Self-Promotion Becomes a Prerequisite for Online Journos

    by Dan Gillmor
    August 16, 2008

    Scott Rosenberg, a former editor at Salon Magazine who’s writing a book on blogging, takes aim at a fact of life for people creating new media online: They have to find ways to be noticed:

    This is the way the Web works. If this (or any) blog were my primary focus, I’d be out there rustling up readers for it, because that’s what you have to do. I think a lot of journalists still see this as a grubby, low, self-promoting activity that is beneath them. Of course, it can be done in a grubby way (and often is) — but that’s true of everything. Writing headlines is, after all, another form of the art of rustling up readers. It can be done with style and flair; it can be done crudely and effectively; it can be done clumsily and stupidly. But it must be done. There is no alternative.

    The grubby ways people do this are easiest to find in the PR and marketing worlds. There, the phrase “buzz marketing” has come to mean a variety of clever and sometimes unsavory acts designed solely at getting a product (or issue) noticed.

    I learned, in my days at the San Jose Mercury News that my Web audience was greatly transcending the newspaper’s reach. I did what I could to help that process, within limits that struck me as appropriate. For example, I’d occasionally send the top few paragraphs of my column, plus a link, to Dave Farber, a friend who runs the widely read Interesting People mail list. He’d often, but not always, then post the piece to his list — and my audience became larger and more influential as a result.


    One of the best ways to get noticed is also one of the simplest: Link to other people. Sometimes this is flagrant sucking up or basically irrelevant to your topic, and if it’s obviously so it won’t get you far. But when you can point to someone else’s work, to provide your own audience with deeper information and nuance, you’re doing everyone a favor — and it’s likely to be reciprocated if what you’re doing merits links, too.

    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.

    In the Digital Media & Entrepreneurship course we’ll be teaching this semester, we’ll talk a fair amount about marketing and promotion. These may be bizarre terms for old-line journalists. They will become second nature to the journalists who emerge in the new century — because, as Scott notes, there’s simply no alternative.

    Tagged: audience pr promotion

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