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Thursday, April 5, 2012
Digital Media Toolbox

Out-of-work journalists should blog

By Gil Asakawa

It seems ridiculously passé to tell journalists in 2012 that they should be blogging.

That wasn't the case just a few years ago, when I was told by one metro daily's management that reporters absolutely would not be allowed to blog for the paper's website. "We don't want them distracted from their job, which is to write articles for the next day's paper, not to scoop the print edition," was the message I got loud and clear in 2004. So I went into the community and recruited a handful of bloggers from local talk radio, the public TV station and a popular blog to share their personalities on the newspaper's website.

Interact with Gil Asakawa on Twitter: @GilAsakawa

Today, almost all newspapers have at least a few staffers blogging, and that's good. Not every journalist blogs, especially if they're not required to by their bosses. That's understandable. Why make the extra effort if it's not part of the job?

But I feel strongly that journalists who are in between jobs should be blogging, and with more passion, more seriousness and more regularity than even their newsroom colleagues.

After all, when you're not working, YOU are your job. Your past work as well as your present output, whether it's with freelance clips or a blog, represents your brand to your next potential employer.

After all, when you're not working, YOU are your job. Your past work as well as your present output, whether it's with freelance clips or a blog, represents your brand to your next potential employer.

I know one reporter who was laid off more than two years ago, and although she diligently kept looking for gigs, she didn't do one of the simplest things she could to maintain her reputation and keep up her chops as a reporter: She didn't blog.

When I nudged her to blog, she demurred and said since she was a general assignment reporter, she had no specific area of expertise about which she could blog. I told her she should write about her neighborhood, using the same skills she used as a reporter. She should write about her passions, which include science fiction and anime, two communities in which she's active, and which would probably provide rich fodder for a fine writer's observations.

Now, two years later, she's still applying for gigs, but frankly, without fresh clips (she didn't try to generate any freelance work, either), it's going to be even harder to get hired. If nothing else, it shows a lack of motivation and seriousness about the craft of journalism.

I recently had a conversation with another friend of mine who does blog, but just thinks of it as a creative outlet, not a tool to help him find a better job. He doesn't much care whether other people read his blog, so he doesn't promote its well-written book reviews, travel essays, and pop culture and political observations.

I urged him to leverage his blog, and focus in on the areas he wants to work in and build his brand reputation in those topics. We talked about Pinterest, the latest social media craze, and how it would be easy for him to create a Pinterest board for his book reviews and become known for his thoughtful critiques. We talked about how he should be promoting his blog posts in all sorts of social media to grow his readership.

Don't underestimate the boost a blog can have on your career. There are lots of stories of bloggers who began writing out of passion and ended up turning that blog into a media empire, or selling it for a tidy profit.

You never know when your digital output — blogs, social media updates, articles on newspaper websites, even comments you post on other sites across the Web — can grab someone's interest and turn into a referral for your next great gig, or a dream assignment, or even just an invite to be a panelist at some conference where you'll be introduced as an expert in your field … all because of your blog.

Don't underestimate the boost a blog can have on your career. There are lots of stories of bloggers who began writing out of passion and ended up turning that blog into a media empire, or selling it for a tidy profit.

Brian Stelter started TVNewser to blog about his interest in the TV industry. MediaBistro bought the blog, and Stelter is now a well-known New York Times media reporter. Mark Luckie started the popular digital journalism and technology blog 10000Words as a side project. Again, MediaBistro bought the blog. Luckie is now national innovations editor for The Washington Post and in 2010 published a book, “The Digital Journalist’s Handbook.”

But even if it just helps you keep your name out there and your writing chops current, wouldn't the blog be worth the effort?

Both WordPress.com and Google’s Blogger.com offer easy-to-use templates for getting started. WordPress.org is a version of WordPress that requires some technical know-how to install on your server.

Whatever platform or technology you use, you’re taking a critical and laudable first step: trying.

Gil Asakawa is chairman of SPJ’s Digital Media Committee and student media manager at the University of Colorado. Interact with him on Twitter: @GilAsakawa

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