Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

How Craig Silverman Built a Personal Brand on Merit, not Pedigree

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As I’ve mentioned before, the Cronkite School does an amazing job at bringing in prominent journalists to share their insights with its undergrads and graduate students. Last Thursday, Dan Gillmor and CJ Cornell hosted Canadian journalist Craig Silverman, editor of Regret the Error, for a whirlwind day of guest lectures and discussions with faculty and students. While much of the focus was on his expertise on topics of accuracy and corrections, I was drawn to Craig’s success story of using social media to create his own professional niche at age 27. During one of his brief breaks between lectures, we had the chance to sit down and discuss how he did it.

Regret the Error creator Craig Silverman at ASU’s Cronkite School of Journalism’s Digital Media Entrepreneurship Lab

Craig started freelancing in 1996 when he was in journalism school and had been freelancing full-time for two years when he began looking for a way to “kick start” his career in 2004. He found a niche in tracking corrections and accuracy, despite having no background in copy editing. (He said he chose the topic because errors offered the opportunity for quick, pithy posts.) “I realized there was no expert there,” he said, “so I thought I could potentially become the expert. It’s an amazing thing to think I could just do this.”

He started by evaluating different paid blogging services (because he “wanted the blog to look good”) and having a friend with a design background create a logo for him. He then wrote a two-page business proposal for his friends to review, tested his posts on them and went live with the blog. From concept to market, all within two weeks.

On the first day he got over 10,000 hits, confirming he’d indeed identified a need. The Craig Silverman/Regret the Error brand was up and running.

When I asked Craig how he managed to spread the word about his blog, I expected him to say he’d posted the link in comment sections of other journalists’ blogs. “No, he replied, “I didn’t want to be too spammy. I wanted to go to them as a fellow professional.” So he sent emails to bloggers, including Jim Romenesko, and asked them to take a look at what he was doing and post a link to his blog if they liked what they read.

Through six years of research and consulting with scholars, historians, fact checkers and news industry leaders, Craig has effectively established his personal brand as an accuracy expert. In addition to being editor of Regret the Error, he’s the managing editor of two websites and writes two weekly columns (one for the Columbia Journalism Review — not a bad gig).  He published a book titled “Regret the Error” in 2007 and currently has over 400 fans on Facebook and over 2,000 followers on Twitter. All because he identified a niche and started a blog.

While he’s the first to admit the blogosphere is much more crowded now than it was in 2004, Craig stressed more than once that opportunities still exist for journalists to create their own niches. “Journalists can establish expertise on their own. People look at the merit rather than the pedigree.”

Of course, his entrepreneurial success was both inspiring and reassuring to this forty-something rookie journalist, so I asked Craig what advice he’d give to journalists entering the field now with so many social media tools at their fingertips. “Number one, you have to own your own domain name and Twitter ID and be conscious of what you’re doing with them.” He recommends using your personal website to post updates on professional achievements, awards, speaking engagements, and topics relevant to your niche.

“The best way to make people want to hire you is to have a strong personal brand. Even if you aspire to be on a staff somewhere, you have to realize that employers are motivated by brands as well as bodies of work.”

4 Responses

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  1. Great article, Jennifer. I know Craig (we are both members of the Professional Writers Assn of Canada) and he is an amazing fellow. Lots of enthusiasm and focus. An inspiration to us all!

    Doreen Pendgracs

    April 22, 2010 at 11:34 am

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