Copy-paste journalism wants to be free

Google News is a depressing read for a journalist. It shows you how many news outlets depend on copy-and-paste reporting, regurgitating the same press releases and quotes in an infinite loop. Who needs all these clones of the same story, with the same basic facts and sources? [Read more…]

Five questions you should ask about your online brand

Following Robert Hernandez’s piece from Monday, I’d like to talk a bit more about branding yourself online.

Whether you like it or not, and whether you intend to or not, you build a brand online with your first public post. Given the ubiquity of information available about people from a very young age today, I’d even argue that *not* posting anything about yourself suggests characteristics for your personal brand (i.e. you’re a technophobe or maybe just highly protective of your privacy).

Don’t allow inaction to define your brand. If you want to maximize your audience, your social impact and your economic value online, you should build your brand actively, and with intent.

So here’s your first question:

What is my brand name online?

What’s the name that you use (or will use) online, the one by which the most people are most likely to know you? (See Robert’s piece, linked above, for some great backstories on how a few online journalists came to their online brands.)

Your given name is an obvious choice, but it’s likely not unique. (I remain thankful to this day that I registered my daughter’s name as a dot-com domain before a bikini model of the same name could get to it.) Nor are given names always short and easy-to-recall. Which are you more likely to remember? “Markos Moulitsas”… or “Kos“?

Don’t worry too much about this question, though. If Internet users can come to regard “Amazon” as an online store instead of a river in South America, almost any word can be branded to almost any purpose.

For what does your brand stand?

Here’s where we get to the important stuff. What do you want people to think of when they think of your brand?

For writers, the answer might be your area of expertise – the beat you cover. Or it might be a specific tone, an attitude, if your subject matter tends toward the eclectic. When I worked at Disney, trainers drilled into my head that our brand stood for consistently high-quality family entertainment. Choose whatever you want. Just choose something. Don’t let inaction or a lack of thought define your brand.

Your brand name provides an initial opportunity to define the meaning of your brand, but what you do under that brand name will have far greaterin influence on your audience. But before you think about how you’ll do that, envision what it is that you want people to think or feel when they encounter your brand.

To do that, ask yourself:

What reward does a consumer get for using (reading, engaging with) your brand?

These are the specific take-aways that your audience will get from its engagement with you: such as increased knowledge about a specific issue, a tip to help them through the day, a joke or fresh perspective, a fun link they’ll want to share. You can offer a variety of take-aways to your audience, but unless you have the resources of a Disney or other multi-national corporation, the more focused you are about what you offer, the more sharply focused (and thus, memorable) your brand will be to the audience.

If you are to have a powerful brand, people must know what to expect from it.

Where are you defining and promoting your brand?

Now that you’ve defined what you are, what you stand for, and what you deliver, you can work backward to where you’ll be delivering these take-aways to your audience.

Remember, every place that you contact your audience counts here – not just on your website, on Facebook, and on Twitter, but also at industry conferences, in e-mails, on voice-mail messages and even out in public within the community you cover. Every contact with the audience is a brand-building opportunity.

You don’t have to take all those opportunities, but you should think about them. When I walk into a theme park, for example, I have an opportunity to build my brand by reaching out to current and potential website readers who also are visiting that park that day, as well as to park employees who might become sources for my website. But I have to weigh those opportunities against my desire to experience the park as a “regular” visitor, so I can report on my experience, as a consumer advocate.

Sometimes I use a visit to build my brand. Sometimes I choose only to report. Whichever I choose, though, I want to be doing something with each theme park visit that builds value for my website, either in building audience or collecting material for use on the site. At the very least, I don’t want to damage it.

Which brings me to my final question:

What are you doing online that could undercut or dilute your brand value?

If everything you do online provides a brand-building opportunity, those moments provide brand-destroying ones, as well.

Think of all the places you post online. Think of the language you use, the links you forward, the topics you cover. Are they all building your brand? Or do you sometimes post items that aren’t on topic for your brand, or that use language or point to links which are inconsistent with the tone and voice that you want to deliver?

If so, you should consider either changing how you behave online, or restricting the audience you reach with that behavior.

For example, I’ve decided to use my Facebook account for communicating only with personal friends and a few folks within my professional sphere with whom I feel comfortable sharing personal details. I’ve de-friended many journalism colleagues on Facebook who don’t fit that description. (So if any of you have noticed that I’m not your FB “friend” anymore, that’s why. I hope you won’t take it personally, and I’m still happy to connect professionally in other forums, such as LinkedIn.)

I’ve followed through by nailing down my Facebook privacy settings, so that what I post there shows up only to friends, and when friends tag me in photos and posts, that shows only to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in transparency and don’t believe in the old-school journalism ethics which dictate that good reporting requires writers to bury all personal information about themselves. Outside of Facebook, when I publish online I want to reveal enough about myself to provide accurate context and build credibility, but I don’t want to reveal so much as to bore (or offend) readers with stuff that’s off-topic to their interests.

Often, it’s not the embarrassing or offensive stuff that does the most damage to your brand, it’s the off-topic drivel that bores your audience and gets them into the habit of ignoring you. Jay Rosen’s done an outstanding job of focusing his Twitter feed on what he calls mindcasting about news media. You won’t find the “lifecasting” details of what he did this weekend or what show he’s watching on TV. That focus sharpens his brand message and makes his brand that much more powerful to his audience.

As a publisher online, your work isn’t about you, or for you. It’s for your audience, and for meeting their needs. If you need a place to write selfishly, create a private space, such as a locked-down Facebook account or restricted-access blog. But even then, don’t assume that something truly embarrassing won’t find its way out to a larger audience.

What’s your brand? What does it stand for? How are you delivering that value? Where are you delivering it? What are you doing that could undercut of dilute that value? If you can’t answer these questions effectively, you’re not doing everything you can to create value for your personal brand online.

What's in a name? Backstories to some personal brands

By now we’ve all heard that the journalism game has changed and we need to take our careers into our own hands: Get a domain, embrace social media and start managing your brand.

But to start, it all begins with one of the most common questions I routinely get. What the heck do I call myself? What’s the name of my brand?

For some lucky folks, their name is unique enough that they are able to secure it as their domain, Twitter handle and more. But for the rest of us, we have to be a bit more creative and invent a new digital identity.

Many times these personal brands are inspired from the most odd places. I know someone whose handle was from Spaceball’s “gone plaid” scene.

Here is a small, somewhat random, collection of personal brands and their backstories.

Digidave // David Cohn
David CohnIt was (from) my college freshman dorm roommate.

This was in 2000 and he was much more technically savvy than me. Granted – at the time this just meant he was on AIM all the time and used his computer as an alarm clock.

I, on the other hand, was going through my hippie phase and believed that we needed to break away from computers, man, and just, ya know, free, man.

He kept telling me to embrace the digital-dave. That became Digidave.

The joke name then lay dormant until I became a tech-writer (the irony) and fully had embraced the digital-dave. After I chose it as my handle on Digg in 2004 – it stuck.

writepudding // Liana Aghajanian
Liana Aghajanian“writepudding” is meant to be a play on the delicious treat, “ricepudding.” It’s rather silly really. When I first started blogging around five years ago, I wanted a name that stood out. I thought to myself, “I really love rice pudding and I obviously love to write,” so I just combined the two and came up with writepudding. It sounds more like an inside joke than I’d like it to, but it feels comfortable and it’s just stuck with me through the years.

Darthcheeta // David Andrew Johnson
David Andrew JohnsonI was given the nickname “cheetah” long ago and have always used variants of it as my usernames, gamertags and chat handles for IRC, ICQ, and AIM. It is not after the cool fast cat, though, but the ape in the Tarzan movies – I’m Cheetah the Web Monkey.

In true early online nerdiness, the really skilled web designers, producers and developers in Scripps came to be known as The Jedi since our knowledge of the Web “force” was so strong – coders and scripters were very rare in journalism in the 90s.

So, of course, when I got promoted out of local properties and went to DC in 2000, the “Jedi” around the company said I had crossed to the dark side – and one registered the AIM screen name “darthcheeta” under my new email address as a going away gag. (Not enough characters for the last h). It stuck and I’ve used it for everything since. …

mediatwit // Mark Glaser
 Mark GlaserI think when I first joined Twitter I figured it was another fly by night social networking tool. I had very mixed feelings about devoting a week of coverage on MediaShift to Twitter in 2007. Anyhow I picked mediatwit because it sounded funny and irreverent. I don’t regret it. I plan to change the name of my podcast to The Mediatwits to build on the name.

What I do regret is not getting the feed @MediaShift which was taken by a squatter/imitator. I do have PBSMediaShift, though.

superjaberwocky // Michael Becker
 Michael BeckerThe name superjaberwocky is my regular online handle, or at least it has been since I started regularly using the Internet back in 1998. I was in high school then, and I attended a summer course at Montana State University where they put us all into a computer lab and told us to sign up for Hotmail accounts, basically saying that it would be good for us to have e-mail accounts set up because they’d be useful in the future or some such nonsense as that.

I was sitting in the lab trying to come up with a username for the then pre-Microsoft Hotmail when I hit upon a word from my childhood memories, “superjabberwocky.” Back when I was a little kid, I would go to the house of a neighborhood girl who was my babysitter. Her brother, older than me, would play board games with me, like chess. Occasionally, he would declare “superjabberwocky,” which meant that he won, no questions asked. (Usually, he wiped the board of all pieces after declaring this.)

I entered the name into the Hotmail signup form and was told that Hotmail usernames were limited to 15 characters. Rather than think up a new name, I dropped one of the B’s, and the name “superjaberwocky” was born.

I had no idea what the jabberwock was until much later. I kept using the name at various e-mail services and online accounts. I even signed up for services I never intended to use, just to make sure I had my username of choice in case that service hit big or in case someone decided that they wanted to steal my online handle. (No one ever has.)

Nowadays, I try to get on board with new Web services early and try to get just my last name at those services, “becker,” as a username. I feel like that will better reflect on me professionally in the future. Still, when all else fails, it’s a pretty safe bet that nobody else is “superjaberwocky.”

littlegirlBIGVOICE // Bethany Waggoner
 Bethany WaggonerSo the name Little Girl Big Voice comes from the fact that I’m not exactly massive LOL, but can still project my voice into a room like nobody’s business. I was that kid in class being told to please use her “inside voice” all the time. Even on the playground. Plus I had opinions. Ask anyone who knows me, I usually have no shortage of things to say about what I think is whack or super dank in the world. So It started as the name of my blog, where I wrote columnesque posts about current events, and then just sort of became the perfect representation of who I am.

ohmykevin // Kevin Cobb
 Kevin CobbWhen I first thought about branding myself online, I knew I wanted the same username for multiple accounts, including a url. Many clever variations of my full name were already being used, so I had to come up with something that was both unique and available.

Around the time of my username search, I became an ordained minister through Universal Life Church. My friends started to jokingly say “OMK!”, short for “OH MY KEVIN!” — and it just stuck with me.

Journerdism // Will Sullivan
Will SullivanI have a pretty common name. First, a fairly common last name in Sullivan and a first name that can be interpreted as a proper name, as well as a verb and a noun. So anytime someone asks a question on the web such as, “Will Sullivan …do so and so…?” it flags alerts I have tracking my name. People asking questions about Blogger/columnist Andrew Sullivan flag me all the time.

There’s a lot of Will Sullivan’s around the world. In fact, at Northwestern (where I studied for my masters degree) another Will Sullivan entered the school the semester after me, which made it lots of fun and still to this day leads to confusion among our classmates, professors and professional associates. He’s a great guy though, so it’s not bad to have my name associated with him.

There’s another Will Sullivan who’s a fictional Boston attorney in some mystery novel that I kept seeing alerts for. There’s an Australian rugby player, a Georgia football player, a photographer, an aspiring rapper, and another journalist working at the New Orleans Times-Picayune. I actually have a Twitter list tracking some of them that I check out once in a while to make sure no one has scorned their psychotic lover or robbed a bank so I can get a heads up if I need to go on the lamb:

So I basically came to the conclusion that I needed to find some sort of personal brand name, like Madonna or Grand Master Flash, to break out and prevent confusion. I figured I’d never beat out all these other Will Sullivan’s treading on my name — especially in search results — so I started brainstorming names. I’ve been a chronic nerd all my life and involved in journalism since puberty, so mashing the two words together seemed to work into Journerdism.

The ironic thing is over time I’ve built up enough name recognition as Will Sullivan (along with Journerdism) that I have taken the lead for Will Sullivan in search results too.

10,000 Words // Mark S. Luckie
Mark S. Luckie10,000 Words wasn’t my first choice for a blog/Twitter name. I actually wanted to use Prometheus after the legendary Greek man who stole fire from the god and brought it to the people. But that was a little much to explain and plus the domain wasn’t available. So after a little bit of brainstorming, I came up with the name “10,000 Words” which derives from the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words.” It became because the .com domain was already taken by a Japanese site. And the rest is history.?


Allow me to re-introduce myself. In my digital life, I go by:

WebJournalist // est. August 9, 2006
I notice that the .org of it and webjournalism was available. I purchased the domains thinking that one day I’d launch a tool/tips site. A year or so later, I got the Twitter handle and have been trying to establish that as my brand. It wasn’t until I started working at USC that I had a little more time to share my thoughts on Web Journalism. While I’ve gotten compliments on my handle/brand, I think it’s actually shortsighted. It’s the Web now, but what is next?

ElProfe // est. June 26, 2010
This is a recent brand I created just a few months ago specifically for my students. Profe. is Spanish slang for professor. I thought it was representative of how I carry myself in my new role in academia… experimenting with Journalism, Technology and Academia.

iSoar // est. April 18, 1999
My first domain name was based on a logo I created when I was a kid and an obviously lame play on words. I freelance web design, and while an “eye sore” is perhaps the opposite image a designer wants to invoke, I couldn’t help but fall in love with it.

Whatever you chose, whatever inspired that decision, make sure you embrace it and start managing your brand. Put yourself out there and share your work with the world.

Robert Hernandez is a Web Journalism professor at USC Annenberg and co-creator of #wjchat, a weekly chat for Web Journalists held on Twitter. You can contact him by e-mail ([email protected]) or through Twitter (@webjournalist). Yes, he’s a tech/journo geek.