Last week I was interviewed via email by Alesa Commedore, a journalism student at the Univeresity of South Florida, for a Q&A on Aspiring Journalists. With her permission, I’m republishing my answers for posterity. The answers, which read like a journo-biography of sorts, are the same as the original interview — with a few additional links.
Why did you decide to study journalism? What made it appeal to you?
GL: My experience on the high school newspaper for three years set me on a path to study journalism in college. Also, a conference for journalism scholarship winners in DC cemented my decision to do so, providing a broader view of what’s like to work in news. At the time, my interest in writing and current events provided much of the foundation for my interest in journalism, but I later realized my motivations included the collaborative nature of the work, ability to constantly learn and try new things.
How was your university experience? Do you think your university/professors have prepared you for the realities of the industry?
GL: I attended the University of Miami, where I received a double major in journalism and political science with a minor in Spanish. My experience was extremely positive because I took advantage of all the university had to offer. Specifically, I worked on The Miami Hurricane staff for three years and served in an advisory role as a senior, enrolled in more journalism classes than were required and even took several visual journalism classes outside my major. I also made connections with professional journalists and other student editors in South Florida. Overall, my schooling provided a very important foundation that was supplemented and further built upon by other opportunities I pursued.
Today you hear many stories of newspapers going under and journalists losing their jobs. What was it like to be a journalism student during such an uncertain period of time in the industry? How did that make you feel?
GL: Following the professional news business closely in college, experiencing it first-hand at internships and hearing stories at conferences provided a realistic view of the state of news organizations. I knew the reality and sometimes felt dismayed that so many news organizations were struggling and people were losing their jobs, but I was never dissuaded or discouraged from pursuing journalism after I graduated. Instead, I saw infinite opportunities and focused on the positive aspects of how digital technologies could improve how journalism is practiced. Journalism might have previously been an “industry” when the barrier to producing news products was high, but I don’t believe there is such a thing anymore. Anyone can practice journalism and publish, broadcast and engage online. You don’t need to work at a legacy news organization do that.
How have you prepared for the field as a journalism student (internships, getting clips, etc)?
GL: As I mentioned in the second answer, I pursued a number of different avenues to learn more and better prepare myself as a journalist. My resume offers a comprehensive list and a top 10 list of tips I wrote has more in-depth thoughts on this. The most important things for me included:
Co-founding CoPress, a college media tech startup, with other student editors as a senior.
Working for The Miami Hurricane, at least a little in almost every role on the editorial side. Leading the effort to move our site from College Publisher to WordPress represents one of the highlights of my time as editor. Without that — and doing it so publicly — I likely would have not been involved with CoPress
Attending local, regional and national events and conferences because of my involvement with The Hurricane and the student SPJ chapter.
Living my life as a college editor and journalism student publicly online, whether it was through blogging or engaging with others on Twitter.
When I went to conferences, I would liveblog, tweet and sometimes stream sessions. By doing so, I was providing value to people who couldn’t attend and their sharing of my live coverage increased my presence and reputation. My primary reason for doing this: because I would want others to do the same for events I couldn’t attend — and was inspired by others who did the same in varying degrees.
Freelancing before I started college and interning each summer during college. Also, seeing each experience as much more than just an opportunity to get clips, but primarily to learn and improve as a journalist. Keeping in touch with people at those internships was also valuable.
Taking additional journalism classes, plus several visual journalism classes
Talking with older students about good classes and professors.
Getting to better know professors beyond merely taking their classes, including getting to know professors before I even took a class with them.
It’s implicit to almost all these items, but in one word: networking.
How do you think technology will affect the future of journalism? What do you think are the pros and cons? Are there any cons?
GL: Technology has been a big part of my experience working in journalism, beginning in high school and in everything I’ve done since then. But that’s not unique. Technology has always been a significant part of journalism, but now it’s digital instead of analog and distributed instead of only owned by media companies. I see technology as something that journalists should not only use, but also create and shape. We should be disruptors, not disrupted by new technologies and the resulting changes in business models. That doesn’t mean every journalists needs to become a programmer or engineer, but they should all possess a fundamental understanding of the role of technology in society, how it works and how they best use it to better do their jobs. If they don’t have the skills to create technology, they should have the skills to effectively work with those who do.
Despite my love of technology, I’m no utopian and — as with everything — think there are certainly cons to technology. It’s hard to paint technology pros and cons broadly, but I would say that the biggest pro is the ability to help us do things humans can’t do — or can’t do as well — and the biggest con is the relative ease of which technology can be misused and abused. In response, I think we need to identify and address the cons, not ignore or avoid them.
How has technology affected you as a journalism student?
GL: Personally, I’ve always been interested in technology. That interest increased significantly as a teenager and even more so in the past few years. I’ve gone from a journalist interested in technology during high school to someone working at the intersection of journalism and technology at Publish2. Looking back at my high school newspaper experience, I see how I served as the de facto IT person. Yes, I fixed paper jams, operated the scanner, downloaded photos from the digital camera, conducted an InDesign workshop for the staff and things like that. But I also created the first email account for The Circuit [view my first version; their current site] — no one else ever thought to — and built its first website in Dreamweaver — design view, the thought of which makes me cringe today.
How did your preparation and experience help with your job search?
GL: Everything I did to improve as a journalist helped me so that I didn’t even need to do a job search after graduating. I applied for a Publish2 job contest online in January 2009, while still in college and before I began a formal search. My work, experience and other qualifications stood for any prospective employer to see. To get the Publish2 job, I:
Had my entry voted up to the top 10 (I held the top spot for a while and finished with a close second rating of my entry).
From those 10, Publish2 conducted a first round of interviews before a second and final round (both of mine were Skype voice calls).
How have you incorporated the web (social media, personal websites) to market yourself for the industry?
GL: I defer to David Cohn: “It is NOT personal branding – it’s just living your life online.” The point is you shouldn’t market yourself for the sake of marketing yourself — what you do and how you lead your life in public should be all “marketing” you need. That includes connecting with people online and in-person (the latter can’t be emphasized enough), experimenting with new tools and platforms, attending events and conferences, volunteering and adding value (such as with the live coverage) whenever you can.
What are your ultimate hopes/dreams for your career in this industry?
GL: I try to avoid specific plans and focus on more general goals. To quote my friend Michelle Minkoff, my ideal job hasn’t been created yet. Personally, I know that I want to continue working at the intersection of journalism and technology, pushing forward in what I do and how I do it.
What advice can you give to journalism students who are preparing to enter this career?
GL: Most of the advice I’d give is included included in the list of tips. Some other points:
A degree is not a ticket to a job.
When you graduate, you should be fully prepared to get a job or make your own.
Look for opportunities outside the traditional realm. Be receptive to new and different opportunities.
Find people and materials that challenge your assumptions, inspire you and better inform your perspective. Search beyond the journalism world for answers and insights.
An open mind, ability adapt, drive to continuously learn on your own and deep passion are some of the most important and fundamental traits to be successful in whatever you do. Take all those traits, go forward and do awesome work.
Update: I’ve embedded a second video about The Myths of Innovation (thanks to a tip from Scott Berkun) and added a link to a related Q&A published on Berkun’s blog.
“Innovation” is probably one of the most — if not the most — overused words you’ll read or hear on The Interwebs.
Despite how commonly it’s thrown around, there is still value in discussing innovation if you can avoid the silliness. Below are two people well worth listening to when they discuss this topic: Steven Johnson and Scott Berkun.
What I appreciate about Johnson’s approach is not that he claims to be selling some secret sauce, but instead reverse-engineers important innovations.
Based on my live tweets, below are notes from the event (in chronological order, edited for clarity and with some links added):
Johnson worked on the new book deliberately for four years. He started thinking about origin of ideas when writing Ghost Map.
He looked both at the places and environments that bred human and biological innovation, respectively.
He found seven recurring patterns in the innovations he explores, which became the chapters and helped structure the book. [Patterns/chapters: The Adjacent Possible, Liquid Networks, The Slow Hunch, Serendipity, Error, Exaptation, Platforms)
In all these moments of inspiration, it usually happens slower than we assume; involves borrowing and remixing ideas.
We have a desire to tell inspirations as moments of insight -- the "eureka" moment. But often that's not the case.
I’ll be sure to link the webcast replay when it’s available (also, check out The Top 10 Innovation Myths slideshow). For now, my live tweets from the webcast are below (in chronological order, edited for clarity and with some links added):
“Best thing since sliced bread” phrase refers to innovation not of just that, but that PLUS auto-wrapping to keep the bread fresh.
Avoid using: fundamental change, transformative, revolutionary, breakthrough, innovative, game-changing, out-of-the-box.
When he hears those words/phrases, he challenges the speaker to explain why something is being described as such.
You should worry about clear communication first, not “innovation.” “Don’t use it, you don’t need it.”
Innovation means significant positive change. It’s an outcome, not something you do as a daily activity.
Facts from @berkun: most products/companies suck, good products are rare, start with being consistently good, good is hard enough.
Occam’s Razor principle: if you have two solutions to a problem, the simplest one is probably the best.
“Big ideas look weird in the present.” The solution: learn to recognize and appreciate — don’t reject — weird ideas.
“Innovation is often best measured in relative fashion,” he says. “For any invention, there are multiple views on the value.”
Views of innovation: What you think, the person who buys thinks, makers think, the market thinks, historians will think.
“Creativity is a kind of work” that comes from effort, experience, etc. [It's not magic.]
Edison’s research lab was innovative because it created an environment for experimentation
Poynter College Fellows win again, this time on video. Seriously, that e-mail group is inspiring me. And, yes, I was asked directly. I don’t just randomly spout off like this. Ok, not THIS much. Thanks #pcf09 kids.
This is in response to a request for advice on teaching a video workshop for high school journalists [Update: to clarify, they already have some video recording and editing experience]. One earlier point I made in the thread was about Web vs. TV. And with that...
Ok, so in general, mostly big-picture tips for videojournalism. Quick follow-up, I shouldn’t have said “Web video” before. I consider this advice more in the non-traditional broadcast style because “Web video” should scale to mobile, TV, Hulu, iPhones, pocket watches (wait, what?), whatever (h/t Chuck Fadely re scaling).
I’m biased toward a documentary-style videojournalism, so here it goes:
The story rules. If it’s all pretty pictures, make me a slideshow.
You’re making a video — not taking a video (h/t Kenny Irby, who really brought it home). It’s not yours. You’re just helping the person or people tell their story or stories (h/t Rich Beckman).
Lexicon is important (h/t Kenny). Just like with making vs. taking, you’re not shooting, killing, chopping anything. And you’re not a shooter. Words matter. You’re better than that.
Video for Web can’t suck just because it’s online. As Rich says, it should be better because it’s primarily being viewed at a smaller size, which enhances your sense of imperfections. But it can also be viewed full-screen, on TV, etc.
Shorter = better. But there’s no rule for length. It should be as long (really, as short) as it needs to be.
You’re not doing soundbites — you need to ask subjects questions so you have them telling as complete a story as possible [Update: As Eric noted in the comments, and I almost included here the first time, this includes making sure you have full sentences. Also, I'll add that you need to the proper context. How? Awesome questions.], which leads to…
Avoid narration (way too many people use it as a crutch, both on Web and TV). It should be your absolute last resort. Only reason to use it, I think, is if the story suffers without it. Also, somewhat related…
Ditch standups. I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to hear you. I’m watching your video because I care about the subject — not you. Sorry.
On that note, I don’t really want to see them talking either. More so if it’s just them sitting in a chair, in a boring office, with their boring talking head. The less talking head, the better. If I only see a talking head once, I’m happy.
Get it in the field, the first time (h/t Jim Virga). Yes, technology allows you to clean up sound and color correct video, but it’s still not going to be as good, it can be very time consuming and it’s lazy [field work]. In that vein…
There’s a saying that audio is 70 percent of video (h/t Miami Herald vjs). Most people are more forgiving if the visuals aren’t great, but if the audio sucks, they’re probably saying see ya. I can’t emphasize audio enough.
Headphones. Always. It shouldn’t even need to be on here. And they’re not your be-all-end-all. The audio meter to see levels is your bestest friend in the whole wide world.
Have the eye of a photojournalist making pictures when you aim the camera.
Get tons of b-roll. There’s an 80:20 “rule,” which basically means get a lot more footage than you need. Which ties into…
You may only have one chance to get everything you need. Don’t take anything for granted in terms of interviews and b-roll.
No canned shots or b-roll. If you ask someone to repeat something they’ve done or do something they plan to do, you’re making stuff up. Sorry. Not good journalism. Any re-enactments, simulations, etc. should, first, be avoided at all costs and, if you must, be clearly disclosed.
Record mostly in the range of medium and tight, but be sure to get establishing (wide) shots.
Story. Just wanted to make sure you remembered.
There’s no formula.
Try interesting angles and approaches (h/t Mike Schmidt). Break outside the “safe” zone (h/t Jim). If it doesn’t work, don’t use it. If it does, cool.
Your goal should be to use as few (ideally, no) automatic settings as possible (go manual with exposure, white balance, sound and focus) once you’re comfortable with the gear (h/t Jim). I want you to say, “This is my camera. There are many like it, but this one is mine.” You need to explore all the buttons and menus and settings. You need to be able to troubleshoot any problem that you could possibly troubleshoot. When you’re a professional, you can’t make excuses (h/t Jim Virga). No one will want to work with you. If it’s really beyond your control, then it might not be your fault, but you still don’t have what you need. (This is more a problem on deadline.)
Just because you can create a video full of narrative, doesn’t mean you should. Sometimes, you just need to let the pictures do the talking. If the video can show it better than a person can describe, just leave that out.
There is no perfect video. It can never really be finished (h/t Jim Virga). You need to accept and embrace that it can always be better. That’s why it’s so important to knock out as much as you can as early as you can. The more time you have to edit and re-edit and re-edit again, the more time you have to get feedback, the more time you have to sleep on it, etc., the better.
How’s that audio? Just checking.
Send it to everyone who’s opinion you value or can give you constructive feedback. That’s good for several reasons; namely, it’ll will make you better and it will help get your work/name out there.
Show your video to the subjects. If they have e-mail, send them the link. If they don’t, go to them with your computer. Again, it’s not for you. It’s for them and your viewers. (h/t Rich)
There’s no magic. It’s not something you’re born with. It’s almost all skills you can learn with practice.
You’re doing an important job. Keep at it and kick butt.
Non-attributed parts were learned along the way on my own or by some combination of by lessons from professors Rich Beckman and Jim Virga and professionals (check out their stuff online): Chuck Fadely, Travis Fox, Brent McDonald, Garrett Hubbard, Ricardo Lopez and other people I’ve seen speak. Also from articles and blog posts. Just trying to give proper credit.
Documentaries are great sources of inspiration [we watched parts of several in Jim's class]
And, of course, video journalism on news sites (NYT, WaPo, MediaStorm and the like)
That got a little out of hand again. Sorry. I wasn’t trying to be comprehensive, so there may be some points left out.
Everyone: What would you add/subtract/take the square root of?
Good luck, sir.
PS. Yeah, I’ll probably blog this one too. You guys are good, inspiring me to write!
Same question: What would you add/subtract/take the square root of?
Update: I’ve made some minor grammatical changes.
Update 2: People in the e-mail thread have added great insights, such as understanding video for different platforms at a conceptual level, how to plan, how to improvise, etc. Interviewing is huge too. After doing videojournalism for a about two years, I can say without a doubt it has made me a much better interviewer (and listener) after being primarily a text-based reporter for the five years prior.
By a factor of four, this has become the most popular page/post on my site with more than 2,200 pageviews (Sidenote: I began using Google Analytics on Jan. 15, 2008 and have been blogging since Nov. 24 – yes, I missed my first blogging anniversary).
I don’t want to navel-gaze, but I’d like to use this as a quick lesson in the power of the Web, specifically Google and linking. Some of my inspiration for publishing these figures comes from Mindy McAdams and William (Mark) Hartnett, so I’ll tip my hat.
Links to the “top 10″ post have appeared on several sites, including this recent post by Suzanne Yada:
With the exception of zero pageviews from Aug. 17 to Sept. 6 (I have no idea why), the post has been viewed almost daily. Traffic increased after Sept. 7 and has been up markedly Suzanne’s post on Jan. 1.
The top traffic sources (by pageviews, including those temporarily under a different URL) were:
Being such a big fan of Twitter, I’m a little disappointed by that number. But it’s important to note that this post came only one month into my experience with Twitter when I had no Twitterfeed set up and relatively few followers.
Fellow SEO nerds, take note of the top five keywords:
journalism tips (150)
advice for journalism students (68)
top 10 journalism colleges (44)
tips for journalism students (30)
tips on journalism (30)
Conclusion: If you want a post to have a long shelf life (now I’m channeling Pat Thornton), make it timeless and make sure it’s got good SEO juice.
Another method is to save links to your most noteworthy posts on your social networks. For example, I manually shared the link on Publish2, Delicious and Wired Journalists. Also, my blog is included in the Wired Journalist Feedstream, which includes these cool people.
Finally, make friends. They’ll give you link love. And maybe they’ll get some link love that helps you too.
How have I built my online brand? Like many who responded to this month’s topic, some of my online branding has been unintentional.
But I’ll freely admit that there are several steps I’ve taken with my online brand in mind. What follows includes a mix a both:
If you want to go way back, the first time I put my name on the Web came in middle school when I made a Hometown at AOL site (Hometown was shut down awhile back).
I later created a more formal personal site, first on FreeWebs in fall 2004. Next, I built an HTML site created in (cringe) Word and designed with (double cringe) frames for a non-journalism class project in fall 2006. No surprise, I took that one down. Then came a clean and simple HTML/CSS site I hand-coded for an online journalism class project in spring 2008.
I set up a blog, first on Blogger in November 2007 and then moved it to a self-hosted WordPress site on WebFaction in August 2008. The blogging engine doesn’t inherently help your brand, but using WordPress over Blogger has two distinct advantages. For one, I think people respect WordPress more. Second, it shows you are more blog-savvy, especially if you purchase hosting and set it up on your own. Finally, give your blog a unique name (mine is The Linchpen) and a clear tagline (mine is “A blog about online journalism and journalism education).
Your blog and/or personal site should have a few key things: an about page with a brief biography, a resume, work samples (writing, video, whatever) and a way for a visitor to contact you.
Don’t forget microblogging! Do not underestimate the power of Twitter. Seriously. I have 10 times more followers on Twitter than I have RSS and e-mail subscribers on my blog (I track those stats with Feedburner). I also use Twitter and find it more more useful than “normal” blogging. My online brand is enhanced because I offer updates on my journalism-related activities, provide various insights, share links (including links to new blog posts), contribute to discussions, answer questions and offer assistance when people have problems.
Flickr, YouTube, del.icio.us, Vimeo and other social media. In short, I’m on too many. Tip: don’t drive yourself crazy trying to do everything. Focus on what you enoy and what works best for you. After initially driving myself a little crazy, I found a good balance last spring and I’ve adapted that balance since then based on my interests, etc.
Wired Journalists and other journalism-related Ning groups. If you’re not on Wired Journalists, that should be one of the first things you do after reading this post.
Publish2 – This network is at least a triple threat: create a profile to promote you and your experience, post links to your clips and blog posts and share general links (you can also save them to del.icio.us and post to Twitter by checking two boxes with Publish2′s nifty browser tool). They also have this really cool contest, “I am the future of journalism,” where they are offering the winner a job (shameless plug: vote for my entry!).
Link to people because they are likely reciprocate, depending on the circumstances. The more people mention or link to you, the better.
From blogging to joining Wired Journalists, a huge part of building your brand is joining the conversation. Why be a shadow of a person when you can give yourself a face, a voice and an identity. And make friends!
Work, associations and affiliations
The Miami Hurricane – Having your name attached to known news organization is helpful. Having your name and a leadership position attached to a known news organization is very helpful. Apparently, I did such a good job ingraining online that I was the editor in chief that some people still think I am (that honor belongs to Matthew Bunch* this year). I was the face of The Hurricane and you should be a face for your organization.
The Miami Herald – The earliest memory I have of my name appearing on a Google search result came when I participated in the Herald’s “Teen Speaks” program during my junior and senior years of high school. Since then, I’ve freelanced for the community news section in summer 2005 and worked as a metro intern (writing and video) in summer 2008. Same deal here; your name + their name = good for your brand. I’ve also interned for the South Florida Sun Sentinel and Forum Publishing Group.
CoPress – I am the community manager and a core team member, so I am one of the most public faces for the organization. Being a part of and leader with a first-of-its-kind, innovative, foward-thinking organization can’t be a bad thing. Similar to what I do on Twitter, I’m offering insights, advice and joining a conversation, in addition to be part of a group that aims to help collge news sites.
Tomorrow’s News, Tomorrow’s Journalists – Yeah, that’s this group! w00t. You can show off your blog smarts, promote yourself and cross-promote your blog. Another instance of being associated with a know brand or a brand larger than yourself (particularly something related to what you want to do – journalism) is very helpful.
Online News Association – I can only deduce that my role as student group leader resulted from the online presence, brand and reputation I had established beforehand. Having this role only helps add to my online brand. It’s yet another example of associating with a big-name, professional organization.
Society of Professional Journalists – This year I’m the University of Miami chapter president. That doesn’t really help build up my online brand. Entering contests does. This makes it possible to win awards, which gets your name on a nice press release (2005 and 2007), is always good. It’s especially when those press releases are posted on major news sites like Yahoo and Reuters.
Capitalize on associations – Example: “Miami Herald internship” is the second most popular keyword people use to find my blog (The most popular keyword is “greg linch.” I know that because I use Google Analytics). Two students found my blog last summer during my internship and asked for advice about applying. Besides showing your not a cut-throat shark, giving advice and helping people adds to your reputation and, therefore, your brand.
Overall, it’s been about five years since I’ve had what I consider an active online presence. I will continue to build my online brand, passively and actively, as time goes on because this is not a task that’s every really completed.
So, what should you do?
Search for your name on Google. Consider where you are online and where you’d like to be. Set goals. Brand yourself and join the conversation.
Good luck! Feel free to contact me with any questions.
*Related to Matthew Bunch’s site, I created his portfolio site for a Web production class assignment – free of charge. Considering this post and that experience, I think it’s significant because it shows how helping your peers can contribute to your brand as a good person – not selfishly guarding your brand. Also, it shows I can make an HTML/CSS site from scratch.