Posts Tagged ‘Dan Gillmor’
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:
- I hope he never takes my blog name literally. (The guy clearly has the technique down, and I’m not into body modification.)
- 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.
(This is the second of 30 posts referring to 10,000 Words’ 30 Things Journalism Grads Should Do This Summer, as I work my way down the list of recommended digital media tasks.)
After a two-month hiatus from blogging, I was pleased to see the enthusiastic response to my return post as I announced my effort to tackle the ambitious 10,000 Words to-do list. I got an encouraging amount of blog traffic and a pair of comments, including votes of confidence from a journalism professor and from the list’s author himself.
I didn’t, however, accomplish the next task on the list:
Task #2: If you already have a blog, write a post that gets retweeted 20 times.
No, although the retweets I got were highly appreciated ones from a few high-profile journalists, they totaled a humbling three retweets. I’m hopeful the number will increase as I share my successes, failures, obstacles and reflections, but for now I’ll have to focus this post on my only experience of getting retweeted more than 20 times.
Over two exhilarating days last May, a tweet announcing a blog post of mine went out to my 100+ followers, got retweeted by a few of my professors and found its way to a Peruvian journalist with a gift for translation and a large international following. Here’s how I related the incident to my professor Dan Gillmor the following day:
I have to thank you for the RT yesterday. You set off a cascade of RTs, which included a Peruvian journalist who translated my post and credited me by name. It’s been re-tweeted from her site 100 times and posted on FB 30 times, and I’m suddenly being followed by dozens of South American journos. (Fortunately, I speak Spanish well enough to understand what’s being said by them.) … I ended the day with 956 hits on my blog and another 250+ today. Crazy. So much for a blog wrap-up; I think I’ll keep writing it for a while.
Ironically, the post was supposed to be the conclusion to this blog, an end-of-semester reflection on what I had learned while blogging 2-3 times a week for Dan and CJ Cornell’s Digital Media Entrepreneurship class.
To what do I credit this unexpected level of response to my blog, which during the semester had only twice received more than 100 hits in a day? In fact, in covering the social media/personal branding beat, I noticed a few things about retweeted tweets:
- Enumerated lists catch people’s eyes. Like those on magazine cover blurbs, lists of tips, suggestions and other actionable tasks appeal to people’s desire for advice and measurable results.
- Tweets posted during the workday get noticed more than those posted at 2 a.m. (when I often finished writing my posts). Even though Twitter users have applications like TweetDeck and Seesmic for managing tweets, I’ve found the tweets that trickle in during the day get more individual attention than the dozens waiting for me when I check it in the morning.
- Well-crafted tweets, laden with relevant keywords and IDs of other Twitter users, will get retweeted by people other than your followers.
I decided to test my first theory on my final post, hoping for maximum traffic to my student blog. I set out to write a top-ten list and eventually ended up with a collection of tips: 12 Tips for Journalists: My Semester on the Personal Branding Beat. I then, as always, posted a tweet, making sure to use essential keywords such as “social media”,” journalists” and “personal branding” (note the time stamp):
I went to bed pleased with my list strategy and woke only to be disappointed by the lack of response. I had worked hard on this post, highlighting the skills I’d gained and the interviews I’d conducted. I’d even managed to reference one of my digital media heroes, Mignon Fogarty (aka Grammar Girl)– although I’d failed at embedding her podcast. But later in the day, she provided the necessary code, and I retweeted the revised posts to signal to her that I’d successfully added it. This gave me the opportunity to test out my second theory, and I re-sent my tweet 12 hours after I originally posted it:
Within minutes, a few of my professors at Cronkite retweeted the link and sent direct messages saying they liked the post. They had missed the early-morning tweet completely. (It was finals week for all of us.) Fortunately for me, my professors are highly regarded in journalism nationally and, apparently, internationally. Peruvian digital journalist Esther Vargas, founder of Clasesdeperiodismo.com, an online digital journalism school for Latin American, saw the tweet and translated the entire blog post into Spanish:
From there, things truly became viral. In addition to the 50 retweets of my original tweet, readers of her blog from all corners of Central and South America, as well as Europe, responded by sending retweets and posting links on Facebook. My sons and I giggled as my hits climbed past 100, passed 500 and topped out near 1,000 in a day.
OK, my viral adventure may not have made me an international blogging sensation, but it did show me how powerful Twitter can be when used effectively. (An added benefit: I now get to read Spanish-language “tuits” from my new periodismo friends from around the world.)
Next up: Task #3: Shoot 100 amazing photos and post them on Flickr. (This one will be fun. I got a new digital SLR for Mother’s Day– apparently just in time!)
When Dan Gillmor assigned our digital media entrepreneurship class the task of blogging for the semester, he challenged each of us to “become an expert on a digital media topic”. He assured us that by blogging “2-3 times a week, at 300-500 words per post”, we would know more than enough about our topics to confidently own our chosen beats.
I have to say that at the time that outcome seemed pretty unrealistic to me. I began this blog about personal branding and social media with a basic understanding of the issue’s relevance to journalists:
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.
After following other bloggers, interviewing journalists and watching Twitter feeds daily, I’m amazed by how much I’ve learned about this subject. I’m now convinced that journalists must learn to effectively use social media to develop a niche and a personal brand, and I feel comfortable discussing the tools to do so.
Therefore, in the style of many of the most re-tweeted posts about social media and branding, here are my Top 12 Tips for Journalists on Using Social Media to Develop a Personal Brand:
1. Find your niche. Consider your unique talents, interests and personal network and identify a topic you can own. Look for news coverage that make you think “why isn’t someone covering this more?” and investigate what has been written about it in the past. Whether you recognize a neglected topic, feel passionate about a beat or possess specialized knowledge, you can develop a niche and establish yourself as an expert by using digital and social media to your advantage:
2. Do your research. Use bookmarking sites like Digg and Delicious and advanced searches such as Google News, Google Blogs and Google Scholar to find relevant news and people who are concerned about, knowledgeable about and affected by the issue you’re exploring. When you find interesting sources, reach out to them on blogs, Twitter, Facebook groups and email. People like to talk about themselves and share their expertise.
3. Start a blog and participate on others. Regret the Error’s editor Craig Silverman looked for a topic no one was covering, found it in accuracy and corrections in the news and went live with a blog two weeks later. Personal Branding expert Dan Schawbel found inspiration from a magazine article about personal branding and started blogging about it that night. Investigative reporter Kristen Lombardi established her journalistic cred reporting on institutional indifference to cover-ups of sexual assault, and connected with advocates, victims and their loved ones via contact on blogs.
Whether you are a new journalist looking to create an online footprint or an established reporter who has been laid off, blogging offers a way to show initiative as well as your talent. And don’t be afraid of having more than one blog; you may have more than one area of interest.
4. Establish an searchable identity. Use the “One Voice” principle of public relations to create a consistent identity across your social media and professional profiles.
- Decide what name you want to be known by professionally. Make sure it’s unique enough (such as Jennifer Gaie Hellum) to allow you to be found on the first page of a Google search.
- Use that name for your Twitter account and any online comments. This will increase your online presence and increase your profile in search. (Tweeting under a clever moniker rather than your professional name might appear to add personality to your identity, but it doesn’t get you direct credit for your contributions.)
- Create one avatar and use it whenever you need to post an image for an online profile.
- Create a LinkedIn profile. Include your avatar, blog, portfolio site, Twitter feed and links to any online profiles on your page.
5. Own your domain name. For a small investment, you can secure your professional name as a domain name for a personal portfolio site. Whether you are employed or looking for work, a portfolio site is your online resume. Even if you have a bio page on your employer’s site, a portfolio is a vital way to present yourself comprehensively and define your brand for your audience, colleagues and potential employers. You should include a resume, your cumulative work, any professional goals or mission statement and links to social media. Include multimedia elements whenever possible.
6. Create a Google Profile. Like a portfolio page, a Google Profile is your opportunity to present your digital brand and allows you to define the first listing people find when they do a Google search of your name. It’s generally a more flexible profile than a professional portfolio site and would be where you could feel comfortable adding a personal element to your personal brand (sometimes referred to as your authentic brand or your inner and outer brands). This profile belongs to, former head of washingtonpost.com, now president of digital strategy for Allbritton Communications.
7. Tweet. Tweet often. A lot of veteran journalists have resisted signing up for Twitter, believing that the micro-blogging site is a fad and a distraction. In fact, Twitter’s power as a means of creating a network and finding story ideas, trends and sources is becoming increasingly more clear. If you are new to Twitter or have yet to become a regularly user, this Twitter checklist offers a practical plan for getting into the habit of posting relevant tweets to build your community and brand.
- Follow colleagues, news organizations and individual journalists. Go to their pages and see who they follow.
- Pay attention to weekly #FollowFriday and #ff hashtags to see who others are recommending. Participate in #followfriday to recommend Twitter users who you find authoritative on your subject area.
- Send well-crafted tweets that use keywords and hashtags to increase their visibility and drive traffic to your blog.
- Use hashtags to tag your tweets for maximum visibility.
- Use a Twitter application like TweetDeck to manage your tweets and monitor relevant topics.
- Re-tweet and comment on tweets related to your niche.
- Consider the following strategy of following who follows you, which allows you to send direct messages (DMs) for private conversations.
- Tweet responsibly. If you look at your Twitter stream and it doesn’t make a compelling case for why someone should trust or hire you, ask yourself what it’s contributing to your digital profile. If you can’t think of a good answer, delete it.
8. Join a professional social network. Ning groups like Wired Journalists give the opportunity to find and connect with other journalists who are interested in your beat.
9. Seek the input and advice of veteran journalists. Social media has broken down the hierarchy of professional org charts and created direct access to people. By using social media, blogs, LinkedIn and Twitter, I have communicated in the past four months with many prominent journalists, including NPR CEO Vivian Schiller, NPR reporter Don Gonyea, Jim Brady, Craig Silverman, Terry Greene Sterling, Kristen Lombardi, Dan Schawbel and Mignon Fogarty (aka Grammar Girl). Be fearless in reaching out to experienced journalists and experts in your subject area; the worst think they can do is say they can’t help you. Most likely, you will be blown away by how willing people are to help you.
10. Participate in live online chats. Poynter Online has weekly live chats with Joe Grimm aka Ask the Recruiter. Journalism students, professors and working journalists log on each week to discuss relevant topics. Transcripts are posted following the chats and logged on the site.
11. Be a true multimedia journalist. Take the steps to learn basic skills in video/audio editing and photograph. Become familiar with social media sites that feature them and create your own content.
- Post videos on your website or video-sharing sites like YouTube.
- Learn to create a podcast. (Click here to hear how Grammar Girl went from being a freelance writer/editor to creating her podcast.)
- Learn to embed audio and video.
- Learn to use Photoshop and create an account on Flickr.
- Learn HTML and get comfortable with inserting code into blogposts, such as this post on interviewing for media jobs:
12. Stretch yourself intellectually. Keep on top of what’s new in social media by reading Mashable and pay attention to personal branding experts. Look for seminars and workshops to get firsthand advice and skills from journalists who are successfully and strategically using social media.
In my previous post, Regret the Error’s Craig Silverman advised journalists “to own your own domain name and Twitter ID and be conscious of what you’re doing with them.” I own my domain name and have good intentions of having a fabulously impressive portfolio site someday (thanks to the services of a talented techie friend), but in the meantime I’ve been relying on my blog and my eponymous Twitter account to help define my professional brand.
Tim McGuire, one of our professors here at Cronkite, was the first to mention personal brands to us when he stressed the opportunity costs of having a Twitter user name that isn’t your given name.
He shared the story of an undergrad who had been sending insightful tweets about Arizona and Wisconsin sports under a cryptic user name. Local sports radio hosts began commenting on the tweets but never mentioned him by name because they didn’t know the identity of who had posted them. Tim advised the student to change his user name so he could be credited for his knowledgeable comments, and within a short time he was invited to contribute to the radio program broadcasts.
Tim’s example compelled several grad students to change their Twitter user names from clever “handles” to their names. Heather Billings, my above-mentioned friend and our resident “pro-jo” (her name for programmer journalists), had been tweeting under a nickname but changed it to @hbillings following Tim’s advice. Weeks later, while attending a journalism conference in New York at the Paley Center, Heather spotted “What Would Google Do?” author Jeff Jarvis and sent a tweet about his being in the row behind her. We had read Jeff’s book in Tim’s class, and after he agreed to discuss it with us via Skype, he’d acquired rock-star status amongst our cohort.
Another one of our professors, Dan Gillmor, heard us talking about Jeff during a break and offered to introduce us to him. But before Dan had the chance, Jeff recognized Heather’s name on her name tag from her tweet and introduced himself. Heather and I ended up spending the better part of an hour talking with Jeff about his book and the role of pro-jos in digital journalism.
Heather’s tweet had been her virtual business card.
In fact, Jeff told us that when he saw her tweet, he pulled up her Twitter profile, looked at her photo and name, and scanned the room to find her.
Tim and Craig’s advice about Twitter user names is simple yet powerful. Tweets with people’s names and faces attached to them make an impact each time they’re viewed. I’ve been using Twitter for about eight months and feel I know the people I follow because I see their names and faces every day:
Note (12/14/10): The tweet images originally in this post no longer are available. Similar representations were added in their place. JGH
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.
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.”
I just got a tweet from a fellow grad student announcing that he got a job at NPR. When I went to his Twitter page to check out his profile, I wasn’t surprised to see that as a journalist specializing in digital media, he’s taken the strategic step to create a portfolio web page with his name as the domain name. In this age of the journalist as a brand, he’s making it easy to find him and his work online.
Dan Gillmor, our digital entrepreneurship professor, has urged us more than once to do as he has and purchase our names as domain names. For the price of three frappacinos, you can secure your name for a personal web site for a year. This proactive move is particularly important if you aren’t the only person with your name. (See my earlier post about the classics scholar named Jennifer Hellum.) Once the name is taken by someone else– especially a published author– it can be tough to get it back. Even if you aren’t quite ready to build your personal site, securing your name is worth the small financial investment.
Interestingly, one of my classmates vaguely recalled that her dad had purchased her name as a domain name. Sure enough, by doing a quick search on www.godaddy.com, she saw that he’d bought it in 2008 and kept the payments current. In fact, my sister actually gave my techie son his domain name for his 12th birthday. What a brilliant gift for anyone who may care someday to have a say in his or her online identity.
But don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. Skip Starbucks and instead go online like I just did and buy your eponymous domain name. It’s a must-have for an entrepreneurial journalist and it takes all of ten minutes.
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.
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.