My online presence is sharply divided between a professional wordpress, a bloggy wordpress, a tumblr, a professional twitter, and personal twitter. I feel like something’s gotta give here. My professional twitter is dry and I hardly use it, and my personal twitter would be weird for just anyone to see. Combining my efforts makes sense, but having them separate could keep my professional accounts tailored to prospective jobs. Any advice there? —Jacob Muselmann
Ah, the personal self versus the professional self! I used to be very worried about keeping these things separate. I wrote an opinion column but never included personal anecdotes. I tweeted, but it was mostly just straightforward links to stuff that was of professional interest. This was stupid. It seemed unnatural. Forced.
My friend Samhita made a very compelling case to me a few years ago that there should be little to no distinction between all of these selves online. In real life, she argued, you’re serious and funny, high and lowbrow, casual and formal. Don’t try to split these things into different compartments, because you start diluting the power of your unique perspective. I took her advice—tentatively, at first—and found that she was right. People responded to my work more. They retweeted and shared it more. And, perhaps best of all, I had more fun. It’s hard work compartmentalizing, and it was a relief to stop. I keep a for-friends-only Tumblr blog for inside jokes, but I’m okay with posting almost everything else to annfriedman.com.
Granted, this is one magazine journalist’s perspective. I know the restrictions on newspaper reporters are different. But in most corners of the publishing world, personality is paramount. Editors can improve your grammar and the structure of your pieces. But they can’t infuse a piece with your unique voice. Journalists who succeed in this business will do so because they’ve got a strong personal brand.
On a practical level, I’d keep one “safe space” for your unprofessional ramblings—probably your Tumblr blog—and funnel everything else through a website associated with your full name. Create a page for your clips and bio, but also use the site for off-the-cuff thoughts and blogging. It should be a one-stop shop for all things you.
In the course of editing a piece, sometimes I end up with an editor’s gmail address in my contacts, in addition to their professional email address—e.g., I’m getting edits from “firstname.lastname@example.org” rather than the address I first pitched to, “email@example.com.” When pitching them again, should I send it to their gmail address? Or should I send it only to their professional address? Or does it matter? —Rachel McCarthy James
Every editor’s different. Just ask which address she prefers for professional correspondence.
One editor told me that I came across very differently in my pitches than I do in real life—not as effusive and more formal. I am tempted to begin blogging again for my own personal pleasure. Is this a good way to show my natural voice, or could it be something that actually hurts my job prospects? —Jenni
Infusing your work with your personality, once considered a journalistic third rail, can in fact make it much stronger. It’s the journalistic equivalent of the fiction-writer’s maxim, “write what you know.” A great recent example is John Jeremiah Sullivan’s dispatch from Cuba, that, more so than pieces by “unbiased” outsiders, draws its strength from its personal perspective. The reporter’s wife is Cuban, and he’s visited the island multiple times for personal reasons. Will some readers allege bias? Sure. But it’s all disclosed in the narrative, and not in a clunky way. And he’s not pretending to be “a visitor” without personal connections to the story.
Cultivating a strong personal brand provides security in a very unstable business. Jobs may come and go, but the readers and collaborators who have come to know your particular personality and way of approaching stories will follow you wherever you’re published. Of course, telling the truth has to be a part of that brand if you want to keep calling yourself a journalist. As John McQuaid wrote in the wake of the Jonah Lehrer plagiarism scandal, “Lehrer is more than just a journalist or even a bestselling author. He is a brand unto himself. And his fall shows what can happen when the personal brand supersedes everything else, including the drab scutwork of journalism.” Just don’t get too crazy-egotistical about it and you’ll be fine.