Know your why. How to start to develop an online brand as a journalist.

Its no secret the broadcast news industry is desperate to find a way to monetize its digital products. So far, mixed results.

There is an important factor that the TV news and frankly every industry is desperate to tap into. Influencers. They rule the internet. They make the big bucks and they are influencing public opinion in ways marketing and education experts are just starting to realize.

Because of this you need to start to create your own online brand as a journalist. You want to identify the type of influencer you would like to be before the bosses tell you how to act on social media.  Its really that simple. If you want to be true to the journalist you are, then get on it and get your brand defined.  But how?

Let’s start by defining these concepts for yourself.

Why are you a journalist to begin with?

What topics do you love delving into each day?

What kind of person do you want to actually be?

Heavy stuff right? Let’s not forget, your digital brand defines YOU. You are your most important commodity. So you need to soul search this. You need to be able to define who you are online, and why you are that way. Know your why. Otherwise you will be told what to be at some time or another.

So let’s dig into the first question. Why are you a journalist to begin with? This is the most important question you can ask yourself each day, and most important answer as you begin to define your brand. I am going to get harsh here. If you are a journalist because you want to wear pretty clothes on TV, this is not going to be an easy process for you. I know there are a ton of journalists out there showing off their fashion sense, and some are even getting endorsements but long term its not a good “look” for a journalist. Period. That answer makes you a want to be fashion influencer. So go do that. I am not saying posting an occasional image in a dress or showing off shoes or a tie is awful. But it should be an occasional reference rather than the main focus of your brand. Too many budding journalists are focusing on what they wear more than who they are and what topics they love. 

Now that we cleared that up, let’s talk about why you are a journalist. Not a personality. Not a host, a journalist. Are you super curious about the world? Can you not help but ask questions all day long about all kinds of things? Do you want to help hold people accountable for their actions? Do you love explaining things to people? All of these potential answers can help you start to define your brand.  Think about it. If you are super curious about the world, then start showing how you look into those curiosities. Boom, the start of a compelling brand with substantive posts. Same with the journalists that just love asking questions. Same with the accountability type journalists, although those might want some of their posts copy edited first for possible legal issues. If you love explaining things, think show and tell high tech style. Bet you can start to name off a bunch of topics right away already.

So let’s get more in-depth with topics. Some need to be highly relatable. Yep I am talking food, exploring the city you work in, surrounding areas and pets. These subjects should be incorporated into some of your tweets. Same with hobbies. Some behind the scenes at work posts are cool too. And a friendly reminder, makeup and fashion posts cannot be the main focus. Just an occasional mention. In fact all hobbies should be occasional mentions. Just enough to give a little personal insight, but not the crux of your journalist brand. 

When asking what topics you love delving into think of this more like a traditional beat. If you love education stories, retweet, research and engage in that topic. If you love politics do the same but take caution to never show an obvious bias. You are a journalist you must be impartial. And you likely have a work social media policy that demands impartiality. Love tech? Talk about it.  Love geeking out over space stuff? There’s a niche for that. Engage. If you have to interact with viewers several times a day for your job, at least half of it should be about things you love to check out anyway. 

Now let’s get into what kind of person you want to be. Influencers tend to provide “food for thought.” Not all of them slam their opinion down their followers throats. Some do. But more don’t. They use subtlety, a little self deprecating humor, and most serve up good doses of humility. Remember I am talking digital influencers, not TV pundits like Hannity. That’s a whole other ballgame. People are turning to digital to find “real” people instead of caricatures. If they want to laugh at a caricature, then they watch a few memes to get it out of their systems. That is an important thing to realize. Also do not put yourself on a perch above your followers. The online community is about collaboration, more than adulation. Even with movie stars, etc it is a chance to try and connect instead of just look up to them. Acting really authoritative will not last. You will tumble down. Exuding some confidence is fine. But make sure you watch and have a variety of types of posts. Not just ones that could be misconstrued as bragging. Stay, humble, real, and fair in your posts. Think of your online conversations like ones with a new friend you are getting to know. You want to showcase your interests to find a common bond. If you approach who you are on social media this way, you will do fine. 

Finally understand that developing a brand takes time. That’s why it is important to get on it, figure out who you are online and then stick to it. Give others time to find you, like you and then hopefully be impressed enough to continually engage with you. You want time to find and carve your niche in the topics you enjoy. And you want to get started and have a good foundation in place before your bosses come and tell you who to be online. So dive in, discover yourself more and enjoy engaging in things you love anyway. Its your best chance at success, and quite possibly influence online and in the industry.

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I am at a serious story and have to post on social media. How can I avoid seeming insensitive?

 

If you read industry blogs, you have seen plenty of cases of reporters tweeting a smiling face at a murder scene, natural disaster or some other similarly toned story. Facebook postings about meeting the national correspondent hero and taking a selfie get plenty of critiques too. This occurs often enough that one has to ask why? Why do so many continue making this mistake? 

The answer is two fold. First, many think in order to show they are at a scene, they have to show themselves in that scene. Second, like it or not, many journalists become rather immune to the scenes around them. In a sense you become less sensitive while in the middle of the moment. Part of this is a survival tactic. The stories covered are often hard to take. This is a natural human reaction. But it is a part of the biz, that the viewer does not want or need to understand. If they do get a sense of it, it comes across as trivializing the story, its impact and the viewer.

Many stations provide little to no guidance on how to handle sensitive issues while on social media, even though you are required to post. So let’s create a checklist you can have on hand to help yourself navigate a tough situation when you are emotionally impacted, the deadlines are intense and you are trying to fulfill your obligations without a lot of time to stop and think.  

Before you post ask yourself:

Does a selfie help cover this story?

What is the tone of my coverage today?

How will this tweet/FB posting define my image as a journalist?

Yes, these questions are heavy. That’s why we are going to look at how to answer each one before you are at a serious story. If you know how to quickly gage the answers then this list is a simple reminder that could keep you from making a big mistake that hurts credibility. 

Let’s tackle the first question. Does a selfie help cover the story? Why do you want to put yourself into the image in the first place? Again, we are focusing on a serious story. Did you just meet the hero who saved the day? Do you want an image of you talking with that person? Did you just get an exclusive look at an element? Do you want to show yourself getting a tour of the crime scene for example? A look at the fire line? Then ask, is the image as effective if you show just that hero, or just that fire line and you are not in the image at all?  Again, a lot of reporters innately think they have to show that they are on the story to really be on the story. But I am going to ask you to consider a social media selfie the way you should consider the use of a standup. If there is a way to let the story tell itself with images alone, then you do not need to be part of it. If you are describing something, pointing something out or connecting two things and your physical presence adds to understanding, then having you in the shot is appropriate. But that doesn’t mean a selfie. Have the photographer you are working with take a pic of you talking to the subject or being given that tour of the scene. If you are an MMJ, consider asking someone you trust to snap it for you. If you must show yourself at a scene, it should be a shot that shows you actively engaged in covering the story. When is the last time you saw a network 2-shot with the correspondent and the interview subject standing side-by-side, grinning? Selfies send a very different tone when you really think about it.

Speaking of… What is the tone of my coverage today? Often the answer to this is going to rule out selfies. If the tone is to show the intensity of the shooting scene, how does a selfie convey that intensity appropriately? If the post celebrates a rescue in flood waters, what will your physical presence do to make that more clear in a still shot?  

Then there is a question of your legacy. That might sound corny, but it is true. Really every FB post, serious story or not, applies. The industry is small. It can be ruthless. You do not want to be the subject of this comment: “Wait that person looks familiar. Oh, that’s the genius who smiled at the mass murder scene.” Every post, every tweet, every Instagram image has to portray you as the type of journalist you want to be. That is hard. You will not get every posting right. But you want to avoid major gaffes. Especially when covering a serious story. The two questions above should help you, so that by the time you get to this question your gut knows what to do.

If you get to a large scale story and meet your mentor, take a picture with the person if there’s down time. Just don’t post it. It really only matters to you anyway. Why take the risk of putting it on your work accounts, and have some think you are insensitive? In terms of your private account, just remember no account is truly private when you are a journalist. Check your privacy settings and know you could still take some risk. 

Bottom line, serious stories are hard enough to cover in a Tweet, Facebook post, or Instagram image. Unless your presence in the shot is really crucial for the viewer to understand the story, the best option is to avoid a selfie. The fact that you are posting is enough to show you are there. You have to do all you can to protect your credibility. Selfie’s often just are not worth it while on a serious story. Better to go conservative, and decrease your risk of seeming insensitive. Now am I saying never do a selfie? No. But this article is about serious stories. Stories that stir intense emotions of sadness, fear, anger, pain or frustration. Happy stories, inspiring stories and some stories discussing challenges could open the door to selfies. The litmus test above will help you know when. 

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Are Facts The “New” TV Stars? Thank Millennials.

In the past two weeks, the TV news industry has taken a very bold stand. The fact that both Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer where fired over sexual harassment allegations is huge. Many old timers are shocked that it was not just swept under the rug or they were told, “Hey just don’t do it again (wink wink).” But I am going to argue that these firings are not necessarily a symbol that harassment is no longer acceptable in the workplace. Instead I am going to say this: Content managers just got a lot more power. Use it wisely.

NBC and CBS did not do this completely to be PC. While these moves are bold and could represent big profit losses short term, I think they’ve banked on a trend that’s been building for awhile. The audience they need to reach wants facts. The content is becoming more important than the person delivering it.

We’ve seen this coming for awhile. But the slow trend just sped up. TV news is refocusing on strong content generators, not just pretty faces. This is key to understand for a couple of reasons. First if you just like being on TV and could care less about what you read and report, your career may be a lot shorter than if you started 10 years ago. Secondly, producers and managers can finally start demanding more money because they have more of a clear cut impact on the success of a newscast. NBC would not have put the entire Today Show brand in jeopardy if it felt the show was being led by a bunch of morons. That’s the simple truth. NBC obviously has confidence in the content leaders on staff at Today to put together compelling shows that will continue to draw audience. Same with CBS and it’s rising star CBS This Morning.

I have said this before and will say it again. In order to gain millennials as fans and viewers you need to stop talking down to them. You need to stop focusing on just the “look” of the newscast. Millennials want substance. Tell me something I don’t already know or don’t waste my time. That phrase should be printed out and placed on top of your computer screen if you are a journalist. And this should be your other mantra: be right or don’t do it at all. NBC and CBS also just showed that they think they have diversified enough they do not have to depend on newscasts being their main profit generators long term. Otherwise Charlie and Matt would have been reprimanded only. When there was a risk reward analysis both were considered expendable. That is shocking for industry old timers. We watched these types of “icons” literally play god in newsrooms across the country. They could do and say whatever and it was allowed. Not anymore and that’s because the audience has sent a message. Facts are more important than messengers.

If TV news wants to stay relevant and profitable, it is time to focus on good journalism. Get to the root of why there were newscasts in the first place. Tell me something I don’t already know or don’t waste my time. Its time to demand that managers, producers and writers are paid better. The trend toward bulking up investigative units will continue in 2018. If you love “doing good journalism” now is the time to shine. And you just might save the industry to boot. Thank you millennials for demanding to know more. And please TV news industry leaders, wake up and realize millennials don’t like stupid gimmicks. Give them more credit. Provide the facts, spell out details and give options to learn even more. You heard some of the message. These two firings are proof. Now be brave and act. Truly make the facts the stars of TV news again.

 

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Is TV news actually social media savvy?

I promise “Survive” is going to remain a website primarily focused on practical advice articles to help you get through your work day more easily. But occasionally, we feel the need to post an article meant to get the industry to stop, think and hopefully openly talk about important issues in newsrooms today. After all, that’s crucial to survive in TV news as well.

Over the last 5 years, “Survive” has watched as TV stations grappled with how to connect with viewers now more focused on digital news than TV. And after 5 years of watching, talking to key decision makers and digital users, a very important question needs to be asked: “Is TV news actually social media savvy?” Such a simple question, but a very complex answer.

I’m going to make the argument that TV News is not very social media savvy. Here’s why. It’s not truly understanding the nuances of why people use social media. We all know that social media is a connector. It helps people express themselves and find others who agree and disagree with what they say and do. But here’s the rub. Even though it seems like social media focuses on superficial things like the actual color of a dress, whether you’ve been to a new restaurant yet, makeup tips and GIFs, this is really scratching the surface. Trending topics and video going viral, while exciting and EASY to capitalize on, are just a small part of the power of the digital world. At its core, internet surfing and social media interaction have basic human desires behind them. Finding information. Understanding why.

Really stop and think about what you do on the internet. It helps me that I have super curious kids. Here are the last three searches my family did: Why is Easter Island called Easter Island? Why do you need fractions? Why are some metals harder to melt than others? Typical kid questions right? Now think about your latest searches. Some topics might be: Why is my insurance going up? Why did I pay more in taxes this year? What does (insert word) mean? And of course, a list of symptoms to see what illness you might have. You search up doctors to see if they get good reviews. You search to see if your home values stayed the same year to year. You check your bank balance. You check when your favorite band is coming to town. What’s on sale this week at the grocery store? And you also shop. All of that in addition to hitting your favorite news sites.

When you go on social media you want to see how your friends are doing and wait for it… what is happening in the world. I venture to guess that many of you look at what’s trending, get a chuckle out of some of it, then start looking for information other ways. Notice I used the word information. That’s intentional. Social media savvy viewers like INFORMATION.

I think the TV industry is marginalizing younger audiences. Yes, that’s a bold statement and I mean it. They think the average 20-to-38 year old just wants to watch crazy videos about the rat carrying pizza and near escapes. They only want to see selfies. What if that’s only a small fraction of what this mysterious new audience is looking at? What if they are also searching up all kinds of INFORMATION, looking to understand why things are happening the way they are? I get asked all the time by younger journalists, “Why does my boss think I only care about selfies?” “Why can’t they see that social media helps uncover what people really want to know about and cannot figure out the answer to?” I have viewers say to me all the time, “Why does TV news think I am stupid?” “Where can I get actual information about what’s happening?”

Now I can hear the nay sayers pointing out that hyper local news sites do ok for awhile then fizzle. I am going to counter with this. Maybe they weren’t actually listening to what people want to know, instead they were telling them what they should want to know. I recently started using the Nextdoor app. I can easily pitch 2 stories a week out of those discussion boards, that could hit broader audiences. And that’s by casually glancing. Some of the stories are obvious, but some of the discussions are a little surprising. And great topics for debate. Social media loves a good debate. You get to exchange INFORMATION. You get to try and discredit information too. Critical thinking.

What if digital tie-ins looked more like what happens on a typical tablet while watching TV. By TV I mean more than news. You’re watching a show. “Wait that actress looks familiar.” With a quick google search you find out who it is while still watching the show. Think of the shows with the pop-up facts. This scene actually took 10 takes to get right. I actually had the flu when we climbed this mountain. Extra INFORMATION.

The most digitally savvy journalist I personally know, attempts to add social media elements that contain tangible information to big stories. Factoids that make you want to delve even deeper into the topic, most often the why. Why did it get this way? Why is that the next step? Why did that happen? Then this journalist adds elements that are connectors. (Remember the other big reason why people get on FB each night.) Not cheesy “do you agree” throwaway pitches. Actual exchanges between people on social media.

I just have to say that simply deciding that you will look at the stories trending and make them the lead is not digitally savvy. It is an easy way out. Like the rip and read days. It will fail. It makes you look superficial and like you think the viewer is stupid. Do not under estimate the viewer who frankly is going digital to get information you are not providing. Do not give up on them either. Provide more information, in more accessible ways. Delve into the why in your digital elements. Give them a reason to want to connect to the story both on their tablets and on their big screens with great visuals and character development. These are just a few suggestions. But whatever you do, start with this thought: How can we give them more information? Not how can we manipulate them into watching? If you are into trending topics, you already saw it. That’s not NEWs. And frankly the audience hopes you are clued in enough to know it’s there. You do not have to prove you get them. Give them more of what they want:  Information and ways to connect the dots. Many are way more analytical than you are giving them credit for being. For far too long, editorial meetings have been centered around what a group of people think the audience should know, based of those decision makers own personal interests and biases. Now you have powerful tools to see what they actually want to know, and what they are struggling to find out. Serve that. Then TV news might prove itself digitally savvy after all.

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