Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

Posts Tagged ‘Josh Benton

The evolving personal brand of a traditional journalist-turned-entrepreneurial journalist

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Every so often, I receive pingback notifications alerting me that someone has linked to one of my posts. As a regular TIME magazine reader, I immediately recognized former foreign correspondent Jeff Israely’s name when a message showed he had referenced my blog in a post he wrote for Nieman Journalism Lab. Jeff recently launched Worldcrunch, a global news site, and has been chronicling his experience from the point of view of a traditional journalist-turned-entrepreneurial journalist. He mentioned in his post the “uncomfortable truth” that journalists must attend to their personal brands, so I contacted him to discuss how his transition to becoming an entrepreneur has affected the brand he’d established while at TIME.

Jeff began his career in the early 1990s at daily newspapers in California and later moved to Rome with his wife, who is Italian. He freelanced and did stringer reporting, including work for the Boston Globe, before starting with TIME in late 2001. There he covered major international stories such as Pope John Paul II’s death and the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. After his position was eliminated in 2009, he continued to write for TIME as a regular freelance contributor while he considered his next options, which included developing his plans for Worldcrunch.

In a phone interview from his home in Paris, Jeff said although he only became aware of the term “personal branding” in the past year, he was very familiar with the realities of marketing his work.

“TIME was not shy about promoting us. They would get us on TV and had little bios of us on their website. They have a PR operation that’s working solely on that,”  Jeff said. “The difference is, in the past, I could rely both on the magazine brand itself and also on the manpower of their marketing operation to promote my work.”

That changed when he decided to pursue his world news venture on his own. Jeff now had to think about how to create buzz for his site without the benefit of a corporate marketing department. He joined Facebook and Twitter and started News Launch Diary, a blog chronicling his efforts. He also purchased his vanity URL, www.jeffisraely.com, an essential step recommended by personal branding experts (although he hasn’t yet developed the site.)

In addition, he took his cues from TIME’s promotional tactics and sought a “guest appearance” with a prominent news outlet that would be interested in publishing his insights about his journey. Within the first few months of starting his own blog, Jeff contacted Josh Benton at Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab and pitched the idea of writing regularly for them. According to Jeff, part of Josh’s interest in the guest blog posts was the appeal of his evolving brand as “the TIME correspondent starting up his new project.”

“I’ve been very conscious about that transition,” Jeff said, “because I knew — it’s something that I’ll always carry with me — that the experience and attention that I’ve gotten from working for TIME and other organizations is a huge help in creating this personal brand.”

Given the value of his prestigious association with a legacy news organization, Jeff said he was quite deliberate about waiting until Worldcrunch’s site was live to change his Twitter profile from that of a former TIME correspondent to that of the global news site’s founder and editor. He said he believes his transition from being a reporter to his new role as an entrepreneur will be viewed as authentic because of the transparent way he has shared what he’s learned while creating his business.

“I think as this process progresses and grows, I’m gaining experience as the founder of this new media project and can speak about that on its own terms,” Jeff said. “I’ve gotten contacted by colleagues from the old media, who are in a similar position, who wanted to hear about my experience. But the idea is to eventually just be the Worldcrunch founder and that will stand on its own.”

Despite his having to learn how to navigate personal branding, Jeff challenged the suggestion made by some that managing a professional identity is a new consideration for journalists.

“It’s inside all of us, because part of the reason we got into (journalism) is we want people to see our work and, to be blunt about it, we want people to see us,” Jeff said.

His visibility on the Nieman Journalism Lab site effectively led people to read Jeff’s blog and follow him on Twitter. But it wasn’t until he recognized the synergistic interplay between those two social media tools that his project started to get attention.

“I started blogging and I started getting on Twitter, but very quickly I saw that you don’t get a lot of traction just by blogging and letting it sit there and even just by tweeting,” Jeff said. “You’ve got to think about ways to get your blogs and your tweets into other people’s blogs and other people’s tweets. So you’ve gotta think about how you tweet, and you’ve gotta think about how you blog, and you’ve gotta think about how the two things go together.”

That said, he warned journalists not to get disproportionately focused on the need to push their names and push their personal brands.

“Ultimately, your personal brand is only as good as the work that you do. The first priority is doing good work,” Jeff said.

“But then, we have to devote a certain amount of our energy, attention and creativity to how to get it out there. It doesn’t happen by itself.”

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

January 18, 2011 at 7:42 am