Guest blog post written by Jessica Swarner (@jessica_swarner)

Are you annoyed by people who are always buried in their phones, checking and updating their social media profiles?

Before you judge them as technology-obsessed narcissists, consider this—it might be their job. Their apparent obsession with their profiles could be vital to their career, so much so that their health could be suffering for it.

PSY pic

PSY pic

Don’t believe me? Think of the last time you were on Facebook or Twitter.

Do you remember seeing links to news articles? Maybe a friend shared or retweeted an article—or maybe you follow news providers that sent out links themselves.

If you saw one, did you like/favorite it, comment on/reply to it, or even share/retweet it yourself? Did you click on the link and read the story?

If so, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center (Greenberg, 2015), you are part of the over 60% of Facebook and Twitter users who use those platforms to get the news—and by news, I mean stories about events and issues, not updates on what Aunt Marge is having for dinner.

The number of people using social media platforms like these to get news has been increasing every year, while more traditional sources of news such as newspapers and television have been struggling to maintain any sort of consistent growth.

Although newspaper readership has been stabilizing in past years, it hit its lowest number in seven decades in 2009 (Ahrens, 2009). Broadcast news shares a similar story (Guskin, Jurkowitz, & Mitchell, 2013; “Key Indicators,” 2014).

It goes without saying that in the digital age, the majority of people now get news online. But before this marked shift in journalism, a reporter’s job was to search out the news, gather information on it, and report it to the public. Updates usually came with the morning paper or the nightly broadcast—there was no content in between.

Now, news is being churned out every moment. Social media is a crucial platform on which to present this hyper-updated information. Most news providers have their own websites, but for people to see that content, they have to take the initiative to decide on a website and travel to it; social media, however, creates a one stop shop for both personal and news media.

This situation completely changes the role of a journalist. People used to hang on to every word of reporters such as Walter Cronkite, leading him to be known as “the most trusted man in America” (“Biography,” n.d.). These reporters were trusted to find and convey the truth of current events, and viewers hoped they would report it as truthfully as they could—after all, these traditional media were consumers’ only options.

"Selling themselves"

Now, with the interactivity possible through social media, everyday news consumers are able to comment on articles and share their thoughts. They can easily contribute tips and witness accounts online and provide their own photographs and videos. Usually, they can even directly contact journalists and express their ideas for stories or criticisms. Overall, consumers have much more power in determining the news than in the past.

This means journalists now have another duty—to “sell themselves.” They need to convince these online readers to follow them on social media, to click on their stories, and to share their articles. With this comes the idea of “personal branding.”

According to Labrecque, Markos, & Milne, “Self-branding tactics involve creating and maintaining social and networking profiles, personal Web sites, and blogs, as well as using search engine optimization techniques to encourage access to one’s information” (2011).

Most journalists are expected to begin building personal brands early using these tactics. Established journalists have created their profiles over the past few years and become more used to distributing content on them, but upcoming journalists and journalism students are already fastidiously maintaining these profiles that they created in their early days of classes and internships.

Arizona State University journalism graduate Jennifer Gaie Hellum runs a blog titled “Brand Me a Journalist,” which tackles this exact topic in all facets. She explains, “I always took the time to add tags to blog posts for SEO, add links to other blogs and thank others who linked to mine. Publishing a post meant sending a tweet with the link and any relevant hashtags, keywords or the Twitter handle of anyone I’d interviewed” (Gaie Hellum, 2011).

Personal branding in the digital age

As she points out, maintaining a personal brand takes a lot of time.

It means frequently producing content on multiple platforms—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, personal blogs, and even, in some cases, new formats such as Snapchat.

It means linking all of that content to all of your profiles, and making sure that any new post is blasted out into all possible channels.

It means constantly providing links to outside sources as well—any sources you mention, any other people you mention—in hopes that those sources will share your work and bring in even more viewers.

It means frequently checking all of your profiles, ready to reply to anyone who comments on a post, or to thank anyone who shares your content, or to share something related to you and your brand.

It means always being on the lookout for anything that mentions your name or shares your image, and being ready to ask people to remove that content—which can be challenging when your personal and professional lives are blended on social media.

Maintaining an online personal brand means always having your phone in hand to constantly (constantly) update. Even going one day without posting new content or sharing content could cause you to lose followers on hyper-updated platforms like Twitter and Instagram.

While cyberpsychologists continue to study mobile phone reliance and even addiction, a question that must be asked is whether this obligation is becoming dangerous to journalists.

Most journalists I know are already past the point of trying to avoid phone use in social situations. Calls are often answered during meals, tweets are constantly sent out during social gatherings, and profiles are frequently checked over the course of any extended conversation, all in the name of the job.

But when does this behavior become too much, too connected? How likely is a journalist who is focused on maintaining a personal brand likely to use a mobile phone while driving? At what point does this compulsion to maintain an online reputation become an addiction?

As mobile phone addiction is more closely examined in academic research, it’s imperative to note how modern demands of such careers in digital transition affect the career-holders themselves.

Journalists’ physical and mental health may depend on it.

Further reading