Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

Posts Tagged ‘#wjchat

Storify: Highlights from #wjchat on personal branding

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Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

December 6, 2011 at 5:26 pm

A j-school graduate’s defense of (figuratively) branding journalists

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When I decided to call my student blog Brand Me a Journalist, I chose the name because I thought it was somewhat clever and easy to remember. I hadn’t fully contemplated its inherent call to action – that is, until I read Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten’s response to a student who asked how he developed his brand:

The best way to build a brand is to take a three-foot length of malleable iron and get one end red-hot. Then, apply it vigorously to the buttocks of the instructor who gave you this question. You want a nice, meaty sizzle.

I had two reactions to his advice:

  1. I hope he never takes my blog name literally. (The guy clearly has the technique down, and I’m not into body modification.)
  2. I hope he’s not a mentor.

As a graduate student at the Cronkite School, I learned about personal branding in Tim McGuire’s 21st century media organizations class and later began this blog for Dan Gillmor’s digital media entrepreneurship class. These classes addressed the economic realities and creative possibilities in the new media landscape. Both professors, whom I consider mentors, encouraged me to write this blog and impressed upon us the need to strategically begin creating our digital footprints as students – a powerful career-launching tool that was not available to j-students when I got my undergraduate degree in 1989.

These respected newspapermen understood the increasingly important role of personal branding for journalists, so I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that Medill professor Owen Youngman had assigned a graduate student, identified simply as “Leslie”, to reach out to Weingarten about the topic.

I was completely caught off guard to read the way Weingarten treated Leslie, not being familiar with his distinctive brand. I’d made similar cold-call requests of veteran journalists such as Worldcrunch’s Jeff Israely, and they gladly discussed their brands. But instead of enlightening her with how a “hungry young reporter in the 1970s” came to be a two-time Pulitzer prize-winning columnist (he even has a tagline, a considerable branding asset) at one of the country’s most prestigious news organizations, Weingarten used the occasion to decry the hijacking of journalism’s noble mission by marketing departments and user-generated content.

As Steve Buttry pointed out in his reply to Weingarten’s non-answer to Leslie’s question, Weingarten was not interested in admitting his considerable success is due in part to the strength of his well-cultivated personal brand. His disdain for the word “branding” prevents him from recognizing that it simply is about defining yourself as a journalist and establishing your reputation among your audience, which is no different than what journalists have historically done; it just used to be called “making a name for yourself.”

Indeed, Weingarten has established a formidable reputation name brand, which is supported by his publishers’ marketing efforts and his deliberate social media presence. At various points during his four-decade career, he strategically positioned himself:

  • by committing himself to covering a specific beat to the best of his ability
  • by developing valuable relationships with readers and sources
  • by associating with other journalists doing similar work
  • by pursuing related opportunities that complemented his position

All of these are elements of branding. Whether he wants to admit it or not, he’s very deliberately built his brand.

But rather than seeing Leslie’s overture to a veteran journalist as an opportunity to pass on his professional insights to the next generation of reporters, Weingarten dismisses us as unworthy, talentless self-promoters who aren’t willing to work hard “to get great stories.” Leslie tried to get a great story, one about an accomplished journalist who started out as a “hungry young reporter in the 1970s”; instead, she got a lecture.

So while Weingarten finds comfort in longing for the way things used to be, we aspiring journalists will continue to take advantage of digital media tools available to launch our careers:

  • by building innovative portfolio sites that show our command of writing and programming
  • by posting video resumes on YouTube to show our storytelling, camera work and editing skills (we multimedia journalists do it all)
  • by uploading photos to Flickr and Instagram
  • by finding sources via Facebook
  • by connecting with colleagues via Twitter, journalism chats such as wjchat, LinkedIn groups and conferences to learn about the jobs we aspire to have
  • by staying up until 3 a.m. to write blog posts that very likely won’t be seen but that reveal our passion for writing and commitment to our beats
  • by reaching out to those veteran journalism pros who get that branding is just a word, not a threat

All this before we’ve been hired. Through our initiative, focus and hard work, we’re assembling bodies of work, “making names for ourselves” and pursuing our goals as journalists.

So you can keep your red-hot iron, sir; we’re building our own brands.

Participating in journalism chats to establish your personal brand

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One of the primary benefits of Twitter for me has been the opportunity to connect with other journalists. As a grad student, I took my professors’ advice and began following journalists and academics recommended through #FollowFriday references and lists of journalism “must-follow” Twitter users.

It was through their tweets that I first noticed the #wjchat hashtag and began participating in online chats. Not only has it served as a way to meet and learn from journalists across the country, it has provided an opportunity to introduce myself and build my personal brand within the industry.

Before Twitter, online users could find like-minded people within niche communities and connect with them in chat rooms, but the content remained within the “walls” of the room, and the participants’ identities often were anonymous or faceless names. Twitter chats now allow users to view chats as they happen and invite them to jump into conversations, create professional connections and share knowledge they gain with their own followers through retweets. All the while, profile pictures and Twitter IDs serve as digital business cards every time they join in, creating friendships in Twitter life (ITL) and lending faces and names to potential future meetings in real life (IRL).

Hundreds of chats now take place on Twitter. The organic emergence of journalism chats during the past few years, including #journchat#wjchat, #pubmedia and now #spjchat, has allowed j-school students, academics and working journalists across the U.S. and Canada to gather weekly and spend an hour or two discussing topics ranging from traditional newsroom concerns to cutting-edge digital tools. By participating in chats specific to your niche (e.g., #wjchat for me) as well as the more general #spjchat, you can connect with those doing similar work and also stay up to date with broader topics.

I began participating in online chats last summer as a way to stay connected to the journalism community between semesters. I’d seen the hashtag #wjchat in tweets throughout the year and out of curiosity added a column to my TweetDeck to see what it was. (Others use chat sites such as TweetChat to follow chats.) Each Wednesday, I’d see a stream of tweets from #wjchat regulars, announcing/promoting/anticipating their weekly gathering:

After a couple of weeks of lurking, I jumped in myself and quickly recognized how the conversations taking place on #wjchat provided me access as a student to the real-world conversations taking place in newsrooms. Through chat references to digital tools, I learned about new storytelling tools such as TumblrPosterous, Storify, and Intersect.

Along the way, I’ve become a regular on #wjchat, actively contributing when I felt I had knowledge or insights to offer and sitting back as an observer and learner when I didn’t. When SPJ started their weekly #spjchat in late 2010, I participated in their chats as well. At one point during those early chats, I mentioned this blog and a few weeks later was invited to be a featured panelist for a chat on personal branding. By using an authentic voice and presenting myself professionally, I apparently managed to establish myself as a credible source on the subject.

Jumping in for your first chat

I recently suggested my sister join in on #wjchat and was suprised to hear she found it quite intimidating to insert herself into the non-linear conversation with strangers in a professional context:

“It felt like I was butting into a circle at a conference cocktail hour without an introduction and announcing, “Here’s what I think: …”

I reassured her the people in these chats are by and large welcoming and participate to make connections and share knowledge, rather than to exclude or intimidate. She agreed to dive into the next chat, and I acted as a Cyrano de Bergerac of sorts, explaining how it worked via direct messages.

Here are some of the tips I shared to help her understand the conventions used during the chats. The examples are from a December 2010 #wjchat featuring Jim Brady, formerly of TBD.com and washingtonpost.com.

  • Remember to tag your tweets with the chat hashtag. Without the hashtag, your tweets stay in your Twitter stream but won’t reach participants who don’t follow you.

  • Start by introducing yourself. Don’t worry if the chat session already has started; people will be popping in and out throughout it. When you’re ready to join in, give your real name (rather than your Twitter ID) and mention what you do in journalism. You have 140 characters to share who you are, your place within the field and how it might relate to the day’s topic.

  • Let your followers know you’re about to participate in a chat. Outside of the context of a chat stream, your frequent tweets at best may not appear to be relevant to your followers and at worst may be highly annoying.

  • If you’re responding to a question, reference it in your tweet. Start the tweet with the question number, e.g., Q1, and end it with the hashtag.

  • Retweet what you find interesting. This is not just a way to say, “Yeah, what she said!” By retweeting, you’re forwarding noteworthy tweets to your followers who aren’t necessarily participating in the chat.

  • Enjoy the collegiality but stay on topic. Chat regulars often develop an online rapport and engage in friendly exchanges that add a personal note to the conversation. Brief exchanges that entertain the entire group add a sense of camaraderie, but inside jokes and prolonged direct conversations should take place free of the chat hashtag. (Take those conversations offline or send direct messages.)

  • Play nice. Presenting opposing views and differing opinions can enhance the chat conversation, provide insights to participants and contribute positively to your online identity. But snarky comments, hostile replies and confrontational behavior undermine the process and distract from the flow of the conversation. The chat culture is distinct from the online comment culture; consider your tone (avoid CAPS and excessive exclamation points) and keep it respectful.

  • Remember your manners. Don’t forget to thank your host and panelists when you leave the chat. (It’s also appropriate to give a nod to those with whom you had a running exchange.) Many chat participants —  as well as others who missed it — review transcripts when they’re posted and often find new people to follow.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

February 2, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Crowdsourcing: Lending your voice to the vocal village

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(This is the fifth of 30 posts referring to 10,000 Words’ 30 Things Journalism Grads Should Do This Summer, as I work my way down the list of recommended digital media tasks.)

The next task on the summer to-do list for journalism students involves journalism’s take on the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Task #5: Become a part of a crowdsourcing project.

Jeff Howe, author of Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business, first used the term “crowdsourcing” in a 1996 Wired article. He defines it as “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.”

For the sake of this exercise, I needed clarification on the difference between crowdsourcing and citizen journalism.  Online Journalism Review’s post A Journalist’s Guide to Crowdsourcing provided this distinction:

Unlike more traditional notions of “citizen journalism,” crowdsourcing does not ask readers to become anything more than what they’ve always been: eyewitnesses to their daily lives. They need not learn advanced reporting skills, journalism ethics or how to be a better writer. It doesn’t ask readers to commit hours of their lives in work for a publisher with little or no financial compensation. Nor does it allow any one reader’s work to stand on its own, without the context of many additional points of view.

According to this definition, I’ve participated in a few crowdsourced efforts this summer:

  • After experiencing the earthquake in San Diego in June, I went to Did You Feel It?, the U.S. Geological Survey’s effort “to tap the abundant information available about earthquakes from the people who actually experience them.”
  • I responded to a tweet sent by WJChat co-founder Robert Hernandez asking for replies to the question “Why am I a journalist?

  • Following a Facebook post by TIME magazine, I contributed to the “I Want To Be in TIME” group to give TIME permission to use my profile picture for a cover story on Facebook. (No, I haven’t located my photo):

How can you find out about crowdsourced projects and have your voice heard?

  1. Follow local media on Twitter and Facebook. On any given day, reporters are using Twitter and Facebook to connect with their audiences to solicit story ideas, eyewitness accounts and other input for stories.
  2. Create a column in TweetDeck for crowdsourcing. Use “crowdsourcing”, “crowdsourced” and the hashtag #crowdsourcing and look for hashtags that identify specific projects. Be aware that you’ll see efforts for everything from peer-produced software development to branding and design competitions, so you’ll want to focus your attention on public projects that invite information gathering, eyewitness accounts (written or photographic) and investigative journalism.
  3. Check blogs involved in crowdsourcing to find out about projects. Last spring, Crowdsourcing engaged in a worldwide crowdsourced book club experiment called “One Book, One Twitter” (#1b1t). Ushahidi focused its international humanitarian crowdsourced efforts in Haiti, while many local news organizations’ community and niche blogs featured appeals to their audiences for contributions to projects. For example, The New York Times’ Lens blog initiated “A Moment in Time“, an interactive photo gallery created from crowdsourced images taken around the world at the same time.
  4. Keep an eye out for crowdsourced investigative projects. Several sites have emerged in the U.K. and Canada, including the recent launch of Help Me Investigate. Watch for similar U.S.-based journalism projects aiming to harness the public’s curiosity.
  5. Speak up. Don’t be shy; the power of the crowdsourced village comes from each contributing voice. If you witness a newsworthy event, contribute to news organizations’ crowdsourced coverage by documenting it in writing or with video, audio or photos.

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Next up: Task #6: Improve at least 5 Wikipedia entries. (My son has been asking to improve the “New South Wales” article; maybe I’ll need to crowdsource this task to my family…)