I dug this tweet from the Knight Foundation this morning:
@knightpulse Great advice for new #journalists: build a personal brand: https://is.gd/2aIhM.
As someone who’s made a good living (most of the time!) as a freelance journalist for more that 15 years, I’m often asked how to get started in the biz. (see my advice for would-be freelancers, here). Naturally, I immediately quip something like, “Why the Hell would you want to do that?” Not to be mean, but, honestly – and especially in this economy – freelancing is a tough way to make a living. But if you’re committed, come on down!
I think what a lot of folks new to journalism of any sort – and especially freelancing – miss is positioning or branding. It’s different from marketing, which a lot of folks also don’t want to invest in. There’s really no sense in marketing, though, if you’re not selling the right thing. Which is why having a well-defined brand is so important.
My first brand was as a business writer. Why? Because I’d just left a five-year stint at the Kenan-Flagler Business School and I knew my relationships with big-brained faculty and high-profile execs would be compelling to editors. I landed good gigs with Business: North Carolina magazine and the Raleigh News & Observer. I also got to string for Money Magazine and Market News Services. I still trade on this brand, writing general business stories for several airline magazines and doing a monthly local business column for the Carrboro Citizen.
For a time, I was the “insurance writer” since I’d also done a five-year stint at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. But it wasn’t a beat I really enjoyed. So when I moved to L.A., I created another business subspecialty as a real estate writer, based on a few great assignments I’d had previously. I parlayed that into a gig at the L.A. Business Journal that lasted more than a decade.
And these are just my business writing brands. I’ve got others!
It’s more than just deciding to be a certain kind of writer, though. You’ve got to have the goods to back it up. Clips, contacts, messaging, war stories, perspective and references are the proof in the pudding. All this becomes part of the package that sells you.
Why bother? There are too many talented journalists out there these days not to. If you're going to stand out in the crowd, it's going to take more than a pile of clips. You've got to show that you're a real stand-out with tools and contacts and value others don't. The place to start doing that is staking out your market position.