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Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Sonderman’

A few recent experiences have underscored the value of networking. I’ve seen student or professional journalists launch or advance their careers in part because of their strong professional networks. I’ve also seen student or pro journalists fail to seize valuable networking opportunities. And my professional network continues to bring me opportunities.

I’ve mentioned the value of professional networks in previous posts offering career advice. But I haven’t done a full post on networking yet. So today I start a series on the topic with networking tips. Wednesday I’ll detail how my professional networks have helped deliver most of the jobs in my 45-year journalism and teaching career. Thursday I’ll detail how valuable networking was been in my consulting career. Friday I’ll discuss the importance of a diverse network. Saturday I’ll cover how promotion, which overlaps with networking but isn’t the same, has helped my career.

The series might continue if other ideas occur to me or if colleagues offer to write guest posts. Yes, that’s an invitation to write such a post. I’ll elaborate at the end of this post.

Quality work matters most

I want to start this piece (and will conclude other parts of the series) with an important point that should be obvious, but sometimes isn’t: Networking is nowhere near as important as doing good work.

I’ve encountered some journalists who seem to be cynical about networking or sometimes are openly dismissive of it. They seem to think (or actually say) that their work should speak for itself, and regard networking as some form of ass-kissing or merely as schmoozing.

Your work should speak for itself. But that doesn’t help you unless someone is listening. Networking (with rare exceptions) isn’t a way for unqualified candidates or screw-ups to schmooze their ways to successful careers. And it has drawbacks, such as the “old-boy network” that favored cronyism (usually among white men) over qualifications. (More on diversity issues later in the series.)

If you network effectively, as a job-seeker or a manager responsible for hiring, networking means giving the candidate’s work a chance to speak for itself and the employer a chance to hear from good candidates.

If you’re good and have a strong network, you’re likely to have a more successful career than someone who’s similarly good but has a weak network. I’ve never given someone a job simply because of our connections, and I don’t think I’ve ever been offered a job simply because of connections. But connections have given me and people I’ve hired opportunities to show why we were the best people for jobs.

Make connections

This couldn’t be any simpler: A good professional network results from connecting with other professional journalists. You work for and with journalists in your internships and your first jobs who can help your career later. Professional journalists will speak at your university, and you’ll get a chance to chat and make an impression. You’ll have an opportunity to string a story for a professional media outlet, interacting with an editor in the process. You might attend a journalism conference such as the Online News Association or Excellence in Journalism conferences where students and professionals mix.

Seek out each such opportunity, whether it’s a genuine journalism experience or some grunt work (perhaps picking up the visiting journalist at the airport). You don’t know which connections are going to pay off for you when, so you should seize opportunities to make as many connections as you can.

ireconferencelogo180x700.3Organizations such as Investigative Reporters and Editors (meeting June 16-18 in New Orleans) and ONA (meeting Sept. 15-17 in Denver) provide discounted or complimentary registration for students who help with conference duties. Some will be simple work such as staffing a registration table. But some student work involves livetweeting or blogging about conference sessions for the organization’s website. I’ve been interviewed several times at conferences by students covering the sessions where I spoke.

And don’t just regard the professional journalists you meet as networking opportunities. Other students you meet at the conference are going to have journalism careers, too. Some might end up working some place you’d like to land or might climb the career ladder faster or in a different direction. All of them are potential references for the future, if not prospective bosses or job contacts.

Follow up

When you make a professional connection, you can follow up in a variety of ways. You don’t have to do all of these every time with every person you meet. You shouldn’t become a stalker or a pest. But you should stay in touch with people you interacted with meaningfully. Some ways to follow up:

Follow up by email. If you chatted with someone when you met, continue the conversation by email. Share a link, whether it’s your own writing or someone else’s, that relates to what you discussed. Ask a question (which usually will prompt a response). Don’t ask a favor yet, unless the person offered in person to help. If she did, refer to the offer in your request. If your in-person conversation identified a way you could help the other person, offer assistance yourself. That’s the first and best step toward a mutually beneficial relationship. I went to a conference earlier this month and am following up this week with the people I met there. All have the potential to be helpful in some decisions we’re making for LSU Student Media.

Twitter_logo_blueFollow on Twitter. The person might follow you back, which gives you the opportunity to exchange direct messages. If the person tweets something you find interesting, retweet or reply, so you’re continuing the conversations you started in person. If the person tweets links to his work, click on them and read or watch, so you’re more familiar with the person’s work. Tweet some praise about the best work. Or ask a how’d-you-do-that question in a tweet.

Facebook logo copyFriend on Facebook (maybe). If you feel as though you really became friends in your first connection, send a friend request. This gives you a chance to be in each other’s social conversations regularly and continue the friendship. If your connection was pretty brief and not personal, I don’t recommend friending on Facebook (though you might subscribe to public posts or like someone’s professional page, and comment occasionally, which helps you move toward a friendship).

Follow professional work. After you’ve met someone, pay attention to her work, if the person’s work is easily available online. If you comment on a blog, tweet praise about a story or email a compliment about a video, that helps build your relationship and helps you stand out from all those other students or young journalists the veteran may know. It also helps you understand the journalist’s work and how she might be helpful to you in the future.

Share mutual interests. Your initial contact was probably professional in nature, but might have covered some personal interests, too. Address some of those personal matters in follow-up conversations, particularly if you share some interests. I recently attended a conference with a colleague who is, like me, a Yankee fan, specifically a fan of Bucky Dent and the 1978 Yankees. In the conversation, I told him I blog about the Yankees. In a follow-up email, I shared some links from my blog to posts about Dent and other members of the ’78 Yankees. Because I was pretty public about my cancer treatment, and have tweeted a lot about travel delays, people can (and do) easily make our relationships more personal by asking about my health or referring to me when they tweet about their own travel woes. Don’t force a friendship or fake interests that aren’t genuinely mutual. But if you can naturally expand the conversation beyond the professional, you’re headed toward an actual friendship.

Ask questions. As I mentioned when discussing Twitter above, asking a journalist how he or she did something outstanding is a great way to deepen a relationship. That starts turning a person from a journalist you met somewhere into a mentor. If you’re working on a story that involves data analysis, and you’re struggling a bit, and you read an excellent data story recently by a journalist you met at a conference, email asking if he has a few minutes to answer some questions. You chat by phone or email or Skype, and the veteran helps you do a better story. You publicly thank the journalist on social media when you share the link and perhaps he tweets a link to the story with some praise. And your network connection is growing in value.

Networking isn’t one-way

Your professional network isn’t just a matter of making connections with more experienced journalists who can help you right now or in the near future, though that’s important. As I mentioned above, peers can be important, too. And when you get to be a veteran of my age, younger journalists can be important network connections.

Jim Brady is more than a decade younger than I am. I won’t repeat here the story about how we developed our network connection over digital media, but that effort to connect with a younger colleague resulted in two different jobs working for Jim.

In my first job working for Jim, the people I hired included two young journalists who had earlier made effective network connections with me, Mandy Jenkins and Jeff Sonderman (again, I’ve blogged before about how they made those connections). Well, they’ve both risen to important positions, Mandy as News Director at Storyful and Jeff as Associate Director at the American Press Institute, where either or both might be helpful professionally in the future to me and/or my students. In fact, at this point in my career, they are probably more useful to my students and me as network connections than I am to them.

A few years ago, I interviewed and later offered a job to Alexis Grant, a recent college graduate who was starting her journalism career after a year traveling in Africa. She didn’t take the job I offered her. But we stayed in touch (she guest-blogged for me once) as she launched her career and became successful. Well, I’m still far more experienced than Alexis, but that network connection worked both ways, and she’s hired me to do some training for her staff later this summer.

Help others

Networking can’t be a one-way relationship. If you help other professionals, whether peers or people who (for now) are above you in the journalism chain, it’s bound to help you professionally. Your reward may not be a direct, observable result of one favor resulting in one job interview, but being helpful is good for your reputation, and I think it comes back to help you even more. Some of the most successful journalists I know are some of the most helpful, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

In my view, one of the most self-serving things a journalist can do is help other journalists.

Say thanks

When someone helps you, whether it’s a small favor such as answering a question or spending a few moments with you at a conference, or a huge favor such as helping set up a job interview, say thank you. Say it in person or say it in an email or both. Say it publicly in social media. If it was a big enough favor, a handwritten thank-you card is probably more meaningful than ever in this digital age. People remember colleagues who are grateful. And those who aren’t.

Next:

As noted above, tomorrow I will post about how my network helped lead to most of the jobs I’ve had in journalism.

Want to write a guest post?

You may have some experience in networking that would add to this series. If you’d like to write a guest post, please email me at stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com.

Interested in a networking workshop?

The posts in this series can be developed into a workshop or series of workshops for you journalism organization or university. If you’re interested in discussing or scheduling a workshop on networking (or some other topic), please email me at stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com.

 

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Boston_Globe logoI had a twofold reaction to Thursday’s news that the Boston Globe was trying to reinvent itself:

  1. Another fucking newspaper reinvention? How many times have we heard this?
  2. I hope it succeeds. Someone has to.

If you don’t want to read my whining/ranting about previous reinvention failures, skip to the “why I’m optimistic” heading, where I share my optimism for the Globe’s project. I am optimistic, but I need to share that frustration, too.

Why I’m frustrated

In both reactions, my thoughts turned to the American Press Institute. The current incarnation of API is helping the Globe, and I’ll address that in the optimistic section. And I was heavily involved in an initiative by an earlier version of API to lead reinvention of the newspaper business.

A decade ago, API developed a blueprint for newspaper reinvention (we called it a “Blueprint for Transformation”). Seriously, we published that advice in 2006, the year newspaper ad revenues first started to drop, by a tiny 1.7 percent. Ad revenue has dropped every year since, often by double-digit percentages and the Newspaper Association of America hasn’t even bothered to report the figures for 2014 and 2015. Those annual reports usually came out in April, and the most recent revenue report on the NAA website was published April 18, 2014.

I worked for API on the Newspaper Next project, and my colleagues and I presented those principles and techniques of reinvention more than a hundred times to newspaper audiences around the globe, from one-hour overviews for press associations to two-day workshops for specific newspapers and large newspaper companies. We produced at least three N2 reports, one of which I wrote.

Newspaper executives who proclaimed themselves eager to reinvent their organizations applauded our message and spent thousands of dollars (we charged $11,000 plus expenses for a one-day workshop) sharing the message with their staffs and executive teams. But their cultural and organizational inertia was so powerful that they took only tentative partial steps that didn’t come close to reinvention. (more…)

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American Press Institute logoI get a sense of déjà vu in the American Press Institute’s release this morning of a pair of reports on innovation in news organizations.

An important event in my career was the 2006 release of API’s report Newspaper Next: A Blueprint for Transformation, followed by my efforts to promote and teach the principles of the report to executives and organizations in the newspaper industry. As I noted five years later, and as API’s report today acknowledges, N2 fall far short of transforming the newspaper industry. (We’ll never know if the approach outlined in the report would have helped transform a newspaper company or the whole organization. The industry treated it as a buffet, tasting a few dishes it offered, when it was really offering a new diet. I know of no news organization that came close to attempting the transformation that N2 advocated.)

API’s latest effort to guide innovation in the news industry is a pair of reports released this morning, A culture-based strategy for creating innovation in news organizations by Jeff Sonderman and Tom Rosenstiel, and The best practices for innovation within news organizations by Craig Silverman.

I recommend both reports as important reading for leaders in news operations seeking to be more successful at innovation, especially if organizational culture is an issue for you. But I guess I’m jaded enough that I won’t predict a lot of cultural change as a result of the reports. N2 offered broader, deeper and more specific advice for changing a company. But maybe almost a decade later, some companies will be better able to use the advice API is offering today on workplace culture.

Adding to the N2 echoes of these reports are four mentions of Clayton Christensen in the Silverman report. The Sonderman/Rosenstiel report mentions API’s partnership with Christensen for Newspaper Next, which made heavy use of his principles of disruptive innovation. Between them, today’s reports make 10 mentions of some form of the word disrupt. I’m not sure what to make of this. Christensen’s theories apply to the news business as strongly now as they did in 2006, but I’ll be surprised if newspaper companies ever start operating by them. (The API reports do not share N2’s newspaper focus, studying digital startups as well as legacy media companies.)

I suspect the advice in the API reports might be more effective with news startups, building innovative structures and processes from scratch, rather than in established companies trying to overcome existing cultural problems without screwing up declining products that produce their revenue. (more…)

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I’m a keynote speaker at the Journalism, Leadership and Management Conference for student media leaders this weekend at the Greenlee School of Journalism at Iowa State University.

I was asked to talk to the students about leadership and the future. My primary point is that young journalists are already providing important leadership in our profession and they have an extraordinary opportunity and extraordinary examples to shape journalism in their careers.

I don’t have a written version of the address, but my slides are below. I sought advice for these young journalists from some outstanding successful journalists. I shared some of the advice on my slides. In other cases, I drew my advice from things these journalists had posted online (or things they said in interviews). Or I just drew my own lessons for the students from these journalists’ careers.

Here are the responses from the young journalists who sent advice to the students: (more…)

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I encourage you to read Post-Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present, released Tuesday by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.

I started reading it last night and I’m far enough in to say that it’s good and should stimulate some conversation and thought among journalists, and hopefully lead to some change. But I may not have time to finish it and blog about it for a few days. Josh Benton of the Nieman Lab and Jeff Sonderman of Poynter have already blogged some thoughts on it. Update: So has Mathew Ingram.

Emily Bell, who wrote the report with Clay Shirky and C.W. Anderson, interviewed me in the process of working on the report.

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I was traveling and leading workshops this week for the anti-climactic final end of TBD. I didn’t have time to weigh in then, except on Twitter, after my former TBD colleague Jenny Rogers broke the news:

I don’t have a lot to add, but I’ve blogged a lot about TBD here, so I should note the denouement. TBD made our mark in part through effective aggregation of Washington local news, so I’ll note its passing with some aggregation on its brief history. It won’t be complete, but I invite you to add some more links in the comments. Where I aggregate content from TBD, I should note that I don’t know how long it will remain available. Archived content appears to be online, though the home page and some searches redirect to wjla.com.

Before we get to the actual demise, I have to share a link and screenshot from the coverage of our launch: I don’t believe any elaboration is needed here.

As for coverage of the actual death, it was pretty muted, perhaps appropriately for an operation whose life and death throes were perhaps overcovered. Here are the best accounts I saw of the final demise (normally that phrase would be redundant, but TBD’s demise was drawn-out enough that I consider it appropriate):

Erik Wemple’s No more TBD.com (Erik was TBD’s editor and now blogs about media for the Washington Post: (more…)

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Creativity is contagious. One of the best ways to make a good idea better is to share it with other creative people.

Digital First’s new Social Media Wire is the child of two groups of creative people: the original Journal Register Co. ideaLab and the community engagement staff at TBD. The Social Media Wire is testing now on the site of the New Haven Register and eventually will roll out across Digital First Media’s news sites across the country.

Mandy Jenkins, our Digital Projects Editor, writes about the Social Media Wire on her Zombie Journalism blog. Mandy is leading the way on the project and played a key role in development of the idea at TBD.

As we were planning the TBD launch, scheduled for Aug. 9, 2010, I suggested that we tell the story of the day in Washington through the content people were creating about the day: Gather all the local tweets, Facebook updates, news stories, YouTube videos, photos and so forth that we could find and show them in chronological order, as quickly after they happened as we could. I thought if we promoted it well, it would be something people would come back to again and again throughout the day and would establish us as something different from traditional news sources.

I saw it as a one-day project of intensive work by the community engagement team. Fortunately, my team had better ideas. The team was Mandy, Jeff Sonderman, Daniel Victor, Lisa Rowan and Nathasha Lim. I don’t remember who had what ideas, but it’s fair to credit the whole group with the idea. Because once I outlined the idea, the discussion took off, with everyone contributing, and they just left my original idea in the dust. (more…)

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