Build your digital-journalism brand during winter break

    By Andrew Gibson

Photo courtesy of Flickr user William Brawley
You probably think I'm crazy for telling you to engage in educational journalism activities during winter break. And it's true: we all need a break after final exams.

But after you've polished off four or five bottles of eggnog, you might realize that four weeks without classes is valuable time for building your digital repertoire. Below are five ways to do just that:

Join the blogosphere

This isn't the most original advice, but it's the most essential. You can build a website in under an hour with Blogger or WordPress, and doing so could lead to a job. Just ask Gemma Cartwright. Catwalk Queen, the blog she built as a teenager, "helped propel her into the world" of "fashion journalism," according to Press Gazette.

As ONA Mizzou adviser Amy Simons will tell you, a successful blog starts with a niche. Find your passion, and then post at regular intervals. People will return to your page if they can expect new content on certain days of the week.

If you already have a blog, expand it. Commenting on others' websites could compel them to return the favor, boosting traffic as a result. Include your blog hyperlink in your Twitter bio, and then engage your target audience in conversations via social media. If they find you interesting, they'll visit your profile and click the link. Learning about search engine optimization is another tactic. Steve Buttry, director of community engagement and social media for Journal Register Co., offers seven useful tips "to help people find your blog." 

And now, a shameless self-promotion. You can write for the ONA Mizzou blog! If a particular online-news topic intrigues you, or if you have multimedia advice for journalism students, don't hesitate to tell us. No experience is required, and posts don't have to be long.

Helpful links:

Apply for internships

College juniors and seniors are likely already doing this, but younger journalism students should also be searching. Always remember this: you have nothing to lose. Sending an application is still valuable even if a news organization rejects you. Evaluators might recognize your name or résumé if you try for the same internship next year, so applying now is a way to show interest.

Also important: internships aren't always formal, and free labor is often hard to turn down. Call and offer your help to local TV stations and newspapers if you don't see formal programs listed on their websites. As the second semester of her freshman year began, our president, Ashley Crockett, called Justine magazine to see if they could use any help. She spent the summer reviewing books and products for a national publication, right in her hometown.


Going home for the holidays probably means you won't be working in any formal newsrooms. That's why you should try liveblogging an event: It's a chance to become your own news organization. The combination of pre-event research, furious scribbling down of quotes, rapid updating, on-the-fly video editing and social-media interaction is sure to be a multimedia thrill ride. If this sounds overwhelming, "enlisting a helper" is a good idea, according to Poynter. What you liveblog doesn't have to be the breaking news of the year, either. A local city-council meeting could suffice.

Helpful links:

Teach yourself new software

Photo courtesy of Flickr user
BENM.AT Live Coverage
Almost every modern journalism student knows how to edit video, so the question becomes: Can you do so on multiple platforms? Last summer, I learned Avid NewsCutter while interning at Denver TV station KCNC. But then I came back to Mizzou and started Journalism 2150, which requires editing with Final Cut Pro X. And that's not all. I'm currently enrolled in an audio-video class that uses Adobe Premiere Pro. The more applications you know, the more versatile of a journalist you'll be, and the better your résumé will look.

Editing software isn't your only option, either. Start your data journalism career by learning Microsoft Excel. Learn how to ethically edit photos with Photoshop Elements. Especially audacious students could teach themselves HTML or CSS (the website News Nerd Jobs is teeming with open jobs for programmer journalists).

If your parents are striking out on gift ideas, ask for software and instructional books. has tutorials for those who prefer electronic learning. However, many of them require a paid subscription.

It's important to make a schedule to which you can stay dedicated. Estimate how long the entire tutorial will take, and then divide it into manageable chunks that will last throughout break.

Start crowdsourcing

I saved this one for last because you can apply it to all of the above. Are you drawing a blank on what to blog about? Ask your Twitter followers, or check what conversations other people in your niche are having. Regarding internships, I see listings on social media almost every day. Try searching for keywords related to your interests followed by "internship" on Topsy or Twitter. And liveblogging? Well, it isn't liveblogging without crowd sourcing. Part of your job is to include others' reactions to the event you're covering. Lastly, if you want to learn multiple software applications but only have time for one, ask journalism professionals which they think is more valuable. Social media is social media for a reason.

What ideas do you have for building your digital portfolio over break? Drop us a comment below. 

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