Guest blogger, Susan Currie Sivek, writing from Fresno, California, in the USA.
As a relatively new tenure-track professor in journalism and media, I teach students skills and critical thinking for a profession that is in a state of redefinition. One of the ways journalism educators are trying to increase their students’ job opportunities is by encouraging them to develop a “personal brand,” through which they establish themselves as a rising professional with a unique voice and style. They then publicize that personal brand through multimedia blogging and social media, in hopes of impressing prospective employers with their initiative and distinctive qualities.
I do think that this is an important strategy for my students, and I feel I’d do them a disservice not to discuss it with them and help them to establish themselves professionally online. This semester, I required students in my introductory media writing class to get involved with Twitter and also to set up individual blogs. I hope that those who excel in their online work will have opportunities to find jobs in their desired profession, and will be better situated to compete with students from larger, better-known programs. It seems unfair to not help them position themselves for their futures in this way.
I have struggled a bit with the implications of this approach, however. What does it mean to encourage my students to think of themselves as brands? I emphasized to them in class that they must be authentic and honest in their online writing and self-presentation, and that they had to prioritize their sense of personal integrity and ethics above all else. They could not be someone online who they weren’t in the real world. But still, the frighteningly corporate language of branding permeated the discussion.
As a faculty member in this field, I have also felt a need to “brand myself,” especially in these turbulent budgetary times. Not only do I want to shape a coherent public and scholarly identity, but I want to remain current with the changing norms of media and journalism practice, and so I practice what I preach to my students. I also have a blog and a Twitter account, and I focus these on professionally relevant topics – usually on changes in the magazine industry and the role of journalism in communities, which are also two of my research interests. However, these topics are not always organically arising creations of my soul, if you will. As an undergraduate English major and a lapsed poet, I am torn between desires to produce work that is professionally oriented and to create work that is more expressive of my experiences and emotions.
As a result of these conflicts, I identified with Mary Churchill’s recent UVenus post asking whether we as faculty are “merely playing the game[,] or have we become the game?” I am tentatively feeling my way through the challenges of equipping my students for a world where some degree of “playing the game” seems necessary, even for the chance to enter into such a potentially game-disrupting occupation as journalism. I also want to continue to use the online world to build my own public communication skills and engage in discussions of my field of study and my profession.
I think that this kind of engagement, through social media and other communication opportunities, is critical for someone who wants not only to teach about important societal issues in the classroom, but also to contribute to change on a larger scale. Attempting to establish myself online as someone with a voice and some expertise in my field gives me a bigger platform from which to speak.
Unlike my students, though, I have no one to remind me to remain true to myself and to monitor the integrity of what I do and say. That responsibility falls to me alone.
Susan Currie Sivek is an assistant professor and the graduate coordinator in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department at California State University, Fresno, where she teaches courses in media studies, writing and qualitative research methods. She blogs at sivekmedia.com and is a knitter, triathlete and hiker when she can get away from the computer.