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Designing an online presence in journalism

So, although I bought the domain earlier this week and I set up the WordPress blog a few days ago, it has taken me a little while to figure out the design I want. After copious amounts of time worrying how to craft the perfect online presence for myself (OK, so actually it was mostly me snapping photos of items on my desk before I went home for Thanksgiving and then sitting in my mom’s kitchen with my MacBook playing with Photoshop and worrying about fonts and drop shadows), I’ve managed to come up with a layout I like.

In my journey to this layout (which isn’t up yet, but should be up later tonight) I discovered a few things I either didn’t know or didn’t realize until I started.

  • Any online presence is better than none. So says Sree.
  • There is no standard. It’s not like when you send out applications and it’s always coverletter, resume, clips. It’s not like that at all. There is a lot of variation among journalists’ Web sites, everything from how they present the material, to what gets included, to how much gets included and so on. I went looking around the Web trying to figure out what was standard practice. Although glancing through this list of journalists’ sites was helpful, I came away with no definitive answer.
  • Keep it professional. Although this is a gimme (I know more than one person whose blog has gotten them in serious trouble), I was actually surprised by the non-journalism content of some sites I came across. In the same menu as resume and clips there would be photos. I assumed these photos would be some they had snapped at news events. Nope. Several of them were parties or family photos. Although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing — journalists should and need to have a life outside of journalism — it was kind of weird. I mean, isn’t that what Facebook and MySpace are for? Just seems weird to say here is my professional life and here is my personal life and let’s see if we can make it awkward by smushing them together. But, to each his or her own.
  • There’s no sure-fire path to getting where you want to go. I’ve always been fascinated with how people land the job they currently have. Chances are if I’ve known you long enough or am interested in enough in someday having your job or a similar job, I’ve already either Googled you or asked you to recount your resume for my benefit. It’s always interesting to see and hear how people got into journalism, where they started and how they landed where they are today. It’s also inspiring to a young reporter like me to see some of my role models started out the same way I will. Makes me think there’s some hope for me yet. So, as I was perusing the sites of other journalists looking for inspiration for my own, I couldn’t help but read some of the amazing resumes. Most of these people are far, far more accomplished than I am, but if you look back at where they were when they were my age, I’m definitely more than on track. And that’s reassuring.
  • A great journalist is not necessarily a great graphic designer. That’s OK. Don’t ask me why I thought this. But I just assumed most journalists were more aesthetically astute than the average Web user. But I saw several sites that made me want to take the designer aside and kind of nudge him and say, “Hey, remember when you thought using that decorative font was a good idea? Wasn’t that clever. But, maybe it’s sending the wrong message. Oh, and it’s hard to read. Especially when you have so much reverse type.” But I guess that doesn’t matter. Does it? If you can write and that’s what you’re pitching, does anyone care how your site looks? I don’t know. It could go back up to my first point… any online presence is better than none.

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