After the Newspaper Layoff: The Next Five Things You Should Do

Second of two parts.

As we discussed in yesterday’s post, journalism jobs are disappearing at an unprecedented and alarming rate. The wave of newspaper layoffs has shocked an entire industry of writers, editors and photographers who’ve dedicated their careers to keeping their communities informed, and are now wondering if there’s any future in their life’s work.

So, is there? And if there isn’t, what should you do next?

On Monday, we recommended six first steps for laid-off journalists who are facing these questions after a workforce reduction, and who are interested in assessing and improving their marketability in other fields. Today, we focus on the next steps you should take in your journey — which focus on personal branding.

Even if you haven’t been laid off from your newspaper job, and whether or not you are considering changing careers, personal branding is essential today for writers, editors and photographers — especially online. It opens up your options and enables a much broader range of potential employers (or freelance clients) to learn why they should hire you.

Here are five tips:

  1. Showcase your best work online. It’s surprising to me how many writers and photojournalists have never posted examples of their work online. I realize that the rigorous demands of a regular deadline often have journalists looking ahead to the next assignment, rather than back at what they’ve already done. But you can’t allow yourself to be so absorbed in your job that you don’t think of your career. For work that your employer owns, create Web links to your photos or articles and/or get permission from your publication to republish your work on your Web site. Round out your site with other examples of your work.
  2. Take your following with you. Many newspapers have become obsessive in the past couple of years about encouraging their contributors to create online followings through blogs, Twitter and Facebook. This can be an important head start for your personal branding efforts. If you are laid-off, continue your blog or photoblog on your own Web site. If you’ve become a subject-matter expert within a particular beat, don’t stop tweeting about it — build on what you’ve started. It may lead to freelance work, consulting gigs or a full-time job, either within or outside of journalism.
  3. Start your own business. Even if you still have your newspaper job, it’s not a bad idea to start a part-time business that can grow into something more at the right time. If you are a staff photographer, for example, why not begin to shoot some weddings on the side? You can build up a portfolio, referrals and vendor relationships — all of which will make it far easier to transition to a full-time freelancer if you are laid-off. Black Star Rising contributor Heather S. Hughes is an example of a photographer who took this path; her story is instructive.
  4. Stay connected with other journalists and ex-journalists. This applies even if you don’t think your next career will be in journalism. Keeping up with the industry is a must for a number of reasons, including professional networking. But the most important reason is this: it’s a reminder that you’re not the only one going through this. There are literally thousands of people right now asking themselves the same questions and dealing with the same career transition that you are. So get on the job boards, participate in the forums, subscribe to the Twitter feeds, and see what you can learn and share. The Columbia School of Journalism, for example, has a Web page dedicated to helping laid-off journalists, with more than 50 links to helpful sites. Whether you want to find a new full-time journalism job, continue in journalism as a freelancer, or find a new career, you should participate in the conversation.
  5. Tell the world who you are. Once you know where you want to go with your career, be clear and consistent in disseminating your brand message — online and off. You’re a professional communicator, after all, so turn those skills to your advantage. Before you write a story or make a photograph, you think of the audience you’re creating it for, right? You want to use the right words and images to appeal to them. Now it’s time to do the same thing with a new audience: the people you want to hire you. Intrigue them; give them reasons to find out more about you in everything you do. If you tell others who you are professionally and then act the part long enough, you will become the brand you have created.

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