Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

Posts Tagged ‘David Carr

Networking with Women in the World (and other women in New York)

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As a transplanted journalist from Phoenix, Arizona, I’ve been amazed by the opportunities in New York to meet other journalists and participate in discussions about our profession. I’ve stayed out late at Sree Sreenivasan’s Social Media One-Night Stand, had a lovely conversation with the late David Carr at The BBC College of Journalism and New York Times Social Media Summit and heard TIME’s Callie Schweitzer wow the audience at Google for Media: New York. One fantastic event after another, always with all-star talent. At each one, I’ve gained knowledge, caught up with acquaintances and met people I’d followed online for years. And every time, I went to the event alone.

Actively networking is a core element of having a strong personal brand, and it means taking social risks. Some people genuinely enjoy meeting new people at professional events, but many find it awkward and stressful. In my case, networking is vital for finding clients for my social media coaching business, but it also keeps me connected to my journalism colleagues. (I freelance from home as a means to balancing career and family, so I work alone most of the time.) I live just outside the City, and attending evening events gets tricky with family commitments. And although I’m definitely an extrovert, going to events alone still intimidates me. Too often, the difference between my hearing about networking opportunities and actually seizing them comes down to three obstacles: calendar, commute — and courage.

Over the past month, however, I’ve made the decision to feed my extroverted soul and connect with the New York journalism community. I got out of my comfort zone — and my kitchen, where I usually work — and headed into the City.

  • Clear the calendar: Volunteer your time and talent. Even though my son’s college-acceptance campus visit and my husband’s 50th birthday celebration conflicted with the Women in the World Summit’s three-day event, I changed my schedule around so I could work with WITW’s audience development manager Niketa Patel. I’d met Niketa at the 2012 Online News Association conference and jumped at the chance to be on what I dubbed #TeamNiketa. She recruited a group of social media professionals with journalism, PR and marketing jobs to help her implement the event’s multi-platform social media plan, and we in turn got exposure to new social media tools (including Snappy TV and the Twitter Mirror.) We also received a behind-the-scenes view of the hard work and tremendous heart that goes into producing this high-quality live event. And as an unexpected bonus, I got to catch up with a former classmate covering the event whom I hadn’t seen since she got married.
  • Make the commute: Get together with j-school friends. When I was in graduate school at Arizona State University with the above-mentioned bride, I was 10-20 years older than the other students in my cohort. A few of them moved to the City after graduation. I love that they invite me for drinks or to parties when they get together on the weekends, but often my family’s schedule makes it inconvenient to join them on a weeknight. Inconvenient? Yes. But did I get in my car and drive in to celebrate my friend Justin’s selection for a prestigous fellowship? Absolutely. Seeing these dear friends gives me a chance to talk shop with other journalists, and we always end up discussing our careers options, issues and goals with each other.
  • Find the courage: Meet Twitter-life colleagues in real life. With so many quality journalism schools in New York, you can regularly find panel discussions relevant to just about any niche. On one particular day, I saw a tweet inviting the public to the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism for a panel on journalists and their social media brands, hosted by its new social journalism master’s degree program director Carrie Brown. I’d met Carrie years ago on Twitter and planned for the past six months to connect with her IRL following her move to the City from the University of Memphis. I had no idea if we’d hit it off, but she recognized me right away and we talked like old friends. By dropping everything and heading down to the event, I met @brizzyc, my fellow Wisconsin sports fan and social media specialist, and got introduced to another high-profile j-school in the process.

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For many journalists, attending events and meeting new colleagues is part of their work routine or social life. But for some freelancersintroverts and other people who are simply too busy or intimidated, networking takes tremendous effort. It’s true sometimes you’ll leave wondering whether it was worth your time, but you never know when it will pay off.

Did I mention we volunteers got invited to the Women in the World wrap party? Yep, and as usual, I went to it alone.

Why Brian Williams’ problem isn’t his having a personal brand

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In the wake of Brian Williams’ self-imposed hiatus from the NBC Nightly News anchor desk (which his bosses later extended to a six-month suspension without pay), L.A. Times television critic Mary McNamara wrote a column blaming personal branding for Williams’ departure:

On Saturday, “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams announced that he would be temporarily vacating his chair because his personal brand recently came in direct and injurious contact with his professional obligations.

You can imagine my exasperated reaction to her implying that personal branding rather than a lack of journalistic integrity was the source of his demise. LSU journalism professor Steve Buttry’s blog post today tells me I’m not the only one who disagrees with her assessment. Her unwillingness to separate having a personal branding from pursuing celebrity not only distracts the conversation from the larger, more fundamental issue of Williams’ failure to adhere to the first principle of ethical journalism  – to seek truth and report it – but also unfairly indicts in toto the act of a journalist communicating his or her professional value. The real issue is not branding but rather those who seek celebrity at the expense of their journalistic ethics and the news organizations that enable it.

I’ve been blogging about personal branding for journalists for five years and have always stressed here, as well as in guest lectures at ASU’s Cronkite School of Journalism, that having a brand and having integrity are not mutually exclusive. McNamara claims that Williams couldn’t reconcile the incompatibility of “personal branding” and his “professional obligations.” That’s actually not the case. His personal brand as she defined it, one “anchored in trustworthiness” as an “intrepid journalist, great storyteller and excellent late-night guest,” wasn’t in conflict with his professional obligation to tell the truth. One can be an ethical, truthful, intrepid, trustworthy journalist who also tells great stories on late-night talk shows. Ask Tom Brokaw.

Williams’ problem wasn’t his having a personal brand; it was his having an inauthentic one. The injury McNamara describes as having resulted from Williams’ choice “to bolster the Brian Williams brand” in fact came from his continued decision to betray what was the Brian Williams brand – as well as his professional obligation to be truthful.

So why did he betray his established brand? The emerging narrative suggests it was inevitable because the crafted brand was out of sync with his authentic brand. That’s the part McNamara missed.

As New York Times Media Equation columnist David Carr and network news blogger Andrew Tyndall alluded to on NPR’s Brian Lehrer Show, Williams’ credibility crisis seems to have begun years ago when he and NBC cultivated a brand for Williams as a “war correspondent” and “sober network-news anchor” rather than recognizing his true talent as a charismatic, very skilled live performer. (The entire 31-minute discussion is definitely worth a listen, but the part that specifically addresses personal branding starts around 18:20.)

According to David Carr, Williams himself said, “I’m a creature of live television. That’s where I feel most comfortable. That’s what I’m good at.” He’s even rumored to have thrown his hat in the ring to replace Jay Leno. Williams seems to be telling us his true talent and passion lies with being in front of a live audience rather than with journalism specifically. When Williams wanted Leno’s gig, they should have taken him seriously.

I feel so strongly about the bad rap personal branding is getting because the insecurity of the current journalism job market requires us to articulate and demonstrate our value every day. Defining (not crafting) one’s personal brand is in that sense a survival skill. Blaming branding rather than dishonesty and embellishment in journalism reflects poorly on the whole concept of personal brands when, in fact, it’s just smart career management.

This isn’t about “personality journalism.” Every journalist – every human being – has a personality. But every journalist is not, nor aspires to be, a celebrity. McNamara suggested that having a personality and revealing it in a journalistic personal brand by definition involves falsehoods, exaggeration and self-aggrandizement. In fact, when done effectively, it’s the complete opposite. Personal branding is about authentically communicating your unique value as a journalist among your professional-category peers and backing up that brand with quality work to build credibility and trust among your audience and colleagues. That is the opposite of what Williams has done.

Frankly, I thought this argument had largely been settled. I find it tiresome that once again we have in McNamara a journalist who, similar to Gene Weingarten, has cultivated a strong personal brand with the blessings of her publication but nonetheless feels the need to decry branding’s corrupting effects. (Following his widely challenged rant against personal branding, Gene Weingarten went as far as to single out my post defending branding for journalists, calling it “very troubling.” He did so on his monthly chat, a lovely vehicle for him to support his personal brand.)

It’s time to acknowledge we all need strong brands to survive in this business, and then get back to focusing on the stories.

In breaking news, verification and humility remain essential for a credible personal brand

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the impact of breaking news coverage on journalists’ brands. I first talked about it with my sons during the highs and lows of the Boston Marathon bombings coverage. The sheer volume of available information and demand for instant reporting made what historically was a difficult job fundamentally more complex, with amplified consequences. CNN’s John King’s doubly erroneous report that a “dark-skinned male” had been arrested by authorities received widespread criticism and led him to publicly address his “embarrassment“. Meanwhile, people lit up social media to praise NBC’s Pete Williams for his responsible and accurate coverage.

I also heard this issue discussed at the New York Times and the BBC College of Journalism Social Media Summit the following weekend, just hours after the manhunt ended. Although branding wasn’t specifically addressed, the discussion did include how hasty reporting and careless social media activity can affect journalists’ relationships with their audiences (which, I’d argue, is branding.)

As The New York Times’ David Carr shared, he’s learned sometimes it’s best to sit back and take a breath:

“The lack of friction is what makes it particularly dangerous. My response –  I care about my followers on Twitter, I want to look after them and keep them close – my response when big things happen is to lift my hands up, is to wait. Because I’ve gotten lit up by …  ‘Ooh, that’s juicy, that’s spicy… ‘ Just hit the retweet button and on it goes, and it all goes to shit.”

I imagine most of us have made that mistake; I know I’ve certainly retweeted a provocative development in a breaking story only to later wish I hadn’t. But as Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, you do better.” The social contract between journalists and the public demands we do better. Because whether you’re a reporter on the scene or on your TweetDeck, your brand is only as strong as the level of credibility you have with your audience, and they have to be able to trust that you’re providing them with facts. Especially during breaking news. If you’re not dealing with facts, you’d better make that clear.

Last Friday, CBS news anchor Scott Pelley addressed his concerns about recent breaking news coverage in his powerful acceptance speech for the 2013 Fred Friendly First Amendment Award:

“Our house is on fire. These have been a bad few months for journalism. We’re getting the big stories wrong. Over and over again.”

Pelley wasn’t speaking from a holier-than-thou position; he was speaking as someone who’d recently failed to do his job as a journalist. He humbly acknowledged that he himself had made the inaccurate report that Adam Lanza’s mother was a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and that it was her classroom Adam had attacked. He took full responsibility for his having gotten caught up in the race for the scoop and then warned his colleagues against relying on social media alone in this era of “instant reporting”:

“In a world where everyone is a publisher, no one is an editor. And that is the danger that we face today. We have entered a time when a writer’s first idea is his best idea. When the first thing a reporter hears is the first thing he reports … Twitter, Facebook and Reddit: that’s not journalism; that’s gossip. Journalism was invented as an antidote to gossip.”

This should make us pause.

He’s talking about our profession, our tradition and our integrity.

At a time when our direct access to information, whether images, eyewitness accounts or citizens’ reactions, gives us immediate opportunities to get our work (and our names) seen, we increasingly are left to police ourselves. When we don’t, we do so at our own risk. Pelley is warning us that our impulses to gain visibility during a high-profile event better be tempered by the discipline to follow the bedrock principles of journalism, regardless of distribution method: Verification. The responsibility to do no harm. The fundamental distinction between the news gathering and news reporting processes. Reporting the facts.

Pelley didn’t stop there. He continued with an indictment of the need “to be first” as an irrelevant incentive, created by news organizations rather than the public:

“If you’re first, no one will ever remember. If you’re wrong, no one will ever forget. How does it serve the public to be first in this frantic efffort that we so often see – that we all succumb to – how does it serve the public if we’re first?

You know what first is all about? It’s vanity. It’s self-conceit. We do it to make ourselves feel better. No one’s sitting at home, watching five television monitors, going “Oh, they’re first!” That’s a game that we play in in our control rooms. Nobody does that. Maybe a touch of humility would serve us better, and serve the public better as well.”

Pelley’s reflections in the wake of his reporting error, as well as his actions, suggest he’s taken these words to heart. He received considerable praise for his measured reporting in the moments immediately after the Boston bombing and appears to have only strengthened his reputation.

We, too, can learn from his mistake by considering the consequences of being undisciplined in those “frantic efforts” and what that does to our brands. We must decide for ourselves, as Pelley stated, whether we have “the courage to be right when others would rather be first.”

Scott Pelley’s speech in its entirety (by Quinnipiac University via YouTube):