Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

Posts Tagged ‘Building Your Brand

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.”

Using Social Media as a Journalistic Tool

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I had the privilege last week to spend over an hour speaking to The Center for Public Integrity’s Kristen Lombardi about how she conducts her research for investigative stories. I wasn’t surprised to hear that social media had a place in her toolkit.

She told me that one of the ways she and her co-reporter Kristin Jones found sources for their recent series on campus sexual assault was by putting up queries on blogs looking for students who would talk about being assaulted and who filed reports of sexual assaults.

“We received responses from a lot of people—“the silent majority”—who didn’t report their attacks. We wanted to find out why they never reported firsthand and also wanted the accounts of those who went through the process of reporting to campus police or judicial affairs departments,” said Lombardi.

Campus judicial proceedings records aren’t subject to FOIA, so social media proved to be a crucial part of finding victims who would allow them access to their records.

This recent post on Mashable points out how many other journalists are using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs and other social media to develop a beat and cultivate sources:

  • Finding leads, noticing trends
  • Finding sources
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Giving a voice to the voiceless
  • YouTube (as a resource)
  • Sharing/vetting stories
  • Creating community
  • Building a brand

Even if you’re not ready to jump in and embrace social media, take a minute to at least familiarize yourself with their potential and learn how to use them. You’ll quickly realize how a simple search using Google’s “blog” filter,  a TweetDeck column for a hashtag or keyword, or a Facebook fan page can tell you a lot about what people are saying about a particular subject.

(How do you think I found the Mashable article in the first place?)


Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

April 13, 2010 at 2:46 am

A Nod to Tom Peters' definitive article: "The Brand Called You"

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Whenever I do Google searches to generate blog post topics on building your personal brand, I invariably come across blogs that mention Tom Peters‘ 1997 article in Fast Company entitled “The Brand Called You.” I remember reading his book “In Search of Excellence” for an undergrad public relations class in 1988, which is ironic to me because sometimes I feel like this blog is more about PR than it is about journalism. But I guess that’s the point: journalists in growing numbers are becoming solely responsible for promoting their work as jobs are eliminated.

And it seems as though Tom Peters saw this coming way before the news industry was ready (or willing) to hear it. Although he references the Net, your Rolodex and beepers, much of what he had to say about taking control of your professional identity in 1997 sounds as fresh and as urgent today as it did then:

“The good news — and it is largely good news — is that everyone has a chance to stand out. Everyone has a chance to learn, improve, and build up their skills. Everyone has a chance to be a brand worthy of remark.”

To think he felt such certainty of professional manifest destiny before the web’s power was fully realized, before web 2.0 and the era of “Have Blog, Will Prosper.” (From the recent dates of the comments, it’s clear others find his ideas to be timely, too.)

Check out his challenges and calls to action and consider what you’re doing to define your journalistic brand, but read them while keeping in mind all the powerful ways social media can help you the achieve them.

“What makes you different?” Can you define it in 15 words or less, as he suggests, or within the limits of a Twitter profile? Have you crafted a personal tagline for your personal web site and portfolio? Are you using social media to define your professional niche, through the tweets you send and the comments you leave? Have you found others with similar interests and connected with them through LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter?

“What’s the pitch for you?” Are you using social media to increase your web presence in a way that’s consistent with your brand? Do your tweets, Facebook posts, Flickr streams or blog posts betray the image your wish to portray? Do they target the kind of work you want to do?

“What’s the real power of you?” How are you increasing your credibility? Are you leaving comments on blogs? Do you participate in live chats? Do you make references in your blog to relevant work you admire?

“What’s loyalty to you?” Are you using social media to create a following of readers and colleagues to engage in conversations? Not only do social media offer opportunities to express your brand identity, they also have become essential for researching stories and finding sources.

“What’s the future of you?” Have you created a strategy for where you want your career to go? Are you making contacts with people at those organizations and staying informed about them and their careers?

As the “CEO of You” in the digital age, the corporate ladder of you is in fact a series of links and clicks, all at YOUR fingertips.

http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/10/brandyou.html

Using Social Media Skills to Find Journalism Jobs

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It’s spring break at the Cronkite School this week, and although some students are spending their time relaxing, others are busy searching for summer jobs and internships. Poynter Online had an excellent post on their Ask the Recruiter blog yesterday about the social media skills journalists need to find work in today’s job climate. (Interestingly, I watched the post make the re-tweet rounds on Twitter, proof that many journalists already are up to the task.) The article featured several industry leaders and discussed the skills their organizations are looking for in new hires. It’s definitely worth your time to read it and bookmark it for future reference.

I was just about to write a quick post about the blog when I got a tweet announcing a live chat was about to begin with the post’s author Joe Grimm, a visiting journalist at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. The tweet said the chat would focus on unexpected ways to find jobs, so I took the opportunity to participate and asked Joe some questions about how social media and personal branding can play into job searches:

Joe Grimm, Poynter: When I think about finding jobs in unexpected ways, I think of two things. One is looking for new jobs or new wrinkled (sic) on old jobs; the other is new ways of finding jobs or differentiating yourself.

Jennifer Gaie Hellum, ASU: As journalism grad students, we’re hearing a lot about how we have an advantage knowing how to use social media. Yet some of us are concerned that we will be limited to social media tasks at the expense of getting news-gathering and storytelling experience. What advice do you have on how to strategically use our skills without limiting our exposure to the craft?

Joe Grimm, Poynter: Jennifer, this has always been a concern. People with scarce skills are forever getting pigeon-holed. They are happy to get in the door, but not very happy about being pushed away from the things they love to do. This is a great subject to work hard on in the negotiations for a job. Get some commitments in writing.

Jennifer Gaie Hellum, ASU: Your post yesterday about social media skills affirmed much of what we’re being taught at the Cronkite School at ASU. We talk a lot about personal branding and being entrepreneurial journalists. Do you see news organizations adapting to these dynamics in their approaches to hiring, or is this just new jargon for freelancing?

Joe Grimm, Poynter: Oh, no. People are serious about social media. I think some managers do not have a well-defined concept of what they are asking for, so it is a good thing to probe in an interview. But these skills, as well as audience analysis, will only get more important, not less so. This does not seem to me to be a fad.

It is easy to be cynical about entrepreneurship when we see some places paying so little for freelance work. Places are looking for people to be INTRpreneurs, if you will allow me, to help them innovate. This is new.

Jennifer Gaie Hellum, ASU: I’m not so much asking if social media is a fad but rather the “journalist as a brand” phenomenon. We are being encouraged to establish ourselves on social media as a way to define our voices and areas of interest through the tweets we send and the comments we make.

Joe Grimm, Poynter: We have a paradox happening, Newspapers are eliminating specialty beats and critics, but it makes no sense for any of us to be generic. We need to stand out — for good reasons — and that means to have good, marketable journalistic brand identities. The generic people — forgive me — are not getting called.

On networking, remember the power of loose ties — the people who are not closest to you hear different information than you do and can bring you leads. Value the people who you don’t know best or who are friends of friends.

Jennifer Gaie Hellum, ASU: Often I see status posts on LinkedIn of people who are looking for jobs or looking to hire. The key to all these examples (mentioned in throughout this chat session) seems to be ACTIVELY employing whatever networking tool you are using.

Joe Grimm, Poynter: Amen, Jennifer. Networking is an ongoing activity. Not just what we do when we’re needy.

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You can read the entire chat transcript here:

(Chat embed courtesy of Poynter Online)

The Entrepreneurial Journalist

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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."

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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