|Josh Halliday at Brighton Future of News Group |
(photo by Sarah Booker)
They had come to listen to much hyped young journalist Josh Halliday talk about his success story from graduation from the University of Sunderland straight into a junior reporter job at The Guardian, no less.
At the News Rewired event last June, the 22-year-old media and technology reporter was one of four journalists mentioned by MSN UK's executive producer's Peter Bale in his keynote speech for their success in building their own 'brand' online. The other three mentions were Jemima Kiss from The Guardian, Robert Andrews, editor of paidContent UK and Will Perrin of Talk About Local, all of whom older and more experienced than Josh.
Find your inner brand
Notice the use of the word 'brand'.
To be able to stand out in a crowd and increase your chances for work, a degree, a polished CV and a few months of work experience thrown in for good measure no longer suffice. Being aware of one's strenghts and portraying them to the world in a distinctive way – in other words, establishing, and marketing, your identity as a journalist – is the best cover letter you could ever present a prospective employer. Are you leaving a mark wherever you tread? Are you getting the right type of attention by the right group of people?
Because there are far more graduates each year than there are jobs, "you need to do something to get ahead", Josh advises. And at an age when digital permeates every section of the media world, having a blog, a website or, at the very least, a social media presence seems like an obvious card to have up one's sleeve, the 'edge' over the competition.
Josh thinks even Dan Sabbagh was discovered and landed his job as Guardian's Head of Media and Technology, less because of his credentials at The Times than his 'extra-curricular' activities online – his news site Beehive City.
It is worth remembering Joanna Geary, community editor of The Times, famously received a job offer on Twitter. Josh promoted his SR2 hyperlocal blog, which got him noticed by other journalists and eventually his future employers, also entirely on Twitter. He joined the microblogging site in December 2008; the following year he was already employed by The Guardian.
Former head of digital development at Telegraph Media Group, Greg Hadfield, a frequent attendee of the BFONG meetings, calls the phenomenon "the new fast track for journalists to success".
Rules of engagement
But Twitter does not always work as a 140-character notice board for jobseekers, nor does it replace traditional job search routes. Twitter, social media sites and blogs are mere tools. As with any tool, the outcomes will depend on whether you know how to use them.
The success of Josh Halliday's SR2 blog and the effectiveness of his brand can be attributed to a simple skill anyone can learn: knowing how to engage with people.
His tips for the Brighton Journalist Works' students, who will be covering their own patches as community reporters, were crucially centred round communication with people: making friends with the local policeman, searching for tweeterers in the local area, replying to their questions about the nearest dry cleaner's. Building personal relationships, a skill universities do not necessarily teach, could determine whether you get to that breaking piece of news first, or not.
Several local journalists, including former Argus reporter Richard Gurner, talked proudly about the privilege of being able to "enter people's lives" as a journalist. "It is a key reason to be a journalist," he said. As a local reporter working under pressure, going out to meet people everyday was not always possible.
Joel Gunter, sub-editor at Journalism.co.uk, pointed out that, if you work for a smaller site, engaging with people through (moderated) comments left on news articles online, can compensate for the lack of direct contact with one's audience.
Old-school print journalists may be struggling with the very concept of having one's piece commented on by readers, let alone engaging in dialogue with them, but I doubt dinosaurs will survive the digital revolution in media.
Journalism in the 21st century thrives on two-way communication. News, particularly online, is no longer static and final; instead it can evolve with the audience.
Watching the feel-good effect Josh Halliday seemed to have on the BFONG crowd I asked myself what this young hack's pulling power really was about, apart from being so young yet so enviously successful?
Skimming the attendees' comments on the meetup page, I notice the word "unassuming" appears more than once. I must admit that is also the quality I most admire in Josh: his modesty, his feet-on-the-ground attitude, the refreshing balance of a mature head on a young body. Despite all the public accolades received, he retains perspective and a genuine sense of wonder about the world in general.
My highlight of the evening was when Greg Hadfield asked him: "Where do you see yourself in five years' time?" The audience laughed, then held its breath in expectation. Unlike most journalists, who start their careers covering council meetings at a small regional newspaper and work their way up the Fleet Street ladder, where can one aim to go after a job at The Guardian at the age of 22?
Josh's reply was unexpected and made me gasp for its disarming candidness: he would love to do what he enjoys the most, i.e. being a local reporter...
Perhaps the shortcut to success then is staying true to one's heart, no matter where one is in the journey. For that alone, Josh Halliday has a captive audience in me.
Labels: BFONG, Future of News, Greg Hadfield, Guardian, Josh Halliday, journalism