FAQ: Don’t have a blog, you won’t get a job?

Another series of questions and answers from a student:

1) Do you think the hypothesis “If you don’t have a blog, you won’t get a job” (in journalism) is correct?

Not literally, but in spirit yes. There will always be people without a blog who get a job through contacts, analogue experience, etc. but broadly speaking I think it’s very hard to convince an employer that you’re passionate about journalism if you’re not already doing it. The analogy I always draw is with the music industry: you won’t get a record contract if you’re not performing and recording already.

Perhaps a better way of saying it is “If you’re not doing it already for yourself, no one’s going to employ you to do it for them.”

2) What is your opinion about blogging in general?

It’s a form of publishing. Asking that is like asking “What’s your opinion about writing in general?” I don’t really have one.

3) Do you think it is a good way to get noticed amongst possible
future employers?

Yes.

4) Do you think employers use blogs to look for new people to hire, or take it into consideration in an interview?

I know they do. I know of various examples of publishers – particularly magazines – hiring people because they already have a successful blog or YouTube channel. I also know of many employers who look for it in applicants. Various very senior people at Sky, the BBC, and ITV among others have said knowledge and experience of social media is an important factor.

5) Do you think it is easier to get a job if you have a blog?

Yes. For all the reasons given above: you are a) demonstrating enthusiasm for your job; b) demonstrating an awareness of current practice; c) building assets which are attractive to an employer, e.g. an audience, a reputation, a good contacts book, experience.

A person who doesn’t have a blog is basically saying either that they are ignorant of developments in the industry, or that they aren’t that excited about doing journalism, or both.

Of course if they’re already spending all their time writing for publications or broadcasts then great, and they can say that, but I would guess those people are the minority, and are still missing an important skillset.

6) Do you think blogging is the new portfolio or job application?

No, I think that’s a soundbite!

7) Do you think it is fair that bloggers (those without a degree within media in particular) get a job through blogging?

Yes. Your question suggests that a degree represents either an entitlement to a job, or that its absence should be a barrier to entry.

Journalism has become a largely graduate profession over the last few decades, and although there are positive aspects to that (for example, they should be more critically analytical and better researchers – at least on paper), there are also negative aspects (it narrows access, so you get a less diverse and more homogenous profession which doesn’t represent or understand its readers).

What is ‘fair’ is that the best journalists get journalism jobs. If someone has demonstrated that through their blog, then that’s fair.

8) In regards to the growth of citizen journalism, what do you think is going to happen with professional journalism?

It’s quite a broad question, but – broadly – I think that the increased competition should be making professional journalists work harder to justify their jobs. In fact, I have heard journalists say repeatedly that they feel that they have to produce better journalism because their weaknesses are more easily found out and highlighted.

I think we’re seeing a move away from commodity content (news that everyone reports) and even ‘the story’ as the only way of reporting, towards more analysis, more interactivity (apps, services, etc), a need to understand data, to protect sources technically, and talk across multiple platforms.

Journalists are also being expected to better engage with communities and collaborate with them. But this will take decades, I think.

9) Do you consider citizen journalism a gift or threat to professional journalists?

A gift. It’s only a ‘threat’ if you can’t compete.

10) Do you think professional journalism has adapted more to citizen journalists, if they rely on citizen journalist sources or use their contributions?

Yes, professional journalism uses more contributions from users. That’s pretty obvious from the research.

11) BBC and CNN have been in the spotlight recently for using citizen journalists as sources without checking their facts. Does more “wrong information” appear in
professional journalism?

The funny thing about ‘citizen journalism’ (a redundant phrase, really – you just mean ‘users’) is that it’s often users that point out flawed information. So it’s hard to say whether more wrong information appears in the media now because not only do we have more sources, but we also have a vastly increased ability to highlight errors. That, of course, is a good thing.

But there is also an increased time pressure on journalists to publish quickly, and that leads to errors, rather than citizen journalism per se.

Ultimately, blaming citizen journalism for more errors in the news is passing the buck. If a journalist makes a mistake, it’s their mistake – it’s not someone else’s fault.

But I think we’re in transition. Journalists are used to being processors of information, without always particularly challenging it (you can go through hundreds of examples of official sources going unchallenged over the past few decades – one highlighted recently being The Sun’s Hillsborough front page).

They are, slowly, learning to be more critical handlers of information, developing new verification techniques and tools, while the emphasis on speed is being gently challenged by some in favour of a role which is more about authentication.

12) How do you believe a professional and amateur relationship could be successfully used?

See above. Journalists are generally ‘jacks of all trades’ but users have specialist knowledge. The key is to marry those well – the journalist needs to know enough to not be manipulated, but not be too proud to learn from their users.

We also have to be prepared to damage relationships with some users if it’s in the wider interest – and that’s a big ethical challenge. But then relationships with sources have always been an ethical issue.

13) Do you see any negative sides with collaborative journalism?

Mainly the same issues with relationships with sources. But any journalism has risks – the key is that the journalist has prepared for those, or at least is prepared to learn, rather than writing something off because they don’t understand it.

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27 thoughts on “FAQ: Don’t have a blog, you won’t get a job?

    1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

      The difference is that open mics have a limited audience who aren’t there for you, and the results are temporary; blogging is a permanent cuttings file and any audience is purely down to you.

      What would you suggest as an alternative?

      Reply
  1. Stephen Pate

    Don’t get me wrong – any day you can get a hundred, thousand or more people to read your work is a good one. It’s hardly though a money-making proposition and the effects on one’s career are not clear.

    Reply
    1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

      Agreed, the chances of making money are minimal, but that’s a separate issue to the one that these questions covered. Career-wise it’s one of those things which you now have to justify if you aren’t doing it. Every employer I talk to says they would raise it at interview.

      Reply
  2. Larry Gaddis

    As a newspaper editor, I can tell you that I give zero weight to an applicant’s blog. Blogging in no way relates to working a news beat and handling the pressure and chaos of constant deadlines.

    We’ve seen a disturbing trend over the past several years of journalism students foregoing working at their school paper and getting internships in favor of running a blog. Those resumes go straight in the trash. Same thing if you list Facebook and Twitter as job skills.

    Reply
    1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

      I’m not sure what country you’re commenting from Larry, but please note that I’m writing from a UK perspective where the ‘school paper’ is generally not particularly professional, and certainly doesn’t provide the experience of ‘working a news beat and handling the pressure and chaos of constant deadlines’ that you describe. (Those *are* typically provided in journalism school projects, but the school paper is a separate entity).

      It’s sad that you would completely write off an application based on the person running a blog. I have one student who runs an investigative blog whose stories show better newsgathering skills than most professional journalists. I gave her a place on my MA on the basis of that work. Would you rather she rewrite press releases at her local paper?

      I’m also not sure why you say you put resumes straight in the trash if someone lists Facebook and Twitter as job skills. There are two interpretations here: the generous one is that ‘Facebook’ is not a skill, but ‘using Facebook to track stories and sources, engage with communities and distribute content’ is. The less generous one is that you have an irrational prejudice against these new technologies based on ignorance. To clarify that: do you also bin resumes if someone lists ‘using databases to find a story’ or ‘conducting interviews on the phone’ as a skill?

      Reply
  3. Alison Gow

    Just to add to the ‘have blog, get job’ debate, when CVs land on my desk, I’d want to see the applicant’s Twitter, LinkedIn and blog url listed along with their phone number, as a matter of course. (And I use said url to see what they’re posting about, how often, and what sort of conversations are happening around their posts.)
    Personally, I think blogging shows the applicant is already confident in publishing their work, putting their efforts, thoughts, opinions, discoveries in the public domain and seeking feedback on it.
    If someone has industry or academic qualifications, great. If someone has those plus multimedia journalism skills plus social media skills (and these are skills – they don’t just happen by accident) then I’m definitely interested in talking to them.
    Finally, the idea young journalists mainly rewriting press releases is a bit of a cliche now. Press releases do, of course, form the basis of stories, but between pagination cuts and staff shortages, space and stories are at a premium; renosing press releases is way down the pecking order.

    Reply
    1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

      Thanks – and apologies for veering into cliche with the reference to rewriting press releases. I was (facetiously) using that to stand more broadly for the choice between doing something investigative and using your initiative, and something you’re merely being told to do.

      Reply
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  6. Katie

    Thank you, Paul. I’m an aspiring journalist and regularly contribute to a student-run, communal Arts blog. I was just wondering whether you would also advise keeping an independent blog? Would employers potential prefer to see something that you have set up and maintained on your own?

    Reply
    1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

      I think there are pros and cons on both sides. Having a communal blog shows you can work in a team, for example. If your stories show you can work independently too, then there’s not necessarily a need to have an independent solo blog. A middle way might be to have a ‘showcase’ individual blog which links to all the work you do elsewhere. Then if you have a story that doesn’t fit anywhere else, run it on your own site.

      Reply
  7. Jim

    I’m with Larry Gaddis on this one. I’m also an editor and I hire too. I’ve worked in the UK, Europe, the Middle East and Australia. I’ve run stringers, direct staff, independent consultants, fresh graduates, professional non-journalist contributors (e.g. lawyers) and so on. And I also give close to zero weight to blogs. They’re meaningless. In fact, a couple of applicants have lost out because of the content they’ve put on their blogs. If you’re a newbie and you want to get a starter job in the industry (a) make sure you’ve got all the skills (b) and that you have SOLID experience. Proper internships (whether paid or unpaid) are a good starting point along with a good reference from an ex-boss and a couple of colleagues.

    Reply
    1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

      Thanks Jim, I agree that a blog in itself means nothing – it all depends what is on it. It’s particularly frustrating when students use them to publish opinion. It shows a lack of awareness of journalism and of blogging. Internships can be useful but they also limit opportunities to those with money and access (given that most are unpaid and in expensive capitals).

      When you say blogs are ‘meaningless’ do you mean you wouldn’t give any credit to someone who has used it to publish original reporting, understood distribution and build an audience?

      Reply
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  9. Mason Buettner

    Thanks for your great point of view on blogging Paul, I am starting to see more and more journalists turn to the blogosphere when starting out in the industry. I have been blogging for a few years now, but most of the content on my blog is just stuff that I am interested in and not very professional. My question for you is if I should start only posting professional content if I future employers could be looking at my blog when considering me for a job? Will they be turned away by the posts that are just for fun? Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

      I would separate the personal stuff onto another blog. I do think employers might not be able to see whether you can distinguish between professional quality work and non-professional work. Or put another way: having the personal stuff up there won’t add anything.

      Reply
  10. Fresher

    Very interesting stuff– I’ve been working on a couple of blogs pretty much full time for various companies. I would like to set up my own blog to focus on my own interests and essentially steer my career in a different direction. However, when I produce work I’m proud of it pains me to put it online because it’s such a free-for-all. Wouldn’t it be better to try and sell your work to various publications than leave it out there for free? If you leave the less impressive work for your blog on the other hand, it may hinder you. Any tips on how to balance this? Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

      Yes I think it would be better to try to sell your work. Broadly I’d say it’s probably a case by case judgement call. Sometimes you can’t find anyone to buy a particular piece of work, but you still want to do it. Or the timescale means you need to do it now and publish now, because it won’t be topical if you leave it any longer.

      If you sell it you can still publish it or a link to it on your own blog (depending on the deal you’ve struck). Also, there’s always the possibility to write more than one angle on the same story – so you might sell one and link to it, but also write up another angle for your site.

      Reply
  11. Kendall

    Hi there!

    I am a Journalism student currently writing a story on how helpful a blog is when searching for a job. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind answering a few questions for me. Let me know!

    Reply
  12. Ian Hart

    I work as managing editor at a B2B publisher. Traditionally a print-based publisher, it is fair to say that we are still transitioning to digital, or more specifically how to ensure within that transition we keep people paying top dollar. When I recruit I simply want to see someone going above and beyond to put themselves out there to get published. If they’ve done the student paper (I’m UK based) or an internship etc then great, but a blog or website is a really valid way of showing a skillset to a prospective commercial-orientated employer. Not just has this person set up a blog/website – I am sceptical of anyone who hasn’t these days – but have they made it something semi serious, semi professional, semi commercial? Have they used it to explore new skills, technology, thinking, or is it a stream of conciousness about themselves without a real narrative? I don’t think it is a be-all and end-all but it can be a useful way to show you can bring new skills to a transitioning company. We require our journalists to increasingly think like analysts, data scientists, production staff, web developers…

    Reply
    1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

      Thanks Ian – I get a similar impression from many editors. The blog is not the primary thing, but rather what it shows about the person’s character.

      Reply
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  15. N.S

    I disagree with the editors, I don’t understand how they can be so ignorant, Paul Bradshaw made several valid points, Blogging in your sphere does demonstrate skill and character. How else will employers know what you have to offer unless you show them?

    I

    Reply

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