Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

Posts Tagged ‘Tim McGuire

How a personal-branding leap of faith landed a rookie reporter her dream job

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For the past few years, Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication professor Tim McGuire has had me speak to his 21st Century Journalism class about developing their personal brands. I love meeting each new graduate cohort and the Barrett Honors College students, and, in general, the students really seem to take my advice to heart.

From time to time, however, a student or two have questioned the value of putting in extra time and energy to manage portfolios, personal blogs and the countless social media profiles recommended for journalists. Each time, Tim has mentioned my blogging experience and other students’ social media use as examples of extracurricular online efforts that have helped launch careers. But when I spoke to his class last month, I had a fresh example of how that strategy had paid off for yet another Cronkite alum. I got to tell Tim’s class a fantastic story about Chierstin Susel, one of his former students who just got hired to do her dream job – without applying for it.

Without even knowing such a job existed. 

In a phone conversation from her parents’ home in Ohio, Chierstin told me how her deliberate decision to create an online presence paid off. Her story is a great lesson in being authentic and strategic.

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ASU Cronkite School graduate Chierstin Susel (Photo by Jez Noble)

Chierstin graduated in May and returned home to search for a sports reporting position in Ohio. A few months into her job search, she received an out-of-the-blue email from a hiring manager who found her sports reel on YouTube and suggested she apply for a job opening with his news organization. When he followed up the next day to discuss the opportunity, Chierstin said, she asked a pointed question.

“I said, ‘Hey, I just gotta ask you, how did you find me online?” His reply was as surprising as his initial call, according to Chierstin.

“He said, ‘Well, I was looking at someone’s reel that had applied, and I’ve never really done this before, but I randomly decided that I was going to search the videos that popped up on the side on YouTube,'” Chierstin said. He looked at several and was one click away from clicking on a Jimmy Kimmel video when he decided to look at one more reel.

“So he clicked on my reel,” Chierstin said, adding he knew the Cronkite School and had always been impressed with it. “From there he decided to Google me.” When he searched for her name, her blog Faith, Fashion, Fitness popped up, and she said it was then he knew she fit the description of who he was looking for.

Wait – Faith, Fashion, Fitness?

Conventional knowledge would suggest having a religion-centered blog is a rather bold move for a rookie journalist. In fact, Chierstin said she gave a lot of thought to the risk involved in revealing her faith through her blog. She and Tim had discussed that her Twitter profile and tweets clearly showed faith was very important to her and that it had the potential to set her apart from other journalists. The question was whether embracing that distinction was a good thing or a bad thing.

“I always thought that faith was something you should just leave out, that no one should know your faith or whatever. But at the same time, that’s a huge part of my life,” Chierstin said. “For (Tim) to come up and tell me that was like, alright, I’m totally going to include that in my blog.”

It turns out the decision to reveal her faith was a very good thing for Chierstin. The hiring manager who saw her reel had called from Liberty University’s Liberty Flames Sports Network, which had an opening for a program launching in January. In case you aren’t familiar with it, Liberty University is the world’s largest Christian university.

“Who would have thought sports and my faith would tie together?” Chierstin said. Despite her deliberate decision to blog about religion and sports, Chierstin admitted her getting a position that combined her interests exceeded anything she could have ever imagined. “I never really thought that I could tie the two together.”

Chierstin had initally created a fashion blog as an assignment during her sophomore year, but after the class ended, she took it down because it wasn’t something she was passionate about. (Now here’s the part of the story that completely surprised me … ) Apparently, Chierstin decided to start blogging again after she heard me speak in Tim’s class two years ago.

“It wasn’t until you came in and spoke about really branding yourself through a blog. That’s the only reason that I started it; it had nothing to do with an assignment,” Chierstin told me. “You had talked about starting a blog about something that you’re interested in. I had an interest in sports, but I didn’t know what I was going to pursue. And so at the time, (I thought) faith … always a big part of my life … I love fitness and fashion … so why not, you know? So I put it out there and started the blog.”

Chierstin started her dream job last week. You could say it was serendipity that led the hiring manager to her YouTube post and blog, but that would discount the critical thinking that went into her decisions – ones she made with her eyes wide open. Chierstin understood the importance of personal branding, the power of being authentic and the strategies for using the online tools that are available to all journalism students launching their careers, even when it’s not an assignment.

“It’s all a matter of just having yourself available and putting yourself out there – your reel and your resume and everything online digitally – so it’s really easy for people to find you.”

My advice to j-school students: How building an online brand helped me get my online job

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When I talk to journalism students about using social media to build their brands, their questions often are practical ones: What if someone already has my name as a Twitter handle? Do I really have to edit my Facebook page? How often should I blog? But the best question a student asked me challenged the very idea that journalists should bother with personal branding in the first place:

“It takes so much time to do everything you’re talking about, like blogging and tweeting and keeping all those profiles updated, on top of writing stories. How do you know it’s actually paying off for you?”

Before I could reply, his professor provided the best answer: “Because she’s standing up here in front of you.” (If you know Cronkite School professor Tim McGuire, you can appreciate his delivery of that line.)

The fact is the student was right. It takes extra effort to maintain an online presence as a journalist. And I admitted I couldn’t tell him which tweet would be the one that got him retweeted 25 times, which blog post would be shared around the world or which skill listed on his LinkedIn profile would make him rise to the top of a search.

Nonetheless, I assured him all that extra effort was worth it because each tweet, each blog post and each online profile defined his brand and provided a virtual trail for potential employers to find him. I told him I knew this personally because I’d sent tweets that got dozens of retweets, I’d written a blog post that was shared from Peru to Spain after someone translated it into Spanish and I’d been contacted for jobs via LinkedIn – all while I was still a grad student.

Then I reassured him there was no reason he and his classmates couldn’t do the same.

Today’s j-school students have everything they need to start mapping out their careers. They can write niche blogs, create simple portfolios, connect with others doing the work they aspire to do and develop professional networks across the country before they’ve even begun their job searches. It hasn’t always been that way; when I went to journalism school in the 1980s, students sent out resumes, applied for jobs and waited for a phone call. But as a grad student over two decades later, I recognized that from my first assignment, I was building the online brand that would eventually get me my job as a social media producer.

Here’s how I did it:

Creating a name for myself – literally: I had no online identity when I began grad school after 12 years as a stay-at-home mom. Google searches of my name brought up a scholar who researched Egypt and one passing reference to me as my husband’s wife. I clearly had some work to do. When I got my first online assignment to create a blog, I deliberately used my full name, Jennifer Gaie Hellum, and did the same on social media accounts and as a reporter at Cronkite News Service. By the end of grad school, a search for Jennifer Hellum – even without my middle name – brought me to the top of the page on Google.

Helping people find my work: I always took the time to add tags to blog posts for SEO, add links to other blogs and thank others who linked to mine. Publishing a post meant sending a tweet with the link and any relevant hashtags, keywords or the Twitter handle of anyone I’d interviewed. I also took my professors’ advice and created a LinkedIn account, joined journalism associations and bought my vanity URL to use for my online portfolio.

Choosing blog topics and reporting assignments that fit my brand:  This blog started as an assignment for a digital media entrepreneurship class. As someone with little online media experience at the time, I found a digital topic, personal branding via social media, that genuinely fit with my earlier advertising and public relations career. At the suggestion of my professors, I kept the blog going during the summer and beyond my final semester because it had become clear I was the only person regularly writing about the topic. During my capstone semester as a producer and reporter at Cronkite News Service, I found ways to use social media as a reporting tool and even wrote about city governments using social media. In the end, my blog and social media knowledge became the strongest part of my resume.

Doing the job I aspired to have: As soon as I learned about social media as an area of journalism, I began using it to learn about social media jobs. I set up Google alerts and TweetDeck columns for “social media editor” and read everything I could about the position. I followed social media editors on Twitter, looked at their job histories and skill sets on LinkedIn and read their blogs and decided my interests and personality fit well with the work. I also participated in Twitter chats with online journalists, and if they mentioned a digital tool I was unfamiliar with, I looked it up so I could join in the conversation. (The chat organizer later invited me to be a guest panelist about personal branding and social media along with experienced journalists.) And during my last sememster, I went to the Online News Association conference in D.C and used what I learned to improve CNS’s Facebook profile and help other reporters find sources on Twitter.  All that extra effort paid off when I was recommended for a social media producer position at azcentral.com and was able to share what I knew and how I’d used it.

Of course, I’m not the only one to figure out that I didn’t have to wait to start building a brand. Many multimedia journalism students post their reels on YouTube, share photos on Flickr and create online portfolios that showcase their programming skills, and it’s paying off. They’re getting hits, they’re getting noticed and best of all, they’re getting hired.

Why Your Twitter Name Matters (or How I Met @JeffJarvis)

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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:

Yep, people like @danschawbel, @jeffjarvis, and @scottleadingham are some of my tweeps. I bet I could pick them out in a crowded conference hall (and hope someday they’ll recognize me, too).

Note (12/14/10): The tweet images originally in this post no longer are available. Similar representations were added in their place. JGH

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

April 27, 2010 at 10:36 am

Every Day (and Every Page View) is an Interview

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On any given day, being a grad student at the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication can feel like being in a journalism version of Raphael’s School of Athens. We pass Pulitzer Prize and Murrow Award-winning professors in the hallways and sit in their classrooms. (More than once I’ve heard someone say, “I can’t believe I just talked to …”) Pioneering new media heavyweights teach us about digital entrepreneurship and invite sought-after venture capitalists to share their insights and encourage our creativity. Not only do we have top-tier faculty to tap into, but there’s also the steady stream of major news outlets whose representatives visit Cronkite to recruit interns and hire recent grads. The collective experience and influence at Cronkite open doors for us that simply aren’t accessible at many other journalism schools.

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Source: vatican.va

That’s why I try to approach every day in the building as an interview. No, I don’t wear a suit or bring a resume to class. But in general, I try to be aware that we could be invited at the last minute to join the faculty for lunch with a distinguished visitor. Or that the person chatting with me in the elevator could be the speaker at that evening’s event. I try to go to class prepared and participate in discussions, follow my professors and classmates on Twitter and add what I hope are thoughtful comments on their blogs. ( I’ll admit I have yet to master the typo-free tweet. I need more sleep to be able to tame that tiger…)

Professor Tim McGuire recently wondered out loud why some students aren’t more strategic in the way they approach their time at Cronkite, as if they aren’t aware that they’re making impressions and defining themselves every day in class and through social media. In fact, many professors end up becoming friends with former students on Facebook and connecting with them on LinkedIn, giving the once semester-long relationship potential for a much longer life. This added dimension to the student/professor dynamic makes it that much more important for us to build our professional networks within the school.

It may be that because I am an older student and worked in advertising before going back to school, I tend to think of school as my workplace. But I don’t think this career awareness is about age; some of the most impressive, strategic-thinking classmates of mine are –gulp– nearly half mine. They take advantage of opportunities, write well-crafted tweets and choose niche blog topics that as a whole clearly indicate the type of specialized journalist they want to be. In this era of the journalist as brand, they’re playing really good offense.

And most impressively, they’re taking risks to reach out to these seemingly larger-than-life faculty members and seeking their advice and encouragement. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re already connecting with them on LinkedIn.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

February 21, 2010 at 11:25 pm

The Entrepreneurial Journalist

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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.

Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Comm faculty and grad students at the Carnegie Corp. and The Paley Center for Media’s Summit on the Future of Journalism Education

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.