August 24, 2009

As more news organizations are laying off full-time reporters, many of them are being replaced by freelancers. On top of that, with the ubiquitous tools that allow anyone to publish, journalists now have to set themselves apart and establish their credibility more than ever. Journalists have to communicate directly with the audience and in many cases become a part of it. They no longer have just a byline, but a face and a personal brand. There is an increasing shift from the organization that you represent to you as an individual.

Alfred Hermida, a professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at University of British Columbia, notes that it is a good idea to start building your personal brand as a student. However, it is just as important for a veteran journalist to build your brand as well.

A veteran reporter may be familiar in his or her local town, but unknown to the outside world. And if that hometown paper closes, the local credentials become almost irrelevant. Journalists need to have an online presence and a personal brand.

One of the key ways to start developing your brand is providing a place where all your online personalities and platforms meet –- a central Web site where potential employers and the public can learn all they need about your professional credentials, as well as learn how to contact and connect with you. Here are a few ways journalists can build their personal brands. We’d love to hear others in the comments below.

Showcase your blogging skills
More and more journalists are writing articles regularly, while at the same time hosting their own blog or contributing to a news organization’s blog.

It is evermore important for journalists to practice their blogging and showcase their skills on a personal Web site. Amy Gahran emphasized this idea last September (also offering a good guide on how to get your own site with a personal domain name), and since then it’s become even more crucial in strengthening the personal brand of individual journalists.

This should be a personal blog, but not a “personal” blog; it should be professional in nature and reflect your expertise. Keep the musings about your dinner last night for a separate blog.

Demonstrate your expertise

Though blogging on a specialized topic is a key way to demonstrate your expertise, the entire theme of the Web site should be focused around your brand as a journalist. This means being consistent in the phrases that you use to describe yourself, whether in an “about the author” blurb or the subhead summarizing who you are professionally. For example, Joey Baker’s Web site describes him as a “new media advocate.” Baker, the business director for CoPress, is concise, professional and memorable in his description. Consistency in the way you brand yourself is key. It ultimately creates an image of your personal brand for your Web site’s visitors.

Show off your portfolio

A personal site allows you to aggregate and display your professional work. It’s a one-stop shop for visitors to see what kind of work you have done. It’s a transparent resume of sorts, allowing you to showcase your best writing samples (including blogs), videos, photographs, Web site development, you name it.

You can link to the articles, embed videos, or provide a PDF version (here is a great example from multimedia journalist Evan Wyloge). Remember to provide some information that tells the viewer why you are showcasing a specific sort of work. It should ultimately show off your skills. It goes without saying your Web site should also include a resume page, along with the ability for a visitor to download it as well.

Build an audience, community

It used to be that journalists didn’t really have to worry about attracting an audience for their work. The audience was just there. But now journalists play a big role in attracting readers to a news Web site. Your personal site can demonstrate your ability to build an audience and, ultimately, a community of readers. The key is engaging your readers through comments on blog posts, but also providing ways for them to connect to the site and you through RSS, e-mail subscriptions, a contact form, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

It’s a good idea to allow your readers to see what you’re doing on the Web (example: if you use Twitter, display your tweets them in a sidebar widget on your site). It may feel a bit intrusive to allow readers in to your social media space, but it will provide another way for them to connect back to your site.

Present your new media skills

This doesn’t just mean showing your ability to produce content on various platforms, it means displaying your ability to learn new media skills and stay relevant in a time of evolving technology. You put together the Web site, and by doing so you likely learned a lot in the process: how to integrate various features, content management, design that works well and Web usability. These — and the design — should reflect you as a journalist.

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