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.