Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

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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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Social Media One-Night Stand offers latest resources, supportive community for social media pros

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As a recent transplant into New York’s journalism community, I’m constantly keeping an eye out for opportunities to connect with other news and social media professionals. This is a huge media community, and breaking into it can be overwhelming. How does a new arrival find her people? Fortunately, New York has professional organizationsonline groupsmeet ups and conferences for journalists working in all areas and at all levels of the craft. As a journalist working in social media, I was excited to find Columbia University journalism professor Sree Sreenivasan’s Social Media One-Night Stand: An Advanced Workshop for Journalists, Bloggers & Media Professionals. This intensive, inexpensive way to learn about new online tools and connect with others doing similar work not only exposed me to valuable resources for updating my skills but also unexpectedly gave me a network of colleagues to get to know.

We're not rude; we're social media specialists.

Don’t worry, we’re not rude; we’re social media specialists. #cjsm (Photo by Jennifer Gaie Hellum)

For less than $150, attendees of the evening workshop saw a quick-paced lineup of presentations that ranged from tips from high-profile social media specialists to demonstrations of new tools and success stories from entrepreneurs:

We also got what felt like a social media pep rally from Sree, the event’s host. His boundless enthusiasm for social media showed as he appealed to us to share content – a lot of content.

Throughout the evening, Sree encouraged us to embrace the intimacy of social media, saying “This isn’t a flight; get up and walk around! Take pictures up close and share them on Instagram. Tweet what you’re learning. And make sure you include the hashtag #cjsm!” We were an obedient bunch, to put it mildly. Not only did we send hundreds of tweets with the presenters’ advice, we also shared Sree’s ad-libbed tips – and tagged them with #cjsm, of course: 25 Sree tips, as shared during the #cjsm Social Media One-Night Stand

  1. LinkedIn is highly underappreciated. Work on it. You are more than your job title. (via @redheadlefthand)
  2. Trying to learn LinkedIn once you’ve been laid off is too late. (via @dimitrakny)
  3. Keep and open mind but don’t let your brain fall out. (via @Manhattan_Mama)
  4. Practice social media skills when you don’t need them so they’re there when you do. (via @IlanaKowarski)
  5. If you can build a great quality product, the money will come later. Don’t think about your exit strategy. (via @soorajgera)
  6. Find the social media that works for you! (via @KapsSocial)
  7. Do something because you love it, not because you will make money doing it. (via  ‏@AudreyPadgett)
  8. Think of your social media sites as your embassies. Your website is your home. (via @AmyVernon; tip later attributed to @JimReynolds)
  9. Flipboard is the first social media I check early in the morning. (via @riotta)
  10. Social Media is a great way to amplify your message but takes effort and works best when you are passionate. (via @Manhattan_Mama)
  11. Be an early tester and late adopter of tech. (via @AndreaSmith)
  12. Add to your bucket list: work for a startup. (via @redheadlefthand)
  13. Laser-focus think about your brand. (via @CornichonP)
  14. Be careful about building your brand around your employer.  (via @redheadlefthand)
  15. For Twitter usernames, pick shortest possible, recognizable handle. Or at least memorable. (via @7SkiesTech
  16. Putting your employer’s name in your Twitter bio is like tattooing your boyfriend’s name on your arm. (via @IlanaKowarski)
  17. Use social media with a spirit of generosity. Give ppl useful info, and you will gain a following. (via @IlanaKowarski)
  18. Numbers aren’t everything. You can have a small # of followers and be doing great work on #socmedia. (via @IlanaKowarski)
  19. Embed codes are changing the world and we need to understand them. (via @esills)
  20. Every piece of content should be clickable, linkable, likable, shareable, embeddable. (via @JenniferPreston)
  21. If you’re good in real life, you can be great on Twitter. (via @ckanal, attributed to @ericaamerica)
  22. Your Twitter bio should reflect the best, current you. (via @AlexisGelber)
  23. The header photo on your Twitter profile is a great way to share something about yourself. Use it to highlight your brand. (via @jghellum)
  24. If you can’t add to the signal, don’t add to the noise. Add value when you post on Twitter. (via @JenniferPreston)
  25. Humility is important on social media. It comes across better than boasting.(via @IlanaKowarski)

In between presenters, Sree shifted from master of ceremonies to head cheerleader, as he spent the breaks giving shout-outs to industry leaders as well as attendees with success stories. Whether promoting the work they do or the paths they took to get there, he shared the stories of those on hand who had used social media to develop a niche, promote their brands and establish their careers. (These introductions continued to the very end of the evening, when he and a few dozen die-hard attendees gathered for late-night pizza nearby.)

And for those who ended the night perhaps overwhelmed by the tasks and responsibilities that go with being a social media specialist, Sree offered words of reassurance with this final, insightful slide: