“We can no longer rely on paid journalism to get our messages out there, we simply need to start doing it ourselves.”
THE international media industry is in free-fall with the continued sacking and redundancy of journalists. I wrote about the social media’s impact on the media in 2014, and things have only gotten worse since. Our newspapers, magazines and television programs are full of what is known as paid content. This advertising vs. editorial battle is as old as the media itself, but when the boards of media companies no longer have one experienced news person in their ranks, it could be said the newsmakers have completely lost any control over editorial content. Even public news services are being paid to host advertising as news. It’s for this reason writers need to start behaving like journalists. We can no longer rely on paid journalism to get our messages out there, we simply need to start doing it ourselves.
Be an expert
There are many names for ‘experts’ in fields, influencers, for example, operating predominantly in the marketing sphere, but increasingly impacting the editorial content of the media. These are the people called upon to sit on panel shows or provide expert opinion in sections of the media. They often operate as brands – a marketing-oriented phenomenon designed to create awareness of themes, words, images and products. As writers in today’s media and publishing landscape, it is essential we take elements of these processes and turn them to our advantage. If you write a lot about the environment, for example, you can adopt branding strategies to focus your output in that field. Tweet and Facebook on environmental issues to your audience. Write articles about the environment on your website. Tag and categorise your metadata with environmental keywords, but know exactly why you’re doing it: you are on your way to becoming an influencer in that field.
Keep it real
Influencers and brand adopters are not required to be shallow, purely commercial types. If you are writing and researching subjects that you love, becoming an expert in those fields will come naturally. Write opinion pieces about current events related to your work. Publish reviews about new publications related to your expertise. This is all great fodder for your writing program.
“You don’t need a degree, permission or professional qualifications, you only need journalism skills and consistency.”
Share the love
When you’re ready, start to connect with other online writers and journalists – start with me, if you like – and talk about your work and where it’s taking you. Be prepared to be asked to contribute to other sites – this is a brilliant way to spread your metadata around and can be achieved in a number of ways. Other sites can reblog your posts directly from your site (and you can reciprocate), or you may be asked if you’d like a user profile for another blog, to upload and publish your own contribution – a very common way websites accept contributions. Don’t expect to be paid for much of this output, rather, come to accept it as excellent distribution for your work that will generate followers on social media, which increases your reach as an expert in your field.
Citizen journalism is not for the faint of heart
One of the most effective strategies I adopted as an online publisher was becoming a citizen journalist. I wrote about the process in two parts – Voyage to the new news world – a process which not only led to increasing my readership but to paid work as an online journalist. I offer a gentle warning about citizen journalism – it’s very accessible, but also highly contentious, because it’s being relied on more and more by established media networks as a way to attract free content, and professional journalists can be very wary of citizen journalists. I wrote about this phenomenon in Stand up, citizen journalists. Citizen journalism is a minefield for writers who are also activists (or become activists over time, through their writing, like I did), so it’s helpful to ponder the fine line between reporting and activism, and freedom of speech. I wrote about this in You cannot burn a mummy blog.
Adhering to some kind of personal or professional standards as a journalist is not compulsory, but in the online sphere, where readers lay waiting to catch every typo and piece of plagiarism, it’s wise to follow some basics if you’re just starting out. Here’s my best tips for anyone embarking on their own journalism.
Say no to naysayers
Large sections of the international media readership remain under the illusion that the content they read is created by newsrooms full of busy journalists poring over editorial schedules. The reality could not be further from the truth – newsrooms are mainly empty, solo journalists are juggling the jobs that entire teams once did, their hours taken up with meeting the advertorial agenda of management to produce the paid content in their masthead. Citizen journalists are filling the gaps, although whenever the readership complains, they often let off steam about media conspiracies and lazy journalism. Don’t let any of that stop you writing as an expert in your field. You don’t need a degree, permission or professional qualifications, you only need journalism skills, consistency and guts. Check my article on How to write wrong.
As a writer and published author, you’re going to need to forge relationships with journalists. The best place to start is by becoming a journalist yourself. Work out what you’re expert in, and publish quality journalism on that. Keep an eye out for other journalists wanting to connect with you – these are invaluable future connections.
An extract from Write, regardless!
© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.