Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

News Foo 2012 curated highlights: popular tweets, photo summaries and post-Foo reflections

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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

NewsFoo brings together media professionals to discuss innovation

NewsFoo brings together media professionals to discuss innovation

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 …

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@TimOReilly kicking off #newsfoo by explaining the history of unconferences at O’Reilly Media. As usual, proud to work with and for him.

@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 ·

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The most retweeted #NewsFoo tweets: comments on Ignite Talks and un-conference sessions


 

 

  

 

 

  

 

 

 

Post-Foo blog posts: reflections, resources and a photo collection

#newsfoo 2012 highlights captured from afar

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 …

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Thoughts (and some suggestions) on #NewsFoo: http://t.co/nqYKYLch

December 3, 2012 · Derek Willis

Thoughts (and some suggestions) on #NewsFoo: http://t.co/nqYKYLch

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 @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

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Some Notes and Photos from NewsFoo

Some Notes and Photos from NewsFoo

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 …

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OMFG NewsFoo!

OMFG NewsFoo!

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 …

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From #newsfoo: five opportunities for the news industry

From #newsfoo: five opportunities for the news industry

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 …

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News Foo: What we learned, where we’re going

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 …

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“We need to put more digital designers into our news operations. I am talking about those visual…”

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.” …

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Some sites/tools at @Newsfoo: http://t.co/IDwgtIfI #newsfoo

December 2, 2012 · Ryan Osborn

Some sites/tools at @Newsfoo: http://t.co/IDwgtIfI #newsfoo 

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Just posted a bunch of photos from #newsfoo – please help tagging, identifying peeps! https://t.co/pBcNseBT

NewsFoo 2012

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! 

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Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

December 7, 2012 at 10:11 pm

#ONA12 personal-branding takeaway: First, claim your name

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During the three years I’ve been talking with journalists about branding, I’ve frequently been asked how I decide which social media platforms to be on. Every new social platform offers potential for generating stories, enhancing content or engaging the community, so how do I determine which ones will indeed be useful to me?

Of course, no one knows which tools will become staples and which will be forgotten, but that doesn’t mean you should wait before signing up when you hear about a new one. At this year’s Online News Organization conference in San Francisco, I heard what now will be one of my personal branding mantras for trying new tools:

First, claim your name.

I’ve always told journalists to purchase custom domain names for personal branding purposes after Dan Gillmor urged each of us grad students to buy our vanity URLs. But the “claim your name” approach also applies to experimenting with any online tool that might become part of your reporting arsenal.

In the session “Pinterest, Instagram, Google+: Keep Up, Keep Sane,” panelists NYU journalism professor Farai Chideya and Breaking News/NBC News Digital’s senior editor Stephanie Clary offered strategies for managing the many emerging digital resources for journalists. Both encouraged reporters to sign up when they hear about a new tool, dabble to gain a general understanding of its use and monitor how “superusers” take advantage of its unique reporting value.

 

Not only does checking out new platforms keep you familiar with emerging digital tools others are using, getting in early allows you to secure your username before someone else gets it. Usernames should signal identity, and for journalists, credibility and value. If you miss out on claiming your byline or something recognizably close to it, you miss opportunities to connect with your community.

In the session “#NOFILTER: How Social Photography Is Changing News and Journalism,” UC-Berkeley assistant professor Richard Koci Hernandez offered this classic example of the Los Angeles Times’ failure to secure its name on Instagram:

 

So grab your phone and claim your Instagram name before someone else does. Then make sure you’re at least signed up and ready to use these established digital platforms, creating custom URLs where available:

If you’ve tried out other platforms that you’ve found helpful, add them in the comments.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

September 26, 2012 at 1:27 am

Twitter boot camp: #TheRules (or #TheTips) for journalists

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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.

 

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:

 

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.

Best practices for getting started:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
Strategies for the well-crafted tweet:
  1. Write concisely. Use your 140-character limit to tighten up your writing. Use fewer than 140 to allow for easy retweeting.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Use hashtags. They flag your tweet when the subject of your tweet isn’t part of your message.
  5. 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.)
  6. 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.
#TheTips for effective engagement:
  1. Engage your audience. Ask questions and respond to @mentions. Share links relevant to your beat and join conversations that are already happening.
  2. Always attribute tweets to the original source. It’s bad form to hijack shortened links posted by others and present them as you own.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
Best of luck to #bcxii and all the veteran journalists who are just now jumping into the Twitterverse. If you have Twitter tips to offer journalists, add them in the comments.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

September 17, 2012 at 7:14 am

Twitter bios and LinkedIn summaries as journalists’ personal brand statements

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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.

The blog Brazen Careerist recently featured LinkedIn’s annual list of top 10 overused buzzwords used in the U.S. in LinkedIn profiles and resumes:

1.    Creative
2.    Organizational
3.    Effective
4.    Extensive experience
5.    Track record
6.    Motivated
7.    Innovative
8.    Problem solving
9.    Communication skills
10.   Dynamic

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:

  1. Tell who you are, what you do and what makes you uniquely qualified to do it credibly.
  2. Work it into your Twitter bio, your LinkedIn summary and your blog’s “About” page.
  3. 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.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

December 22, 2011 at 3:00 am

Storify: Highlights from #wjchat on personal branding

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Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

December 6, 2011 at 5:26 pm

How my social media producer job helped refine my brand as a journalist

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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.

ONA11 put the spotlight on social media as a reporting tool

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In 2010, I attended ONA’s annual conference in Washington, DC, as a journalism graduate student. I knew I was interested in finding an online journalism job after graduation, possibly doing social media, and thought ONA would be the place to gain insights on how journalists were using social media. So I took advantage of the student registration rate, had some business cards made and envisioned my meeting all the social media people I followed on Twitter.

But aside from a few sessions that touched on community engagement and an impromptu project for Intersect, I didn’t find many discussions about the kind of work I thought I might do in a social media job. Don’t get me wrong; I learned a lot at ONA10 about online news operations, emerging technology and digital reporting tools. As a first-time attendee, however, I left the conference without handing my card to anyone in social media and thought maybe ONA wasn’t a forum where social media played a very prominent role.

What a difference a year makes.

Any doubt I had about social media’s place in online journalism was completely dismissed at ONA11 in Boston. From the opening paragraph of the co-chairs’ welcome in the conference program (“Social media tools continue to transform the way news breaks …”) to the standing room-only Twitter and Facebook sessions, it was clear social media’s increasing role in journalism was being fully embraced at this year’s gathering.

It’s understandable. In the year since the 2010 conference, social media continued to transform the newsgathering and reporting process:

This year’s conference organizers apparently noticed the increased interest in social media’s journalistic value and responded by adding a social media track of sessions, and I hit them all. I heard NPR senior strategist Andy Carvin share his live-tweeting and tweet curation insights as part of the keynote lunch panel discussion. I fought the crowds to see Twitter content team member and digital strategist Erica Anderson and Facebook journalist program manager Vadim Lavrusik each lead a pair of sessions to share best practices and strategies for using their sites. And I took notes as Storify creator Bert Herman, along with Washington Post’s social media producer Katie Rogers and ProPublica director of engagement Amanda Michel, discussed Twitter’s strengths as a reporting tool. As an unexpected bonus, I ended up interviewing Reuter’s social media editor Anthony DeRosa for my blog after meeting him at his session on personal branding. (More on that in my next post…) Journalists working as community managers, social media editors and online engagement directors led a range of discussions about using social media to do serious journalism.

This time, I didn’t hold back from introducing myself to them. I asked for advice and shared what we’re doing at azcentral to incorporate social media tools into our reporting. Incredibly talented people doing creative, innovative things to connect with their communities were more than willingness to share what they know with me. I left ONA11 energized by what I’d learned and who I’d met, knowing I definitely was in the right place.

My advice to j-school students: How building an online brand helped me get my online job

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When I talk to journalism students about using social media to build their brands, their questions often are practical ones: What if someone already has my name as a Twitter handle? Do I really have to edit my Facebook page? How often should I blog? But the best question a student asked me challenged the very idea that journalists should bother with personal branding in the first place:

“It takes so much time to do everything you’re talking about, like blogging and tweeting and keeping all those profiles updated, on top of writing stories. How do you know it’s actually paying off for you?”

Before I could reply, his professor provided the best answer: “Because she’s standing up here in front of you.” (If you know Cronkite School professor Tim McGuire, you can appreciate his delivery of that line.)

The fact is the student was right. It takes extra effort to maintain an online presence as a journalist. And I admitted I couldn’t tell him which tweet would be the one that got him retweeted 25 times, which blog post would be shared around the world or which skill listed on his LinkedIn profile would make him rise to the top of a search.

Nonetheless, I assured him all that extra effort was worth it because each tweet, each blog post and each online profile defined his brand and provided a virtual trail for potential employers to find him. I told him I knew this personally because I’d sent tweets that got dozens of retweets, I’d written a blog post that was shared from Peru to Spain after someone translated it into Spanish and I’d been contacted for jobs via LinkedIn – all while I was still a grad student.

Then I reassured him there was no reason he and his classmates couldn’t do the same.

Today’s j-school students have everything they need to start mapping out their careers. They can write niche blogs, create simple portfolios, connect with others doing the work they aspire to do and develop professional networks across the country before they’ve even begun their job searches. It hasn’t always been that way; when I went to journalism school in the 1980s, students sent out resumes, applied for jobs and waited for a phone call. But as a grad student over two decades later, I recognized that from my first assignment, I was building the online brand that would eventually get me my job as a social media producer.

Here’s how I did it:

Creating a name for myself – literally: I had no online identity when I began grad school after 12 years as a stay-at-home mom. Google searches of my name brought up a scholar who researched Egypt and one passing reference to me as my husband’s wife. I clearly had some work to do. When I got my first online assignment to create a blog, I deliberately used my full name, Jennifer Gaie Hellum, and did the same on social media accounts and as a reporter at Cronkite News Service. By the end of grad school, a search for Jennifer Hellum – even without my middle name – brought me to the top of the page on Google.

Helping people find my work: I always took the time to add tags to blog posts for SEO, add links to other blogs and thank others who linked to mine. Publishing a post meant sending a tweet with the link and any relevant hashtags, keywords or the Twitter handle of anyone I’d interviewed. I also took my professors’ advice and created a LinkedIn account, joined journalism associations and bought my vanity URL to use for my online portfolio.

Choosing blog topics and reporting assignments that fit my brand:  This blog started as an assignment for a digital media entrepreneurship class. As someone with little online media experience at the time, I found a digital topic, personal branding via social media, that genuinely fit with my earlier advertising and public relations career. At the suggestion of my professors, I kept the blog going during the summer and beyond my final semester because it had become clear I was the only person regularly writing about the topic. During my capstone semester as a producer and reporter at Cronkite News Service, I found ways to use social media as a reporting tool and even wrote about city governments using social media. In the end, my blog and social media knowledge became the strongest part of my resume.

Doing the job I aspired to have: As soon as I learned about social media as an area of journalism, I began using it to learn about social media jobs. I set up Google alerts and TweetDeck columns for “social media editor” and read everything I could about the position. I followed social media editors on Twitter, looked at their job histories and skill sets on LinkedIn and read their blogs and decided my interests and personality fit well with the work. I also participated in Twitter chats with online journalists, and if they mentioned a digital tool I was unfamiliar with, I looked it up so I could join in the conversation. (The chat organizer later invited me to be a guest panelist about personal branding and social media along with experienced journalists.) And during my last sememster, I went to the Online News Association conference in D.C and used what I learned to improve CNS’s Facebook profile and help other reporters find sources on Twitter.  All that extra effort paid off when I was recommended for a social media producer position at azcentral.com and was able to share what I knew and how I’d used it.

Of course, I’m not the only one to figure out that I didn’t have to wait to start building a brand. Many multimedia journalism students post their reels on YouTube, share photos on Flickr and create online portfolios that showcase their programming skills, and it’s paying off. They’re getting hits, they’re getting noticed and best of all, they’re getting hired.

Journalism’s personal branding debate: Can you have a strong brand AND integrity?

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During the past week, seasoned journalists and renowned academics exchanged volleys over whether journalists should concern themselves with their personal brands. As someone who has spent the past year and a half blogging about personal branding for journalists, I felt compelled to weigh in and share how someone from the newest generation of journalists felt about this career management strategy.

The debate began when Medill School of Journalism student Leslie Trew Magraw requested to interview two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten about how he built his brand. Instead of discussing how he’d grown his reputation throughout his four-decade career, Weingarten used Leslie’s assignment to deliver an indictment of the media’s focus on marketing and the consumer’s influence on content. He then took a shot at the new generation of journalists for not being willing to work hard to earn their reputations:

Now, the first goal seems to be self-promotion — the fame part, the “brand.”

Many veteran journalists are very uncomfortable with the notion of a person having a brand, believing that focusing on marketing your talent automatically detracts from attention to your work and compromises your integrity. They came up in the business at a time when journalists didn’t have to worry about marketing their careers; producing good work and being associated with a reputable news organization was enough to “make a name for yourself.”

Not anymore.

For many journalists, the changing media landscape’s effect on employment dynamics – from long-term job security to professional nomadism – requires proactive management of their careers. Fortunately, having a career strategy and professional integrity and are not mutually exclusive, and it is from that perspective that I write about personal branding.

I have to believe those on both sides of the branding argument want the same thing: to make a living with integrity while doing a job they love. If we can rise above the branding versus reputation semantics and generational finger pointing, young professionals in all fields can benefit from journalism’s branding discussion as they seek to establish their careers.

Personal branding is fundamentally about how to distinguish yourself from those with whom you share general characteristics. That is to say, your brand is your intrinsically unique set of qualities that give you value. If you want the people with whom you interact professionally to see your singular value, you first have to be able to be aware of it yourself first:

Be authentic. Your personality, passions, life experiences, values system and beliefs inform the kind of work you naturally are drawn to. Use that knowledge of your core values as the foundation for your career decisions. Without that awareness, that compass to guide you, you won’t be able to determine whether an opportunity is a good fit. As an extroverted news junkie who’s happiest when I’m providing people with information they find useful, my working as a social media producer allows me to professionally be true to who I am and do so confidently and credibly.

Understand where your talent and skills lie and use them. Your brand is meaningless unless you produce quality work to support it, and that starts with knowing what you do well. Many resources are available to help you identify your intellectual strengths and natural talents. You may have figured that out a long time ago or may still be struggling to pinpoint your greatest asset. Taking aptitude tests and talent assessments helped me appreciate my interest in languages and affinity for storytelling that I’d taken for granted, which eventually led me to journalism.

Communicate effectively. All the passion, hard work and talent in the world won’t get you where you want to go if nobody knows about it. That’s why I’m writing my blog, participating in Twitter chats and connecting online. Knowing how to clearly and effectively share what you’re about as a person and an employee is the difference between being in the loop as opportunities arise and being left in the dark.

  • Reach out to colleagues at work, at events and online to learn more about your profession.
  • Make sure you can tell them what you have to offer that sets you apart from others.
  • Take advantage of tools such as blogs, portfolio sites and YouTube to create a digital footprint where you can express creatively express why you have value in your field.
  • Keep your online profiles up to date, making sure they collectively provide consistent information.
  • And finally, be smart about what you post on social networks and Twitter. Whether you consider it personal or professional, it all affects your brand.

These strategies don’t relieve you of the responsibility of hard work; in fact, they add to it. And when it’s done to build a personal brand authentically and competently, I don’t know how anyone could argue with that.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

June 30, 2011 at 12:20 am

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.