Advice For Journalism Students, Pt 1: How To Transform Your Online Presence Into A Change Agent & ‘Get A Job’
In honor of Internet Week New York and the resulting bevy of resources, I’ve decided to contribute some of my own.
A while back, Gawker posted a snarky list of job opportunities for J-School grads. I enjoy this site and I’m all for snark, but considering the dismal economic climate I felt the tone was unnecessarily cruel.
Additionally, Gawker Media employees are no strangers to layoffs. It’s not a big leap to suggest that – in the very near future – one of them could be in the position of calling a J-School student “boss.”
(image via berbercarpet’s flickr)
Recent college grads were raised on technology. Media savvy millennials eat it for breakfast.
Once a J-School grad does find a job, it’s possible that he or she could be your fiercest competition.
As one who loves sci-fi, conspiracy theories and blowing through glass ceilings, I am here to share some knowledge. 🙂
Don’t give up. There’s always a way.
Here is Part 1 in a series of unscheduled/strictly-when-I-feel-up-to-it posts that will feature ways J-School grads could find a job, despite what haters have to say.
These suggestions could be helpful to anyone seeking a position related to writing/reporting.
Despite the promising title of my post, these “steps” aren’t quick fixes and require long-term efforts. I am not offering a turnkey method for success. Some things I suggest won’t work for you, for a variety of reasons. So, take my suggestions with a grain of salt and add them to your arsenal of job hunting resources. Don’t be discouraged because you don’t see immediate results.
Who am I to offer advice? I’m me, a freelance O.G. (currently rocking a staff position with MTV News) who has experience in both traditional and new media.
I am also friends with many folks who were laid off, as well as graduating students now facing the daunting task of securing a j-o-b. I listen to their stories and learn from their successes and failures.
In this post, I will touch on ways to grow your audience and build community, even though my own site barely does any traffic. Truthfully, I didn’t create The Lair to make money. I don’t actively work on building an enormous readership. I know how to do both of these things, but don’t, because they aren’t motivations for me. Just because I don’t consistently apply SEO/brand management strategies to my own site and online presence, doesn’t mean I don’t know what I am talking about.
What I do on the web works for me – when it doesn’t work, I change it.
Considering the above factors, you might decide to question my authority on this topic and choose not to read the rest of this post. Well, this is my way of giving back. Take it or leave it.
Future posts will include interviews with employed and unemployed journalists/writers/reporters/media professionals who can offer their own thoughts and advice. I’m very slowly reaching out to folks and will eventually post some Q&As.
Ready, all three of you (statistically)? Here we go!
Pt 1: How To Transform Your Online Presence Into A Change Agent & Get A Job
Lesson 1. Using Your Social Networking Profiles & Blog To Successfully Grow Your Audience & Connect With Media Professionals
I am going to assume you are familiar with the term social media, you’ve at least heard of the book Me 2.0 and that you already blog/tweet/use FriendFeed. You also consistently engage your followers, while sharing great examples of your writing ability (better than mine, I hope). You’ve friended all of your current and past classmates and coworkers on both LinkedIn and Facebook, where appropriate.
I’m assuming your official website is easy to navigate, that there’s a section (clearly accessible) highlighting an updated list of clips and an About Me page that doesn’t sound generic.
OK, with those assumptions confirmed, let’s get going:
Who are your favorite writers and who do they write for? What topics are you passionate about?
Once you have that figured out, make a list and identify all related sites. Official news sites, personal blogs, FriendFeeds, Flickr streams, Twitter accounts, etc.
You’d be surprised how web savvy some of these old farts have become. These days, I’m surprised when a journo doesn’t have their Flickr/Twitter/Friendfeed/personal blog thing going on. Even Anderson Cooper, who is on TV/reporting somewhere practically 24-7, has time to tweet multiple times a day. Why does he do it? Because without an audience, he is toast.
Not sure how to find them? http://muckrack.com/ is a great place to start. It’s a site for finding journalists on Twitter, created by the same folks who brought you the Shorty Awards. They don’t currently have me listed on there, but that’s cool. Some of my favorite mentors were the hardest to find.
Deborah Bonello is a multi-media journalist based in Mexico City. She works as a freelance blogger, investigator and video journalist for the Los Angeles Times Mexico City bureau, where she edits the La Plaza blog and writes and produces video packages for LATimes.com.
Her “passion” site is http://www.mexicoreporter.com, a multi-media site that reports on culture, travel and society in Mexico. The site launched in July 2007, and since then has been featured as one of the top ten most innovative journalism sites on the internet by Press Gazette.
Q: Why would she do all that extra work, when she already has a j-o-b?
A: To stay FRESH, share information about a topic she is passionate about and demonstrate her evolving skill set! Nice!
Today’s journalism is about redefining how we gather and share news then applying new methodologies, finding new avenues for storytelling and growing as a writer/reporter for all screens. Deborah knows this and is always attending trainings, while increasing her skills as both a writer and digital producer. She is a creative force and a wonderful example of the “new” journalism. In reality, however, she’s been doing this for a while and it’s not new to her at all.
Her behavior is only new to people who think someone else should be shooting, editing and adding video and photos to their own stories. The age of a writer emailing a story (just text) to their editor is dead. Learn digital production, or get out of the business. Real talk.
A very simple way of connecting with an audience around a topic you are already passion about is this:
When you find a story online that speaks to you, leave a comment (not an epic tome), with a link to a post on your blog that expands on a point of importance (for you). Bring your own voice to that post and invite feedback. Trackbacks are your friends.
Share your comment link on Twitter/Friend feed, encouraging feedback. In this way, you are promoting the original story while simultaneously sharing your own writing sample.
Example: Robert Scoble’s post Why Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg are wrong about naming Web 3.0 â€œWeb 3.0â€³. In it, he addresses their original article (remembering to link to it) while challenging their position. He also includes links to articles that support his point of view. He then took the conversation to FriendFeed, where his followers could join the discussion via web or their mobile device, where he responded in turn.
Robert Scoble doesn’t need to do this to build his rep or get a job. With his position at Fast Company, he breaks tech news and offers original stories all the time. So, why does he choose to post commentary on existing articles? Because he’s passionate about the topic, enjoys discussing it with his audience and understands that the more he shares his ideas, the more he establishes himself as an authority.
Remember, sites such as Wired.com, NYTimes.com and CNN consistently incorporate audience feedback into their own coverage. If you provide enough thought-provoking responses to stories (particularly top stories), your efforts could result in at least two possibilities:
Uno) Other people who follow these writers will notice you, because they read comments too. If they like what you have to say, they will start to follow you and respond to you as well. Heck, they may even start following you on Twitter and RT your links. Nice!
Suggestion: Start using bit.ly links so that you can keep track of your shared URLS, know which ones are the most popular, etc. Use a tweet management program like TweetDeck to keep track of your most active, RT’ing followers. Know your audience. Know your supporters and support them too.
SERIOUS Suggestion: Make sure your blog doesn’t read like a regurgitation of existing stories/simply re writes. If you see an opportunity, try breaking interesting hyperlocal news bringing your own unique approach to popular media topics. Find a beat that you you can feel passionate about and consistently identify/produce stories. Most importantly, enjoy what you are covering. It shows when you don’t give a shit (even with the most seasoned journalists).
SERIOUSLY SERIOUS Suggestion: Add Analytics to your blog if you haven’t already. It’s free and will help you understand audience behavior. The more you genuinely know about SEO and Google Trends, the more managing editors will like you and listen to your pitches. Don’t B.S. potential employers however (don’t say you are an “SEO” expert on your resume if you aren’t), be sure to become as knowledgeable as you can, practice your new skills and don’t be afraid to ask people for help.
Don’t ever discount friendly interdependence either: Show link love to your friends/colleagues/former schoolmates, etc., find ways to support your friends goals and make sure they are aware of yours. You never know who they could (or might be already) forwarding your blog posts, tweets or Flickr photos to.
With that in mind, consider how beneficial it is to post minutiae that doesn’t make sense to anyone but you. Be yourself, but find a balance. Only you know that balance, so assess the ramifications of your online activity. Search results can be empowering or embarrassing, it’s up to you.
NOTE: I work at MTV News because someone forwarded something I wrote to someone else. It happens. Be sure you are reaching out to help others as much or more than you are seeking assistance. No one likes a leach, a mooch or a user. An easy way to prevent developing a user rep is that for every time someone helps you, go out and help three others. It could be as easy as forwarding a resume, RT’ing a friend’s link from a recently published piece or helping your friend’s little sister get an interview for an internship at your company. My point here is that if you can’t find time to help anyone else, people notice.
SUPER IMPORTANT WAYS TO NOT BE A JERK/TURN OFF POTENTIAL SUPPORTERS: Don’t be annoying by *only* tweeting links to your own blog posts. Don’t email blast your entire contact list every time you post or every time you decide to share your updated resume. No one likes a spam bot. You can promote yourself and not be annoying. Find a balance that works for you.
OK. Moving on.
Dos) The author (who also reads his/her own comments) will notice you. If they like what you have to say, they may be open to one or more of the following possibilities:
a) Author will respond and follow back to your Twitter/Linked In/Flicker request. Once that happens, feel free to (don’t overdo it though) send story links to them for feedback. Establish a working relationship with your favorite writers. Let them know what your goals are.
Share story ideas with them (not 100% of them – you need a job, after all) and if they are responsive to it, request info or a recommendation for an internship, or details on future job openings within their company. STAY IN TOUCH.
The hyperlocal news space is a great place to start building relationships with established writers and managing editors. Many of these sites are relatively new (examples: New York Times’ The Local, BushwickBK.com, etc.) and often the people maintaining them are still figuring out their newsgathering and content producing systems. This space won’t remain new for long, however, so identify the hyperlocal news sites in your area and introduce yourself. Pitch some story ideas. Often, these sites have an open call for story ideas – take advantage. Share a few writing examples from your site. Get some bylines with your hyperlocal folks and then use those work samples to pitch to larger entities. Demonstrate that you can build a dedicated audience around a topic.
b) Editors (especially for start ups) are always receptive to writers with personality, especially writers who already have an audience (i.e., more traffic to bring to them). These editors also check comments on stories. If enough people are linking/responding to your stories, you’re showing up on Digg, etc., you’ve left a trail of “engagement evidence” that you can use when you start reaching out to these editors re: job opportunities.
This all sounds like a lot of work, I know. It sucks. But if you’re passionate about writing/reporting, you’re probably already following certain writers. Why not open up channels of communication with them that could potentially lead to a job?
The worst they can do is ignore you. Ultimately, your efforts will – at minimum – result in a body of work on your own site that you can use in other ways. If there isn’t a hyperlocal news site in your area, start one. Create your own opportunities.
Scared of being considered a troll/stalker by your favorite writers? Don’t want to earn a reputation for being a shameless self-promoter? These are legitimate fears. But consider this – you could just play it safe, or give up. You could try either of these things and see how that works out.
Seriously, what’s the harm in building a friendly rapport with professionals who work in your field of interest? These days, who you know is more valuable than ever. Blindly emailing 300 resumes a week, to job board postings listed by people you’ve never met, is going to get you nowhere. Real talk.
I currently have a job but I still work on making connections with leaders in my fields of interest, because you never know what could happen. Building and nurturing a professional network is vital to both finding a job and keeping the one you already have.
Take this bit of tweeted advice from Me 2.0 author and personal branding expert Dan Schawbel:
Dan Schawbel is one of several hundred professionals who I follow on Twitter. I don’t always catch everything, but creating the opportunity for me to gain knowledge and resources through their a stream of relevant tweets is the point.
Opportunity can arise in the most unlikely places. Be sure that the right people know who you are and what you are capable of.
More to come … I welcome any additional comments, suggestions, links, etc. If you’re a working or recently laid off writer/content producer who found this post, consider allowing me to do a Q&A with you on a topic that you care about. You never know what could happen as a result of sharing your ideas!
I decided to post all of this as a result of multiple conversations I’ve had with friends and colleagues. Individuals have contacted me through The Lair requesting advice, so this is my initial attempt to oblige.
If you’d like me to take a look at your resume, have questions about how to enhance your current personal branding strategy or would like suggestions on how to network with your local journo community, send me a message through my contact form or a tweet.