Is brand journalism really the only way to succeed?

I have trouble believing it, but that’s what my professors and nearly all the speakers they’ve invited to our classes are telling us. Us journalism students must define and capitalize on our “personal brand” or we’re never going to make it in the biz.

Essentially, we’re being told to start a blog — a really, really popular niche blog — and dodge the whole newspaper reporter thing altogether. I imagine that’s easier said than done …

My senior seminar class, which is supposed to prepare us for a job with a professional publication, might as well be the entrepreneurial blogging course my school also offers. It makes sense for those who made it through four years in the program only to realize they aren’t cut out to be journalists, but what about those who are? What about those who have worked their asses off with internships and running the school newspaper — all while remaining at the top of the class — and have proved themselves worthy of this field?

Reporting for a newspaper and being at the forefront of print journalism innovation has been my dream for a while now. I’m not sure I’m ready to give it up just because the rest of the world doesn’t think it’s worth it. Should I give up and live off the cheap online ad sales from my blog while working part time at Starbucks to pay the real bills? It seems like that’s what I’m being encouraged to do.

Even Andy Barnes, former chief executive of the Times Publishing Company and chairman of the Poynter Institute noted the importance of brand journalism when speaking to one of my classes. A man who has a room named after him in the Poynter building told us self branding is the only way. It’s hard to deny someone like that.

Perhaps I’m in denial. Being told your desired profession is futile isn’t easy to hear after putting years of work and thousands of dollars into it. I’ve been ignoring the suggestions and warnings for the most part, choosing instead to keep believing in my fantasy land where I become a Pulitzer Prize winning education reporter for a mid-size Florida newspaper. The fantasy also includes me rolling in cash, not being overworked, having time for a family and being generally happy, which are all probably less realistic than the Pulitzer thing. Regardless, I’ve been holding on to the dream.

So, when at 4 a.m. last night, in the peek hours of my insomnia, I felt myself wanting to start a hyperlocal news blog, I surprised myself. The blog in mind would fill a niche no one else has really stepped foot in. It has potential to gain a following, and more importantly, collect revenue (though I’m not willing to delve into details here in case there are any other jaded journalism students reading this and needing an idea).

I’ve discovered a few things about myself in last year as editor of my school’s paper — I write pretty well, I possess strong leadership skills, I thrive off non-stop schedule, I have an entrepreneurial mindset and I quite enjoy being my own boss. Added up, these qualities could serve me well in my brand journalism blogging mission. But in order for me to actually go for it, it’ll have to become more important to me than being a newspaper reporter. Right now, I don’t think it is. But it could be, eventually (or, like, if I don’t get a job after graduation).

When speaking to my Florida media class the other day, Peter Schorsch, of SaintPetersblog.com, compared our current era to the 20 to 30 years after the invention of the printing press. Sub the printing press for the Internet, and we’re in a highly volatile and experimental age. In the grand scheme of time, we’re just figuring out how to digitalize the journalism world. And there are still masses of unexplored territory. In 20 years, journalism may look nothing like it does today. Newspapers may be delivered to us as holograms; who knows?

What I do know is, media is changing and I want to contribute to its development. So, maybe creating my own entrepreneurial hyperlocal blog wouldn’t be such a bad place to start. Maybe. Stay tuned, ya’ll.

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