Forget Survival: The Journalist’s Guide to Owning 2009 and Beyond

by Shawn Smith on January 2, 2009

Happy New Year. It’s 2009. So what are you going to do now?

Nearly every industry is reeling from the global economic meltdown and one group after another is looking to their government for a bailout – even newspapers.

Scary, isn’t it? But here’s an idea that I hope brings you some comfort:

Journalism is NOT dependent on the fate of your employer, newspapers or mass media. Rather, YOU can help decide journalism’s future.

You can impact communication! If you’re interested in this, read on. If not, please leave a flame comment at the end of this post.

Over the past couple years, I’ve buried myself in learning business, marketing and journalism. Here’s some of the lessons I’ve stumbled on and some resources for putting them to use:


Swimming with the current can help you move along more quickly than fighting against it. If a river has flowed north-south for 50 years, and the flow suddenly changes to east-southwest, don’t you think it would be best to alter your course to sync with the current?

That doesn’t mean give up swimming, but you should be ready to change your stroke and the direction of your efforts if it will help you get where you want to go faster.

Internet and mobile communication have really put a crimp in the news-by-newspaper model. We should NOT abandon newspapers immediately to jump in on the mobile and web markets, but newspapers should adapt to what consumers want.

Journalists should adapt to what consumers want. The ultimate check-signers are the ones who are shelling out cash for the product. If advertisers and newspaper readers don’t want to pay for the content or news delivery model being offered, it’s time to change.

Don’t wait for someone else to change journalism, get involved in charting the course. (Just make sure you first research what has worked, is working and what might work before throwing all your efforts into a project).

Here’s a couple ideas for adapting:

  • Interact with blogs (read, comment and link)
  • Study online and mobile trends
  • Get a smart phone and use it to the fullest extent, even if that means paying for applications



You are staring into the greatest information resource the world has ever known, right now. Welcome to the Internet :)

Whatever you want to know, it’s all here.

If I knew your goals, I’d drop some resources on where to go to learn new things, but I’m not a mind reader … yet.

If you’re interested in pushing the boundaries and evolution of journalism, here’s where you should start:

  • Mashable – There is not a better resource on the web that chronicles new communication technologies. If you want to stay on top of the latest possibilities, subscribe to this blog, or at least follow @mashable on Twitter.
  • 30 DC – The Thirty Day Challenge is your introduction to Internet marketing. Use it until you have enough information to move on to more advanced resources.
  • Online Journalism Blog – Ideas and aggregation of some of the biggest moves online journalism is making.
  • – More aggregation of most innovative ideas and trends in journalism with heavy focus in online.
  • Twitter – You want to learn something? Then get on Twitter already.
  • NewMediaBytes – That’s right, you’re already here :) way to go!


Vocabulary is one of the most important assets in your goal-achieving arsenal. And if you haven’t achieved your goals yet, a big limiting factor could be your limited vocabulary. Before you feel insulted, let me explain.

Let’s pretend you want to sail a yacht, and you’ve never sailed before. Do you know what you’d have to do to start yachting? Do you know anyone who sails a yacht? What would you do once you were on the yacht?

If you aren’t familiar with yachting, you probably wouldn’t know where to start beyond, ‘I want to go on a big boat :-P’

The disconnect stems from your lacking vocabulary. If you don’t have the vocabulary associated with yachting, you can’t conceptualize the actions and ideas associated with yachting.

This idea comes from Chris Howard’s “Stepping into Wealth.” Howard explains if you want to grow your wealth, a good place to start is at the vocabulary. Here’s a couple of his action items:

  • Read magazines that focus on the subject you want to know more about. As you learn more of the vocabulary, you’ll start enhancing your ability to conceptualize ideas in that subject.
  • Make friends who have similar interests. If you want to sail, make friends with someone who sails.

Here’s another quick example: Want to know what are SEO, page views and impressions and why they matter? Learn the vocab and make friends with your online web staff. You’ll have it down in no time.


You are a brand.

I know, I know, many people cringe when they read or hear those words. But forget it. You’re a brand, whether you like it or not.

So here’s the question: What do you want people to know and think about your brand?

If you aren’t in charge, or at least a part of, the conversation, you won’t be relevant to it, even if it’s about you. (enough commas there?)

It’s time to start networking, making friends and getting even more sources. Here’s a few ideas for enhancing your presence:

I won’t spend time explaining here how to make all these things work for you – that’s an entirely different post on its own. Instead, just start using these tools and figure it out. You’ll get it, as long as you stick with it. (You can start learning Twitter here, however, and feel free to connect with me at any of these places. I use the same photo and username shawnsmith on nearly every social network – and so should you.)



Embrace Your Inner Entrepreneur. That means STOP WATCHING F*#%ING ‘LOST’! (<– watch that video, seriously).

If you want to dominate in 2009, then take the tips from this blog post and put them to use. If you do that, you won’t be able to help but to hustle, constantly. It can be tiring at times, but it feels good too.

Get on your grind and hustle, hustle, hustle.

P.S. If you didn’t click the link, then just watch the video here, I mean it.


Banging your head against the wall won’t help you. If what you’re doing isn’t working, change focus and try again. If that doesn’t work, change again. And after 9 changes, move on to something else and don’t worry about what happened before. There are no failures, only learning opportunities.


That’s right. A healthy body makes for a more healthy mind. Something as simple is taking a jog or walk around your block a couple times a week can do wonders. If you don’t like doing that, then try sit-ups and push-ups. And if you don’t like that, give hula-hooping a try.


A few years ago, I wanted to know everything. I wanted to know how to make and edit videos, how to program in python, how to write a blog post and how to get on the front page of Digg. Guess what, I didn’t achieve all of those.

After numerous talks with my programming guru Sam Jones, I realized I should instead focus on what I can be good at and what I’m interested in and outsource the rest. I could never become the programmer Sam is, but I could learn the vocabulary he used to better understand how my specialized skills in content and internet marketing could work in concert with his skills.Together, we could achieve more things than I could alone having a rudimentary knowledge of many different concepts.

If you want to be a good producer, journalist, violinist, whatever, that doesn’t mean you have to learn everything that might be related to your craft. Instead, learn the vocabulary of related subjects, make friends in related topics, and become an expert on your interests. You’ll be able to get more accomplished in the long run.


I hate to end with “luck,” because I don’t really believe in it. But it’s also fitting for this last point. Outside factors won’t determine what you achieve in 2009. This won’t be a year of good luck or bad luck, fortune or misfortune. Everything that you will achieve comes from your efforts and non-efforts.

You can own journalism in 2009 and beyond.

(image credits: Swimming by Hyperscholar, Hustle by popofatticus)


More advice for winning in 2009

Some really great posts as well that I’d like to highlight.

Suzanne Yada’s Resolutions for Journalism Students: Become Invaulable | Network Like Mad – Here’s some actionable items for all journalists, not just students. I’m a huge fan of the second post which is focused on networking. This is something I didn’t understand as a young journalist. People always told me, it’s who you know, and I really believe that. So go out and meet some people.

MojoDojo’s New Year’s resolutions for graduating journos – some great content by this team, I like they put a focus on never stopping your education.

Save the Media’s Hopes for Journalists in the Future – More actionable items here by Gina Chen. She has some great ideas about shifting the mindset many have about media in its current state.

Mark Hamilton’s Resolutions every college newspaper should make – While this focuses on college media, professionals can get some nuggets of wisdom here as well.

BetaTales’ Five smart steps for journalists in 09 – Calling for cooperation and I couldn’t agree more

Thanks for the links btw @Andy Dickinson, @collegemediainnovation, @NewsTechZilla, @Digitale Notizen, @O Lago | The Lake, and @STL Social Media Guy