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5 tips for finding a journalism association that fits your niche and fuels your passion

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When I headed to LaGuardia for my flight to this year’s Online News Association conference, I unexpectedly found myself at my gate two hours early. Many ONA members work in New York, so I scanned the crowd, and, as expected, saw a friend nearby and joined him for a drink. (Why not, it’s journalism, right?)

I refer to this colleague as a friend, although I know him only from the previous three ONA conferences. (He and I both work in social media and have since kept in touch on Twitter.) When we were talking about how much we genuinely were looking forward to catching up with other ONA members, he said something that really struck a cord with me: “Going to ONA is like going to a family reunion.”

For me, reconnecting with someone I’ve met at the conference the year before or finally meeting a Twitter friend in real life nurtures my need for a sense of community in my career. And more often than not, those conversations lead to friendships and motivate me professionally. On the final night of this year’s conference, I talked with the Arizona Republic’s Megan Finnerty about her deep commitment to the Arizona Storytellers Project. Hearing the extraordinary effort she has put into making this project a success made me ask myself what more I could be doing to create excellent work.

Other journalists left ONA13 similarly compelled to up their games. In the weeks since the conference, Gannett’s Sarah Day Owen urgently declared a renewed commitment and accountability toward her career goals.

 

In a similar post, Michelle Minkoff, a data journalist for AP, celebrated that exhilarating feeling that happens when people with similar passion get exposed to each other’s expertise.

I know some people question the value – and the expense – of joining professional organizations, but I’ve found ONA to be an essential part of developing my career and building my brand. I first attended ONA10 while in grad school and gained invaluable insights into the state of the greater journalism industry. The following year I went to ONA11 as an employee at Gannett Phoenix and got to meet colleagues from other Gannett properties. And at ONA12, a cocktail-party conversation with another ONA/Twitter friend (like I was saying … ) led to a freelance opportunity with Spundge, a career move I would not have considered if it weren’t for a conference session I attended just days before on making the leap from the newsroom to a startup.

According to ONA director of operations Irving Washington, over 1,600 journalists attended ONA13, with nearly 640 first-time attendees. Joining ONA or any one of the 41 journalism associations in The Council of National Journalism Organizations can provide you a network of colleagues and guide your career. Most organizations have an annual conference – you’ve probably seen the hashtags in your Twitter feed – with sessions relevant to students, academics, freelancers and journalists working for news organizations.

So how can you find the group that’s right for your career?

Finding a journalism association that fits your niche and fuels your passion

  1. Ask your managers, colleagues and former professors which groups they’ve joined. I first learned about ONA from my online news professor. Other faculty members were active with Investigative Reporters & Editors, American Society of News Editors and National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. If you work for a news organization, find out if it encourages membership in specific groups and whether membership fees can be included in your compensation package.
  2. Watch your Twitter feed. If you’re following other journalists, you’ve seen a steady stream of conference hashtags. Click through to the session schedule to determine whether the topics might interest you.
  3. Look at the LinkedIn profiles of your connections who do the jobs you’d like to do. LinkedIn profiles include a space to list organization memberships. Look at the Organizations subheading of the Background section for the associations other journalists have joined. (You may also want to look at the Groups section, which lists the LinkedIn groups individual users follow. That list could include journalism organizations in which they are interested but may not yet have official membership.)
  4. Spend some time on The Council of National Journalism Organizations siteThis comprehensive list of organizations includes medium-specific,  beat-specific, job-specific and interest-specific groups of journalists. Their Twitter list of 41 member organizations offers a quick way to start following several groups and see which conversations appeal to your interests.
  5. Visit specific organizations’ websites and review recent conference schedules. Before you invest in a membership, learn about the groups’ missions and priorities. Looking through past schedules should give you a good sense of what issues, trends, and tools the organizations find relevant.

 


 

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