Adventures in personal branding: a new website

Using Dreamweaver is like riding a bike: You never really forget how to work it. Unless you drive yourself crazy trying to figure out how to move a div with a Flash presentation in it.

I had plenty of Dreamweaver experiences in J School, but it wasn’t until I had Adobe CS5 for my very own (OK, I got it back in December) and some free time that I decided to finally sit down and make my own personal site. I believe a unique website is something any serious journalist should have, no matter what they do: reporting, editing, photography or design.

I’ve had the WordPress set-up for almost two years. It was meant to be a stop-gap solution until I had long-term access to Adobe again. Essays and schoolwork kept me from doing anything this past spring, but now I have some flexibility. My goal is to transfer my photos, clips and CV to the new site and maintain my WordPress page as a stripped-down, blog-only site.

If you’ve never sat down and built your own website from scratch, I recommend it. It builds character, especially if you’re like me — knowledgeable about the basics of coding but not into anything fancy. It’s kind of fun, picking out colors and typefaces and seeing it come together when you test it in your browser.

One major point that I’m trying to keep in mind is SEO. Namely, I’m making sure that important points are done in searchable text, not just graphics. My navigation so far is graphic-heavy (namely, funky buttons), but I plan to make my CV and portfolio pages as textual as possible. If you’re thinking about making your own site, make sure that your content will show up in search engines.

The work has also given me the chance to reacquaint myself with an old nemesis: Flash. I don’t particularly care for it, but I needed its sweet, sweet slideshow utility. Three hours later I had what I wanted. It looks pretty good. I still don’t like Flash.

So my work continues, and I’m hopeful that within a few weeks I’ll have something that I’m comfortable taking live.

Just please don’t look at the code. I tend to overcompensate with code detail and I prefer my CSS to be listed with everything else, even though it’d be far more logical to just attach a separate stylesheet. I like being able to see everything.

So please, if and when my page goes up, ignore my granny pants.

 

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What’s Google+ waiting on?

Google+ is working on developing business/brand accounts, and asking businesses not to join the network yet. It seems reasonable on the surface, but it could easily backfire.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my first impressions of Google+. I liked it a lot then, and I like it now. I’m noticing, though, that there’s an unhappy trend in posts from people in my Circles. There’s a prevailing attitude of, “Well now what do we do?”

Some brands have managed to slip through. Pete Cashmore of Mashable has a personal Google+ profile that he’s now “winding down” in preparation for a Google+ branded account for Mashable. This is after Mashable’s original personal-esque account went on hiatus. It’s enough to give you whiplash.

Given the benefit of hindsight, I have to wonder if Google wouldn’t have been wiser to beta test branded accounts first, or in conjunction with the very first personal accounts. Waiting until the site has 20 million users before actively discussing branded accounts (and suspending many branded accounts masquerading as personal ones) is like opening a shopping mall with no stores.

A site like Facebook, which started out as personal and casual and only gradually migrated to a more business-friendly approach, is a different animal. The main draw of Google+, near as I can tell, was always the networking/professional aspect. Some people I follow or who follow me use it casually, but the vast majority of them post about technology, journalism and politics. Even the personal is professional.

We can always discuss such things on personal accounts, but if we can’t engage with “official” newspaper, TV station, magazine, business and news site accounts, what can that accomplish?

Google+ needs to present a clear and compelling reason for its existence and open up the personal-to-business channels, or it’ll be drowning in cat GIFs in six months for lack of anything else for people to do.

5 tips for the journalist in limbo

There comes a time in (nearly) every journalist’s career when she (or he) has to take a break from the profession, for whatever reason. I’m in that position now, with graduate school. I admit that at times, without a paper or news site for which to edit, design or write, I have something of an existential breakdown. Am I still a journalist?! Is someone in a trench coat going to revoke my membership card? 

That kind of a break, whether it lasts months or years, or is permanent or temporary, can be difficult to take. Here are some ways for the journalist in limbo to stay sharp (or more accurately, they’re how this journalist in limbo stays sharp).

1. Keep writing. I write all the time — blog entries, academic essays, dissertation notes, tweets, neurotic emails to my mother. It doesn’t have to be publishable or even journalistic. Stay used to writing as much as you can. It keeps your voice, grammar and mechanics sharp. If you’re in school, academic research is good practice for looking up public records. I’m looking up Hungarian electoral data; what are Sarah Palin’s emails compared with that?

2. Keep reading. I read and skim a ton of content every day. The New York Times, Washington Post, Mother Jones, Huffington Post, Guardian, BBC, Poynter, Telegraph, Gawker, Mashable, Slate, Salon and Kansas City Star form my core go-to links, but there are probably dozens more that I visit tangentially. Not only do I stay connected with global, national and local news, but I also get a good dose of quality writing and reporting. Good writing comes from good reading.

3. Keep practicing skills. This could be any one thing, or several small things. For instance, I’m working through HTML and CSS exercises in a workbook, and sampling some free online courses through News University. The code work is a refresher of basic skills I learned in J school, and the online tutorials offer a more theoretical approach to ethics, business planning and management. News University also offers inexpensive online help with several critical applications like InDesign and Photoshop, if you’re interested in that.

4. Stay engaged with social media. I tweet all the time, on a variety of topics — politics, sports, cooking, travel, movies — and it helps me practice brevity in my writing (see #1), engage others in dialogue, learn about different sources of news and practice filtering information. I’m also active in Foursquare (I love leaving tips) and maintain a LinkedIn account. You don’t need a steady journalism job to build an audience.

5. Network, as an extension of #4. Talk to people and follow people in a wide range of professions, not just journalism. Think of everyone as a potential source. Follow accounts that regularly link to job postings, maintain a website for your professional use and keep all of your contact information up to date. I created and ordered my own business cards, which I designed myself from scratch. Use the time when you’re not beholden to a media company to cultivate your own brand and learn how to sell yourself.

I’d be jumping the gun if I told you that the above points were guaranteed recipes for success (I’m still in graduate school and don’t have a job yet), but they’ve definitely helped me to stay in the loop and feel connected to my chosen profession.

I’ve worked for a newspaper of some kind in a staff capacity almost non-stop since I was 15: four years on my high school paper, four years on the University Daily Kansan and consecutive summers at the Indianapolis Star, Columbus Dispatch and Kansas City Star. It’s taken me a while to accept that while it’s awesome to get paid to write and edit and have an official press pass, my writing and opinions aren’t necessarily less valid if I’m not employed at a newspaper. Do I eventually want a full-time job in journalism? Yes, I think I do. But that doesn’t mean I have to sit and twiddle my thumbs until I get one, and neither do you.