A while ago, I was asked for advice by a student interested in journalism. I reproduce the advice I offered below, but much of it can be adapted to any subject or career area. In today’s world, online networking is an important way of gaining knowledge and contacts in your area of interest. As a teacher, most of my new knowledge of teaching methods and resources comes from contacts on Twitter and in the blogosphere, and increasingly I see people gaining employment opportunities in this way. Only recently I was contacted by the Times Educational Supplement English resources editor and invited to take part in developing materials for a new project, the DocAcademy, resulting in an expenses paid trip to London for a planning meeting, and a tidy little sum for producing a four-lesson resource pack for the website. It was very handy holiday spending money, but more importantly it gave me an opportunity to extend my own skills, and to share them with colleagues, and all because I’d made a network of contacts through using social media for my professional development.
So, if you get online and start asking questions and sharing links and resources about the subject area or career you want to pursue, perhaps you’ll find that when your university or job application crosses the desk of an employer or admissions tutor, your name may already be familiar as someone with a proven interest in the subject and a track record of showing initiative.
Anyhow, here is the advice I offered my inquirer:
One thing you want to do is to establish your online presence in as many potentially useful places as possible. Get yourself a username that is distinctive but professional, and isn’t already taken, that can be used consistently across social networking sites and the like. You can use http://namechk.com/ to check if a chosen username is available across a range of sites.I have to own up and say that I’m better at mucking about with stuff than using it purposefully, so I’ve got half abandoned projects scattered around the web, but it’s a good idea to have some kind of page where you can direct people (perhaps having it as your email signature) that will have links to everything you want in the public domain. I’m rather proud of my resolutely lo-fi homepage at antheald.com, but to be honest you probably want something a bit more like this: http://about.me/antheald which is dead easy to set up, and you can find links to most of my half-baked bits & pieces there.With regards to blogging, there are all sorts of directions you can take it. You can go for a general blog that you use as a kind of portfolio of any writing that takes your fancy. Or you could do a topic specific blog on a hobby or interest of some kind. For instance here is a music blog set up by a former McAuley student, Ruth Offord while she was still at school. Ruth went on to become a journalist on the Doncaster Free Press for a time. Maybe you could experiment with a university application blog ((or two)or three) while you get used to blogging platforms and their strengths and weaknesses. This is the kind of idea I have in mind.Read and comment on others’ blogs (including professional journalists). Follow journalists, journalism students and bloggers on twitter, and engage with them regularly. A good plan is to find someone who tweets regularly and seems to engage in interesting discussions with interesting people, and then see who they follow and look at any lists they have curated or that they appear on. If you want to get an idea of where journalism might be headed in our increasingly networked world, I think you could do worse than starting with @documentally and his blog. If you want to connect with someone who’s making it in the world of (slightly) more conventional journalism and started where you are, then try @jbmurdoch – that’s Mr Murdoch’s son – who was in my form before doing geography at Durham, getting involved in student journalism (ask him about it), and is now cutting a swathe at The Guardian.I look forward to seeing your online presence bloom and to reading what you have to say.