All journalists should have some sense of idealism. Even if you aren’t the all-guns-blazing world-changer you set out to be, there should still be a small fire in you that believes you really can change the world – or at least part of it. That, to me, is journalism.
When it comes to the traditional definition of branding, the ethos of idealism can easily come second to self-promotion. My previous post mentioned branding cynic Gene Weingarten, who makes a good point that journalism is no longer about the story – it’s about the name, the fame and the reputation. We need to counter-act this attitude by showing that branding can promote truthful, authentic and credible journalism as opposed to an individual seeking the limelight.
That being said, there are significant advantages to building a professional brand as a journalist. It may be necessary for journalists to start branding themselves as a way of adapting to life online. Communication is different than it was a decade ago, and your online identity is a formidable force. If you think about it, you already have some sort of a brand if you have a Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn account. Branding will simply allow you to take control of your online identity and use it to its full potential.
Here are some pointers on how to start taking control:
1. First and foremost: stick to your principles
Before you even begin to consider building your brand, your heart needs to be in the right place. Your journalistic ethic is paramount. Stick to the core principles of journalism and you can’t go wrong. Think about what you’re writing and why you’re writing about it. Are you searching for a substantial story that could make a difference in some way? Or, are you using a sensational story to simply grab attention and get your name out there?
Shock tactics may work once in a while, but giving readers what they need to know as opposed to what they want to know will make you a great journalist with a credible brand.
2. Hard work comes before your reputation
Branding is not a chicken/egg scenario when it comes to journalism. In fact, branding could be synonymous with reputation in this industry. No-one can fake a good reputation (not for long, anyway) which means that it’s impossible to create a brand out of nothing. You need to have something substantial to offer before you go public with a professional brand.
Start building your portfolio: keep everything you write and get PDFs of anything you’ve had published. I know it’s difficult to get work without experience and the only answer is doing things for a minimal wage (if that). All journalists start out as volunteers, so get the grunt work over with as soon as you can. Persevere.
Keep track of your CV. I know too many people who haven’t even written up a resume, let alone published it online. Your CV needs to be accessible. Yes, you’re the one who searches for work, but having an accessible CV online means sometimes the work will come to you.
3. Mark your territory
Every journalist with their own professional brand has a website with their domain name. Chris Roper, editor of Mail & Guardian Online (an SA news site) and renowned journalist and author Mark Gevisser, are two journalists whose careers I personally follow. Click on their links and you’ll find that their websites are branded with their names; not handles, not clever puns or journalistic wordplay, but their names. As in: www.your.name.co.za/uk/nz.
WordPress.com seems to be quite a popular spot for registering a domain and it’s user-friendly. You may also want to grab your personal domain name before someone with the same name does.
If this is all Greek and you’re find yourself struggling to wrap your mind around the technical aspect of branding, take it slow. Educate yourself, empower yourself, then tackle your website. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
4. Maintain your territory
Branded websites I frequent have one thing in common: a consistent flow of information. You needn’t spend several hours a day in addition to your regular job updating your website but try to add something new once or twice a week. You also don’t have to update with a lengthy blog every time. Sometimes a simple picture and caption will do, or a link to an interesting article relevant to your brand. There are so many variations of things you can add to your brand’s site. What do you represent? What are your interests? What are you passionate about? Write book, movie, or restaurant reviews, add tried-and-tested recipes, provide links to other blogs – even just a sentence will do. With your own website, the world is quite literally your oyster.
5. Be consistent
I recently noticed that some of the bylines of my online articles identify me as ‘Samantha Moolman’, while others read ‘Sam Moolman’. This is something I need to rectify. To be more “Googleable” one needs to be consistent. Make sure that your public online identities are all the same. People need to be able to recognise you and your work, having more than one online name might confuse them.
6. Use your ubiquity for the right reasons
Getting published in the first place is probably your #1 priority, and you may be overwhelmed with the thought of building a personal brand. If this is exactly how you feel, put the idea of branding on the backburner and come back to it when you feel ready. While it’s a necessary step in the process of becoming a great journalist, it isn’t and should never be, your #1 priority.
Once you have a presence and a reputation to uphold as a journalist in your own right, I hope you’ll consider honing your brand, and that you’ll use it to its full potential. Most importantly, however, I hope that when you do start building your brand, you’ll channel into that ‘all-guns-blazing’, ‘world-changing’ idealist that you started out as. Always remember why you dreamt of becoming a journalist in the first place.
About the Author
Samantha also works as an assistant lecturer for the University of Pretoria’s Department of Journalism.
Photo credit: flickr.com_Sister72
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