After 23 years of reporting from such far-flung spots as Rochester, San Francisco and Hong Kong, Amy Wu now covers politics and government at The Californian, a Gannett paper in Salinas, Calif. Wu, who earned her master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, finds that while the media landscape has changed profoundly in the last two decades, new challenges lead to new rewards. This roundup of her tips for navigating a shrinking newsroom is the second of a five-part series.
Tap young talent
Reach out to local journalism programs in your community for interns. Be ruthless and pick the crème of the crop—you don’t have time for hand-holding. A good intern can be a godsend, helping with research and basic reporting. Meanwhile they get to build their portfolio. Also, befriend a digitally proficient newsroom newbie—that’s basically anyone in their 20s and early 30s—who can teach you the ropes on an unfamiliar app or device. In return, you might take them along to an industry gathering.
Build your brand
I winced when I arrived in my new newsroom and was told to start yet another Facebook page and Twitter account. I had enough to keep track of on my personal accounts. Truth is, to survive in the industry you need to build your brand—and media companies expect journalists to play along. Use this to your advantage. Savvy reporters understand the value of using a variety of tools (from social media to public speaking engagements) to attract your own fan base. Include all social media information on your stories. Say yes to speaking at journalism seminars, conferences, community organizations, churches and colleges.
Connect with influencers
As part of brand building, make sure you use social media to connect with your community’s key influencers. It’s an overused term in the social media world, but critical in a shrinking newsroom. Key influencers are the ones whose actions and opinions hold the most sway. At a local level they may include the mayor, city manager, president of the Chamber of Commerce, CEO of a major agriculture company and, in my community, pastor of a megachurch who wears Hawaiian shirts and draws a congregation of several thousand. It can take a while to build your connections (18 months, at least) but patience wins out. It helps to have a quota. Tell yourself you will reach out to and connect with five key influencers a week.
Bring your business cards
Even in the digital era, business cards are important. When I lived in Asia the business card ritual meant presenting your card with two hands, almost as though you were serving someone a platter of hors d’oeuvres. This was a sign of respect, a non-verbal way of saying, “I want to remember your name and stay in contact.” Here in the U.S. business cards aren’t as ubiquitous, but they’re still a tool that establishes you as someone with serious intentions. Bottom line: Don’t forget your business cards and always bring more than you think you’ll need.
Accept the pop-up office
Mobile doesn’t just refer to your smartphone, it’s a way of operating. My newsroom recently went from a brick-and-mortar office building to brick-and-virtual. We moved from a 30,000-square foot historical building to a much smaller space, and employees are encouraged to work from home—or in the field. For reporters, the silver lining is the opportunity to spend more time out in the community. As a colleague observed. “You can find out more about people by sitting inside the café at Target” than tethered to your office.