Building an audience
Journalism is changing
Journalism’s traditional economic model is becoming less viable; many news organizations are making much less of a profit than they once did.
Consequently, many of the traditional news organizations — newspapers, magazines, TV newsrooms — are reducing the number of people they have on staff. That means journalism students have less opportunity to get a job with those organizations.
Journalism students need to
— begin making themselves more marketable even as they begin their journalism courses
— take advantage of the professional opportunities while on campus
— understand the economics of the news media as they are today
— understand also that the economic picture is likely to change before they graduate
— prepare themselves for a changing world
We in journalism education believe that it’s important now for journalism students toestablish a professional presence on the web and to begin building an audience.
Buy your domain name
Find some iteration of your name — JohnSmith.com, JSmith.com, John-Smith.com, etc. — and purchase that domain name. You can do this for less than $10 a year at any number of websites such as GoDaddy.com.
Build your professional web site
A professional web site is one where people can find information about you and what you have done professionally. Such a web site should have the following:
- Home page – introduction
- Resume page – with an up-to-date resume
- Interests – describe the things you are interested in, what you’ve done, how you spend your time
- Samples of your professional work – writing, photos, audio and video
- Contact information – physical addresses, email address (just one), telephone number
One way to build a site without knowing how to do so with HTML coding is to get a site on WordPress.com (you’re URL would be something like www.John-Smith.wordpress.com) and use the pages functions to building these different pages.
Your interests and specialties
What are you interested in? What are you interested in enough to write about?
What ae your activities?
What are your passions?
It may be a type of music . . .
. . . a type of sports
. . . a type of movies
. . . something about politics
. . . a historical period
. . . a public issue (literacy, the environment, medical care)
. . . or (what)_______________
Find an interest or specialty (or more than one). Study the field. Find out what’s being written about it and who’s doing it. Is the topic well covered? Could you offer something that no one else is doing?
Blogging (web logs)
Much has been written about web logs, or blogs. In general, blogs are akin to personal journals. They can be produced by individuals or groups, and they can cover a variety of topics. Usually, they contain comment functions, which allow readers to respond to what the writer has said or to what others have said about the writing. A few general observations:
- Blogs are easy and inexpensive to create. Some free services (Blogger and WordPress, to name a few) allow anyone to start a blog within a few minutes. If you are a member of Facebook or other social networking sites, you can start a blog there. All of these services have any number of add-ons that can enhance the look and functionality of the blog.
- Blogs are difficult to maintain. Blogs should be updated or added to on a regular basis. This takes work and sustained effort. Not many people have the mental or physical stamina for this effort.
- As with almost anything else on the web, information is more valuable than opinion. A good blog can be entertaining with good writing, but information builds audiences.
- The best blogs look outward not inward. That is, successful bloggers — those who build sustain an audience — not only create original content but point to other good content on the web. Linking (discussed in the previous lecture) is part of the formula for a good blog.
- Engagement builds an audience. Good bloggers often join in commenting on the comments they receive. They do not run from criticism, even when it is unfair, misinterprets what they say, or even uncivil.
- Good reporting and writing — concise, coherent, information-rich writing — is still relatively rare among bloggers, despite their growing numbers. The well-written blog with original information and a good sense what else is on the web will gather an audience.
For a bit of inspiration, take a look at what some of your fellow students have done:
Country Music News Today (Sarah Wyland)
Camels and Chocolate (Kristin Luna) Read her FAQ to see how she got to where she is now.
Chances are, you’re a member of a social network — probably several. You probably at least have a Facebook account, and if you’re typical, you probably check that regularly. Sometime before long (the sooner the better), you will need to change your thinking from being a participant in social networking to being a professional who uses social networks.
It won’t be much of a shift, but it will be a shift.
A professional sees social networking not as a means of staying in touch with friends but as a way of building an audience for what you are doing and as a means of keeping up the professional interests that are relevant to you. Consequently, here’s what you should be doing:
- Joining pages and groups that are relevant to your interests
- Gathering “friends” who share the same professional interests that you have
- Posting links to information that you find that is of interest to these professional colleagues
- Posting links to the articles, photographs, audio and video that you have produced about your interests; if you write something for the Tennessee Journalist, for instance, you should post that to your Facebook account; if you put an entry on your blog, you should post that to your Facebook account.
- Creating pages for your issues, organizations or interests and inviting people to join those pages
- Responding to the posts and entries of others who share your interests
Facebook is just the start, and you should start there because you are probably already there. But you should also be joining professional networking site, beginning withLinkedin. This is a general professional site that has attracted many people in the professional realms in the last few years. There are specialty groups in Linkedin that you can join and participate in. Professional networking is going to be an important part of your life, and Linkedin is a good place to start.
Twitter is a combination of what me might call micro-blogging and social networking.
An entry on Twitter can be no longer than 140 characters, including the URL if you are pointing to something on the web. But in the last couple of years, Twitter has become a major means of communication among journalists and media professionals as an efficient means of gather. It is one that beginning journalism students should learn to use.
Writing a Tweet
Once you are on Twitter and are following a few people, read a page or two of tweets. You will get a sense of what is there and how people use it. You will be attracted, repelled, fascinated, confused — and possibly even appalled. Remember that when you write a tweet, the people following you may have those same reactions, so begin deciding right away what kind of personality you want to form.
As a journalist writing for Twitter, you are trying to inform the people who are following you. But, remember too that as one of twitters, you are part of an ongoing conversation, and you should feel free to react to what others have said as well as introducing original information into the conversation.Here are some things to think about and some guidelines:
- What’s the point? Why are you posting? Have a goal in mind. Understand how you want people to feel when they have read you post.
- Information is more important, and interesting, than opinion.
- One or two points (of information, opinion, whatever) max. Not three. You’ll quickly use up your space.
- Think: subjects and verbs. Complete sentences are not always necessary, but complete thoughts are.
- Emphasize verbs. Active, descriptive verbs. It’s one of the basic truths of good writing.
- As in headline writing, “to be” verbs can be understood rather than written.
- Drop articles (a, an and the) unless they are necessary for clarity.
- Punctuate for clarity, not necessarily just to follow the rules.
- Same thing goes for AP style. Often AP style rules will help with brevity, but sometimes they don’t.
- Use abbreviations only if you are sure your audience will immediately understand them. Don’t use them just to show that you’re hip to techno lingo.
- Don’t be afraid to direct your tweets to individual users. Done correctly, this can help build your audience.
- Maintain a sense of professionalism. Using profanity and scatological language may give you a sense of coolness about yourself, but it’s also likely to lose you followers. (On the day I wrote this, I stopped following an acquaintance for just this reason.)
- Ask and ye shall receive. One of the great things about Twitter (and the web in general) is that there are people ready to respond, particularly if what you want is reasonable and interesting. A well-formed question will attract responses and followers.
- Respect. Respect the language, your audience and yourself. Honesty, courtesy, modesty and civility are values in the Twitter society. Strive for them.
These are guidelines, not rules. They are mean to help you get started, not to lock you into a certain style or convention. Once you are on Twitter and a participant in the conversation, you can decide who you want to be and how you can use Twitter to be effective.
Read more about writing for Twitter here on JPROF: