How journalism students can stay humble while promoting their work

By Andrew Gibson

Searching "journalists personal brand" on Google calls up a
slew of varying opinions.
Should journalism students ever feel shame after a shameless self-promotion?

Maybe that sounds ridiculous. Especially to the wave of upcoming journalists programmed to be both news professionals and unique brands. Heck, you might have found this blog because I promoted it on Twitter from
@ONAMizzou. I'm not ashamed to say I've blasted multiple posts from my own blog into the social sphere, as well. 

Media giants like to show their feathers, too. Tweets from 13 "major news organizations" linked to their own websites 93 percent of the time during Feb. 14-20, 2011, according to a
study from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism and The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.

But even so, posting, "Here's what I wrote, look at it," on social media might still seem brash to a portion of the younger generation. Here are four less conspicuous ways to build acclaim for your work.
  • Become a commenting connoisseur. If you have a blog, you probably read others related to that niche. Next time you power through this reading list, pause to leave an insightful thought at the bottom of a post. Successfully pushing the conversation forward could compel the author or other commenters to Google your name, finding your blog and portfolio as a result. Remember to comment on what you're genuinely interested. Experienced Web writers can detect smarminess. 
  • Take photos regularly. And then post them to your blog. Google's crawlers will likely index the pictures, making them visible in its image inventory. Anyone who enters a relevant keyword could pull them up on their computer monitor. Photo-sharing websites like Flickr are another option. Uploading them to the Creative Commons will allow people to repost the image while preserving your byline. It's a portfolio-boosting snowball. 
  • Make social more personal. Building your brand less conspicuously doesn't mean not using social media. Try increasing the number of times on Twitter you @reply to followers and to influential people in your blog niche. Retweets are important, but they're often less social. You could also participate in a Wednesday-night #wjchat. Or, when news breaks, don't merely repeat what others know. Instead, add value by sharing interesting facts. My fellow Missouri School of Journalism student Nick Gass is great at this.

    The effect could be largely the same as leaving meaningful comments: If people enjoy what you contribute, they'll look for more of your work. Maybe they'll find your blog or portfolio address in your Twitter bio. 
  • Leave the glow of the laptop. Journalism is still journalism. You build a brand by gaining the recognition of others, and that's impossible with a keyboard alone. "You have to get off Facebook and go outside and speak to real live people," says Mindy McAdams, University of Florida journalism professor. "You have to read, widely and voraciously. You have to be curious about those who live in skins other than your own. You have to learn what makes a good story and how to tell a good story well."
This isn't to say linking to your own work is unacceptable. There are many ways to stay humble while doing so.
  • Phrase your promotions wisely. Mentioning that you wrote something is important for transparency. But don't say, "This is my new blog post." Rather, give your audience a preview of how you're advancing the conversation. Having only 140 characters will force you to tease effectively and ethically. Also, thank anyone whom you interviewed or who provided you with helpful information by mentioning that person in a tweet or tagging that person in a Facebook update. 
  • Link inside your work. Other journalists surely influence your work, so you should link to their material whenever relevant. If you're expecting people to click through to your content, it's your duty to uphold the chain.
  • Mix it up. Moderation is key. Don't kill the "social" in social media by turning your online accounts into billboards. 
There's no definite answer to whether direct or indirect self-promotion is better. But Steve Buttry, director of community engagement and social media at Journal Register Company, makes a strong case that building a personal brand can enhance career prospects:
"Branding starts with quality and hard work," he writes on his blog, responding to an anti-branding column from The Washington Post's Gene Weingarten. "But lots of outstanding journalists who did the hard work are losing their jobs. They are losing their jobs mostly because their industry has failed to develop new business models and new revenue streams in a period of disruption. But some of those journalists are losing their jobs or struggling to find new ones, in part, because they failed to show their value to their employers and their communities. Personal branding is about showing your value. It starts with quality and hard work, but if you don’t show the value, you can become undervalued."
My best advice: be strategic, and be humble.

Updated Feb. 7 to include the sentence "Mentioning that you wrote something is important for transparency."

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