For years, journalists didn’t have to worry about whether they were “marketable.” If you just did a good job reporting or editing the news and didn’t cause waves, you could look forward to a long career. These days, making yourself marketable should be an essential part of managing a media career, whether you’ve been in the business for years and are worried about layoffs or are in J-school hoping to land a job in what is a very tough market.
With the media’s focus on efforts on the Web, you can give your career a makeover by not just accepting change but by being an agent for change. Here’s how:
1. Become a “finder” of new technologies. You can be the person who seems to always see the next steps in the business’s evolution before they come. Start by actually reading blogs that talk about tools journalists could use (Mashable, Publising 2.0, TechCrunch and Poynter — not just Romenesko! — are all great places to start). When you find ideas and tools that you think your organization can use, send an email with a link to the blog to the people who could use the information, or call a meeting to show off the potential uses. Not only will you be seen as helping to keep your organization ahead of the curve, you’ll learn more than you ever expected.
2. Be the social media “guru.” There’s no magic to becoming an expert in social media. Just use the technology with an open mind. Instead of scoffing at Twitter, Facebook and Digg, sign up for them, set up a full profile on each and join some conversations. If you give it enough time, you’ll soon realize that they’re not as silly as their names imply. There is much more to Twitter than finding out what someone ate for lunch — in fact, it can be a great tool for journalists. As you build a presence in the social media realm, you’ll find yourself helping your colleagues set up accounts. Before you know it, you’re a guru. Use that new guru status to come up with ways that your organization can use social media to deliver news and build your brand. You will be seen by management as a forward-thinking employee who “gets it.” That’s a good place to be.
3. Branch out beyond your own job description. Journalism jobs in bigger markets had become highly specialized. People had a few topics in which they became experts. As newsrooms shrink, now is the time to become too valuable to lose. If possible, learn how to do everyone else’s job. Volunteer to help others outside of your expertise with projects. Volunteer to work a shift in another area to fill in for a vacationing colleague. Ask a lot of questions from those who seem to be experts in other areas. If your organization allows for cross-training, be the first to volunteer. The more you soak in, the better. Then when management looks around to see who to keep, you’ll be at the top of their list.
This is a tough time for media. If you love this profession and want to stay in the field (or get into it), don’t bury your head into the sand. Become an innovator and a leader. It can only help.