Brian Stelter at #NYC12: 10 Tips to Stand Out in School, Land Dream Job, Survive Print Apocalypse
In a spirited presentation this afternoon at NYC12, New York Times reporter and 26-year-old digital journalist icon Brian Stelter spoke about his early blogging awesomeness and current nonstop work for The Gray Lady. He also shared advice for students, drawing upon his own career arc and observations about the current state of the media industry.
Below is a paraphrased and quoted sampling of tips and truisms Stelter shared in the hotel ballroom, which was filled with eager j-students.
1) “The generalist journalist is fading.” Stelter said that to stand out from the journalist hordes, figure out what you do better than everyone else. Find a specialty, a niche– whether it’s a geographic location, a topic or even a platform (like Twitter or YouTube)– and attack it. In his words, “To be able to say ‘I own that topic’ is important nowadays.”
2) Write and publish CONSTANTLY. Stelter said he wrote 400 stories in the past year alone, noting that those pieces set the stage for the next 400. He said writing more builds up your credibility as someone audiences can rely upon and industry players can turn toward to share news. It also enables you to garner evermore new sources and ideas for future stories.
The importance of writing all the time– and tweeting and taking photos and engaging in other forms of sharing/publishing– was his most repeated sentiment. He said credibility is also garnered by talking to a variety of sources, connecting and establishing relationships with the biggie sources, and approaching stories from fresh/different perspectives.
3) With your blog or student newspaper, identify a competitor or two on your beat and use them as motivation. During Stelter’s tenure as editor-in-chief of the twice-weekly Towerlight at Towson University, he said he viewed the daily Diamondback at the University of Maryland as competition/inspiration. Nowadays, at the Times, he said with a smile, “I want to kill the Wall Street Journal.” :)
4) During the talk’s Q&A with students, Stelter mentioned an oft-repeated journalism quote when discussing coverage areas to tackle: “Go where the silence is.” He confirmed the importance of covering things that are so big, nebulous or rooted in tradition/the way it’s always been that they escape people’s attentions.
5) There is no need to hide the fact that you care about your website’s or blog posts’ popularity. Stelter said it is important to acknowledge all journalists have an ego and want to get hits. Without sacrificing quality, determine and embrace the content that brings in more visitors.
6) Think of your blog posts or social media updates as your “open notebook” and your full articles as finished products. Depending on your goals, blogs should be more breezy and conversational, filled with posts in your own voice.
7) In his words, “I learned so much more from my college paper than in my classes.” He said his classes were important for forcing him to practice, practice, practice, building up to the 10,000 hours needed to become expert at something (as Malcolm Gladwell and others have written about).
8) Never be afraid to contact anyone directly, no matter how famous or important or supposedly asinine. “Almost anybody can be found nowadays by email with a first name dot last name at company name dot com.”
9) “Media in 30 years will be more about individuals than institutions.” For example, he said the New York Times will still exist but be more a collection of well-known journalist brands than a singular journalism force.
10) “We’re all going to be video reporters in the future, which means we will have to comb our hair and stuff. It’s something that is quietly happening in the industry.”
**Bonus Stelter Observation**: “Newspapers today are about managing the decline of print.” He said papers and other pubs are focused, whether they all know it yet or not, on slowly converting readers to the web, to the point that print editions will no longer be published. He confirmed though that he believes it will still be a long time before the NYT ceases its print publication.