Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tips to Future-proof Your Journalism Career

In the past week, we've heard about big job cuts at Time Inc.'s myriad publications, along with AOL and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, among others. Right now, we're standing at 14,366 layoffs and buyouts at newspapers in 2009, according to the Paper Cuts blog.

While nothing is guaranteed in life -- or in one's journalism career -- there are things you can do to make it much harder for the powers that be to lay you off when that time comes. Most people don't realize it, but companies tell you what skills and knowledge they value. But some people do not listen.

Back in 2006, our company leadership told us that all things digital was where we were heading for the future. They specifically told us they wanted blogs, podcasts, video, photos and whatever else it took to get us from point A to point B. I heard them loud and clear and began scrambling to attend seminars, conferences, workshops, webinars and whatever else it took to learn these skills.

Am I perfect? No. But in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed woman is king. I've done enough to show my bosses that I heard what they said, took it seriously and took it upon myself to do what was asked. We have not been immune to layoffs. During the last round, I actually got a promotion, and my digital skills were cited as a big reason.

So I read this post -- 25 things journalists can do to future-proof their careers -- on the eConsultancy blog with great interest. A lot of them had to do with using digital media tools. I won't comment on all 25 recommendations, but I will touch on a few of them.

Number one on the list was Blog, and I agree. "Start your own personal blog today. Or better still, start a subject-themed blog. This will be very empowering if you haven’t done it before." I am a big fan of blogging. I've had a personal blog since 2004, which has morphed into this one. I started our publication's first official blog -- Towers and Tarmacs -- in 2006 (thanks to training from the National Association of Black Journalists). And I'm now posting regularly to the new NABJ Digital blog.

Write About Your Passion is number 4 on the list. I am blessed in that I get paid to write about my hobby and my passion -- all things aviation. But if your current beat doesn't do that for you, eConsultancy advises: "Try to write about a passion at least once a week. It will help build out your portfolio. You’ll feel happier about your work. You’ll be able to express your opinions. And you may engineer a way out of a dead end job."

Number 5 is Feeds FTW. The blog recommends setting up RSS feeds for search terms on sites including Google News, Twitter and Digg. For a great primer on RSS, check out this post on the 10,000 Words blog. It also recommends setting up Google Reader to push content to you directly. I don't know what I'd do without mine, which is split between aviation, social media and journalism sites.

Numbers 16 and 17 -- Objectivity Is Overrated and Subjectivity Kicks Ass -- can be a bit hard for some journalists to embrace, especially those used to the old rules. I still write by the rules in my publications, but on the blog, anything goes. We all have opinions, and the industry is moving toward a more personalized style of writing.

Be Platform Agnostic is Number 24. Gone, thank goodness, are the days when there were strict lines between the online and published product. These days, I write a story and decide where it will best fit. My unit has a monthly magazine, a weekly PDF newsletter, a daily premium subscriber web site, a free news site and a blog. I have learned to slice and dice an overall big story and funnel it to the most appropriate place.

And last -- but certainly not least -- Do It Now. "Don’t fear the web. Don’t wait for your boss to tell you to learn some new skills. If you have a mental barrier and have filed yourself under ‘offline’ then slap yourself about the face, have a stiff drink, and then reset your watch." I was scared to death when I started my journey. I am an old school journalist who started her career on electric typewriters. But I love journalism, I love my job and Mama has a baby to feed, so I had to suck it up and jump in with both feet.

I did a quick count of the list and found I was doing 19 of the 25 tips. A nice goal for me for 2010 is to hit all 25! Again, there's no 100% foolproof guarantee that doing all this will protect you from layoffs. But it will make it harder for the boss to target you in cuts, and if the worst happens, you have skills that put you ahead of the game.


  1. The more tips from the list you follow, the better your personal brand will be. What has emerged with Twitter and blogs is a list of (now) recognizable journalistic talent, loosely aggregated in a single organization. Ten years ago, business people read publications. Now they follow experts (you) who happen to work for a particular outfit.

    Each of the (good) journalist has a personal brand and good publications will leverage these brands to build profitable products and reputation.

    In football terms, Favre has a personal brand that transcend the team (organization) he plays for. Minneapolis is then leveraging that brand to produce a product (the Vikings) that people are interested in.

    Benet, continue to strive to be a "Favre" of Aviation Journalism and seek a team that will be able to leverage your brand.

  2. Awesome advice. I'm going to permalink this entry.