Branding a journalist

The days of writing columns and receiving the occasional letter to the editor are long behind us. Chances are good that you have scrolled down to the bottom of a news story online to see a forum of Facebook comments giving a range of insightful feedback to spam promising you can make thousands of dollars working from home, all you have to do is follow this virus ridden link! Chances are also pretty good that you follow your favorite reporters on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. This is the digital age of journalism, my friends. It might not be enough to be a good writer, you also have to be a brand.

In an article titled “Newspaper columnists ought to be perfect bloggers. So why aren’t more doing it well?” Robert Niles discusses the many tools available for journalists to maintain a brand online. These tools include all social media outlets and a personal blog where journalists are encouraged to be more casual and conversational. Niles explains that it is about building a community within your readers and encouraging insightful feedback. Easily connecting and communicating with readers give journalists several advantages and opportunities. Just look at what The Guardian was able to do with a Facebook page for their story about Americans killed by police. Users could leave comments about a family member, friend or colleague that was killed by the police. Reporters could then research and confirm the information. However, social media is still a new frontier. It can be a dangerous one when it comes to personal accounts.

Twitter provides an interesting platform for journalists. It provides a platform to share your work with a wide range of people. It also provides you 140 characters to show tidbits of your personality in case readers were concerned that you might just be a story churning robot. Unfortunately, things can go south quickly. One misunderstood tweet has the potential to end a career. If you suffer from chronic sarcasm, like myself, that is rather terrifying. I have witnessed friends graduate from UNLV with a degree in journalism who have erased any trace of an undergraduate online presence. They were scared one bikini picture from Havasu would taint reader’s opinions and hurt job opportunities. All of these tools blur the line when it comes to work and personal life. If your job has an effect on how you spend your free time and how you choose to share it, it might just consume it.

This brings us to personal blogs. One might assume journalists would be excellent bloggers but that isn’t always the case. When you write hard news stories objectively it can be hard to flip a switch and suddenly become this witty conversational columnist. Not everyone can write with the humor and relatability of Nora Ephron and shouldn’t be expected to. Since this is done on personal time it could start to feel like an obligation and possibly a burden that will affect your quality of work.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make in all this rambling is that if you are a journalist but don’t want to make a brand out of your work and personal life, don’t. If you write for a living and don’t want to continue writing long after you have clocked out of work and gone home, don’t.

But this isn’t 1895, this is the future and I am not yet a professional. I would hate to be responsible for giving you the worst career advice ever. So go forth, make a name for yourself, and try to keep it “trending” just to be safe.


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  1. I absolutely agree with you that people shouldn’t feel forced to brand their work as a journalist. Although it may not get them as many readers as a journalist who does, if they don’t enjoy it, they shouldn’t feel like they have to. I do feel like they should still learn the art of branding and interacting through social networks because it is a digital world now. But to each his own.

    I completely agree that not all journalists can be bloggers. Many traditional journalists have been taught to “keep it serious” so to speak, and may lack (or hesitate to unleash) the casual, engaging style of writing that’s more appealing on a blog.

    P.S. You had me at Spongebob and Patrick.

  2. First off let me start by saying I love your SpongeBob meme. I could not agree more about how the comments connected with blog content can sometimes be not the best of quality. I think growing yourself as a writer is one of the biggest thing in growing yourself as a brand. I think having a casual connection from writer to reader is important to show that you are an actual person and not just some robot writing blog machine with no real human connections or emotion to your piece. The struggle with making content relevant and having people connect with what your talking about can sometimes be difficult. Mixing personal with professional life is a slippery slope.

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