I’m a journalist by training and communications professional by trade. It’s a sucky time to be doing either of those things right now. A lot of mid-career professionals are getting laid off from traditional media outlets on a daily basis and looking to online media for a new start, and that’s awesome.
However, there’s something I’ve gotta say. There’s a lot of misconception about what jobs are available in online media, and I just want to tell by un-and-underemployed brothers and sisters in communications the real deal. The future of your online media career will not lie in starting a MySpace page.
1.) Don’t Expect Your Blog To Be Your Next Full-Time Job
Blogging doesn’t pay. No, not even the Huffington Post. No, really, they don’t. And if you expect to be the next Heather Armstrong or Markos Moulitsas or the Go Fug Yourself girls, let that dream go, too. They are the exception to the rule, and for the most part the ship instant online stardom has sailed. And if you don’t know who any of those people are, you have a bigger problem if you want to make blogging your career. Blog because you love to write, blog because you have expertise in a particular field or a hobby that you want to share, or even to market yourself as a brand, Julia Allison style and generate clips. But please don’t set up a blog on Blogger or whatever to make money. You simply won’t.
If you do want to make a living (or beer money) from blogging, then you may want to check out problogger.net for information on how to start a blog that may (I said may!) get accepted by an ad network or score you a gig as a (paid) guest blogger/writer, or to find one of those elusive, holy grail FT jobs at a place like Gawker Media, or a Gawker Media-esque start-up. And if you do get one of those elusive jobs, please don’t roll up with a lot of talk about your awesome j-school degree and your storied career in print journalism, as no one will care. It sucks, but it’s true.
2.) Don’t Spend a Ton of Money on Pointless Social Media/Web 2.0 Conferences.
I always cringe when I see those print flyers and e-mails promoting some $1100 conference on “THE FUTURE OF NEW MEDIA” with a picture of some graying suit who is the VP of online strategy for some Fortune 500 company who’s gonna tell you what’s up. I’m not saying this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about, because he probably does, but he probably learned much of what you’re shelling out the equivalent of a mortgage payment for from a book, or possibly a blog.
If you are interested in a new media job, start reading these blogs/websites every day:
Mediabistro: Whether it’s their blog network, their message boards, their job listing or their daily media news. This site will keep you on top of the business of online media.
Mashable: The go to website for social media start-up news, invite codes, all the stuff you need to impress people at parties with other people tying to get a social media job.
Poynter: If you’re a working journalist, you’re probably here on a regular basis anyway, but Poynter Online is really making an effort to gear their content towards mid-career professionals, so check out the online and multimedia section.
Then read these books*:
Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug: Usability testing is more valuable than a huge budget and a team of programmings when developing a website. Read this to understand how people use the web and more importantly for you, how people read the web.
The Long Tail by Chris Anderson: OMG, please read this. Communication professionals must read this book in order to understand the new rules of interaction and culture that govern the economics of online social media
Web 2.0: A Strategy Guide by Amy Shuen: This book is totally boring, but still very useful when developing an online media strategy for your company, organization or publication.
Writing for Multimedia and The Web: A Practical Guide to Content Development for Interactive Media by Timothy Garrand: Another book that’s not so interesting as a read-through, but an excellent reference guide for writers moving to the web.
*If any of the above people charge $1100 for a workshop, it’s OK to go.
3.) If you really want to understand social media. you must participate.
Reading books and blogs are great, but like lotto, you gotta be in it to win it. You’ve gotta blog (and most importantly track who’s actually reading with a web metrics program), you’ve gotta read blogs and participate in online communities, even when they annoy the crap out of you, Keep up your Twitter account, promote your writing on Facebook. (just shut up and do it!) And you have to do it every day. Seriously. There is constant change in the world online media and the only way to keep up is by being a part of it.
4.) Don’t waste too much time on learning HTML.
Learn some HTML and CSS because as an online writer/editor it never hurts (and it’s not that hard, really!) But your strength lies in your skill as a communications professional, and focus your energies on learning skills that amplify the ones you already have. Learn the differences between writing for print and the web, learn about search engine optimization and web analytics.
5.) Remember there’s no sure thing in online media either
It’s a totally exciting time to be in online media. Some of us old-school bloggers (I can’t believe I’m saying that), online video producers, etc. are thrilled that the world doesn’t just see us as crazy people in the basement and we’re actually making a little cash and getting some credibility. But the future is wide open, and anyone that claims to tells you exactly what the future of online media will be is a big fat liar. So remember that online media, like all other media, will continue to grow and evolve as a profession, we’re all learning as we go here.