to niche questions, and when Osama bin Laden was captured and killed, I gathered local reaction using Storify. Most often, we helped reporters use Twitter and Facebook to find story ideas and sources.
Our crowdsourced 9/11 anniversary Arizona Republic front page was an unprecedented and unexpected social media achievement. Before the anniversary, azcentral and 12 News posted requests for six-word responses to the question “What does 9/11 mean to you?” on Facebook and Twitter and got over 600 responses. Their collective impact was so profound that the editors decided to wallpaper the front page of the Arizona Republic with the six-word statements against a silhouette of the Twin Towers and New York skyline. For the first time in the paper’s history, the front page was crowdsourced. The response was overwhelmingly positive within the local community and the newspaper industry.
I became a journalist because I wanted to tell people’s stories. Using social media tools to bring out otherwise unheard voices – even if they’re only making six-word statements – truly inspired me, and this part of my role as social media producer confirmed that I want crowdsourcing to be an even bigger part of my next job.
Training reporters and editors
I really enjoyed training colleagues to use social media for reporting. Despite the ubiquity of social media references in the news and within the newsroom, many very talented journalists had no interest in creating or actively using social media accounts. They’d been able to write compelling stories without them for years and saw no need to change their habits. Some had Twitter accounts but didn’t know how to maximize them, while others had been effectively using them to solicit ideas and sources and were eager to learn new tricks.
Each week I wrote a social media newsletter to share tips and give examples of five good tweets from the week. I also did one-on-one training of how to set up Twitter, Facebook’s subscribe feature, LinkedIn and TweetDeck. The feedback I got from reporters, whether it was a quick email saying the Five Good Tweets helped them become more comfortable with tweeting or a request for crowdsourcing advice, showed me the range of confidence and social media expertise throughout the staff. I genuinely enjoyed working with all skill levels and tailoring the training to their needs.
Providing help is a central part of who I am and my brand as a journalist, whether it’s to get information out, tell stories or teach. For now, I’ll be have to put that energy into helping my family move, but soon enough I’ll be using it to help myself get a job.