Your byline becomes a valuable commodity online

We all have to live up to our bylines. Credibility rules and people need to trust the words following our names.  But we bylines may never have been as valuable as they are right now.

Last week, the journalism chat on Twitter turned to need to develop a new skill: attracting readers. It reminded me of a story that caught my eye on the newsstands in Wired: “Internet Famous Julia Allison and the Secrets of Self-Promotion.”

With Allison as its cover girl, Wired wrote:

“The New York Times has profiled her, and New York magazine has called Allison — a dating columnist for Time Out New York and former editor-at-large for Star — “the most famous young journalist in the city.’ ”

Julia Allison is kicking your butt, but it has little to do with her being a journalist. Her site, xojulia.com, is her ”life cast” — what she’s doing now. She’s Twitter on steroids.

And we could all learn from her.

That’s where the discussion on Twitter picked up, started by Howard Rheingold and Jay Rosen over essential skills.  Rosen:

“Publishing used to be the barrier. Now that publishing is easy, getting your stuff picked up, linked to is an essential skill.”

Scott Rosenberg, formerly of Salon, added on his blog that it’s a skill most of us who work in print or broadcast are “occupationally blind to” because we are used to the media outlets we work for serving up audiences for us.

“They cannot see this because, all their working lives, the business of gathering their audience has been handled for them … This privilege disintegrates out on the Web once you leave the protective umbrella and traffic supply of a media company.”

Even working for an established media company brings challenges for individual reporters, photographers and multimedia journalists who are now judged by the number of page view we get.

Yet as Dan Gillmor pointed out, many journalists are squeamish about going after their own readers, and rightfully so:

“Self-promotion should make you slightly uncomfortable. The best journalists know the absolute necessity of humility; when accomplishments lead to hubris, that’s when trouble arrives. (I suppose this is true of every walk of life.) That’s why self-promotion should never be motivated by pure ego, or resort to the kinds of slippery tactics that journalists love to expose in other fields.”

That’s what we can learn from Julia Allison.  Writes Wired’s Jason Tanz:

“It’s easy to dismiss Allison as little more than a rank narcissist — and many of her vocal online critics are happy do just that. But come on, admit it: You’ve spent a good half hour trying to pick out the most flattering photo to upload to your MySpace page. You struggle to come up with the mot juste to describe your Facebook status. You keep a bank of self-portraits on Flickr or an online scrapbook on Tumblr or a running log of your daily musings on Blogger. You strategically court the gatekeepers at StumbleUpon or Digg. You compare the size of your Twitter-subscriber rolls to those of your friends. You set up Google Alerts to tell you whenever a blogger mentions your name. See? Self-promotion is no longer solely the domain of egotists and professional aspirants. Anyone can be a personal branding machine.”

The personal brand of our bylines are becoming our most precious commodity.  It is what will stay with us through circulation crises and layoffs.  As Rosen said, publishers used to hold the key. They provided the audience.  But could those roles be shifting, in favor of the content providers – those who report?

Cindy Stanford thinks so.  We met on Twitter, and I like to describe her as pursuing her PhD in social networking. She’s a doctorate student at Wichita State in the psychology of human-compter interaction. I sought her out following the reaction I received to my Twitter coverage of murder trials in Wichita. I wanted to know what I should do next. Should I only use Twitter for news coverage?  Should I post about my personal life?

Stanford I suggested I do both.

“People are becoming more aware and cognizant of where their information is coming from,” she said. “In the future, you’re personal brand is going to become important.”

It’s something we all need to be thinking about as we move forward in our journalism careers.

To that end, Wired offers some fun tips on how to build an audience through Facebook and Twitter.

My favorite is a suggestion on how to get the most out of Twitter, from Joshua Allen of Denver, who today has 4,447 followers:

“Every single Twitter post you write should be something that could get you laid, ruin a marriage, or bring a tear to a fat little kid’s eye.”

For the record, my wife doesn’t necessarily agree that’s a good idea.

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