POLITICO reporter Keshia Clukey on building up your brand

Readers have many options to find news on a daily basis. Some usually gravitate towards their favorite news outlets and blogs, others will search for specific topics of interest to them, and many people love a recognizable face or reporter to deliver them their daily stories. Keshia Clukey is an established education beat reporter at POLITICO and has continued building her journalistic brand through her Twitter account @KeshiaClukey.

Keshia Clukey Twitter
We asked about her own experiences while coming up in the field of journalism and how she managed to continue to providing content to her followers throughout her career.

How did you gain journalistic experience in the field before getting hired to the Albany Times Union and POLITICO?

I interned at a paper for a semester in college and then also during breaks would work to freelance at the local paper in my hometown as much as I could. I ended up freelancing everything from photos to columns. When I got out of grad school I had trouble finding a job, so I just freelanced as much as I could.

Eventually I got a job working for a paper in Amsterdam, NY. Then I found a spot at a bigger paper, the Observer-Dispatch in Utica. I’ve built up my experience from covering a variety of beats in different sized communities, which has helped me be more versatile, I think, as a reporter.

Some people start at big publications, which is great, but I really value having worked my way up the line. And the sources I’ve met I’ve kept through the years, many of them have known me from all the papers and I still work with them today. Other sources I know I can always go back to.

Do you have a specific blog that you used before reporting for POLITICO?

No. I had a resume website that I would post my big stories to, but mainly for use as a sort of digital portfolio when looking for jobs.

Do you need a blog or brand to get hired as a reporter?

I don’t think so. I think the brand itself is really something you build up over time. I’ve been to a few different papers, but people know me for my reporting no matter where I am. At one point I finally switched over to just @KeshiaClukey on Twitter because I wanted to be recognized for me rather than changing with each publication. But starting out, I relied on the newspapers to really help re-tweet and promote me on social media. It’s sort of a give and take. I think that your “brand” as a report is just as much about your ethics and ability for sources to trust you. That’s something you have to do to stay a good reporter, but again, it’s built up over time.

As for the blog, I think it could help getting a job for sure. Any experience you can get is valuable, especially digital experience as everyone is focused on where journalism is headed digitally. I would just caution on having any sort of opinion blog (unless you’re the editor of the student paper or something), because you risk hurting your objectivity.

What has changed most from when you were building your own brand versus when you were hired as a POLITICO writer? What hasn’t changed?

I think I have a more wide-stretching platform now because I cover statewide education, and as I said, we’re often watched by national media and stakeholders as well. And because I’m in such a specific beat area, I’ve been able to become a sort of expert. With my stories now I am able to do more analysis based on my previous knowledge, which is kind of bordering having a column. I don’t give too much of an opinion on it, but am able to analyze the situation myself rather than calling experts and regurgitating what they say in an article (though of course we do that too!). Because of this state and national platform I also have been invited to be on more TV and radio shows, as well as moderating panels, which helps my brand. And the more visible you are, the more people come to you with stories.

Do you post your own stories when writing for POLITICO’s website? Are you responsible for gathering pictures and videos to accompany the articles? If so, what goes into that process?

I have to file my stories digitally; they are then edited and posted by the editor. At previous jobs I had to post my own stories, but I like this way better because there is another set of eyes. I can take photos, but POLITICO is more about the content than videos or photos. At the Times Union I took many photos and videos, which I would have to send to editors to attach etc. Though many videos were through my own social media accounts, like vine, which I would distribute myself on Twitter and Facebook.

What story generated the most traffic to your blog, website, or Twitter?

When I covered the Dannemora prison break there was so much traffic on every story. My twitter account went from like 800 to 3,000 followers in three weeks.

What did you do to help continue the viewership increase during the time? Did you try to post things differently or added different headlines then you used to?

I would tweet as much new info as I could. When I had stories I would often tweet the story with a main headline and then do separate tweets with important quotes and a link to the story (I still do this with important stories). We would often update stories throughout the day too and resend them.

How many people view your tweets? (Average over the course of the month)

Looking at Twitter analytics, this month (which I’d say was pretty typical), I had 73 mentions and 51.2K tweet impressions. I have about 3,200 followers.

Do you know the number of readers you receive on a daily basis? Is the number high for you, low for you?

I’m not sure. I believe we have about 5,000 subscribers, but I’m not sure the exact number. Some of our stories are free and others only go to our subscribers, so it depends on the story. Often POLITICO in D.C. sends our stories out to their readers so that gives more coverage. I think the highest number of readers I had was during the prison break, because it was a national story and we were right out in front of it. With this job now it’s not necessarily the number of readers but who is reading it. We write for lobbyists and policymakers, so the people who can make the change, which I think is pretty cool and in some way I hope to make a difference.

What kept you going when not many people read your stories?

It’s exciting to have a story go viral or be picked up by national press, but that’s not why you write the story. I try to write stories because they need to be written and are important in adding to the community or topic discussion. I don’t write to get hits. I find that my sources and readers often keep me going, thanking me for how thorough my coverage is or for shining a light on something that had been in the dark. It doesn’t have to be thousands, one thank you email counts. And often I just like breaking the news. That’s the fun part! As for feedback, when you’re in the business I recommend keeping a positive feedback folder. I put all the good emails I get into the folder because you do get quite a bit of negative feedback. It’s good to have a reminder to keep you going.

What strategies do you take to reach more people when you post a story? What strategies help you generate more Twitter traffic?

We have a tagging system so when you file a story you tag it for different topics, for example education, higher education, budget etc. Those allow readers to get specific topics they’re interested in. I also post my stories on Facebook or Twitter. I tend to share them more when they are not behind the paywall because otherwise not everyone who clicks on them can read them. Sometimes, if it is behind the paywall, I’ll just tweet the info to get it out there, or I’ll specify that it’s PRO content so my followers aren’t surprised that they can’t access it. I try to tweet it first thing in the morning, or if it breaks, tweet the story immediately. When breaking news I’ll usually write the story first and then tweet so that we have it first rather than giving my stories away to everyone.

Have you ever made money from building up your brand, like selling advertisements or selling stories, before you were a hired writer?

No, I have not, other than writing freelance, but that was not really based on my brand. I had a column for the local paper highlighting area women, not sure if that counts. I was paid per column.

Has advertisements that appeared near your stories ever affected your reporting?

It has not. Though, sometimes the editors will spice up a headline that I’ve had to fight to change as to not wrongly characterize a story.

What are the most important steps needed for a person to build their brand as a freelance journalist?

As a freelancer I think you have to really be visible. I would say tweeting as much of your own stuff as possible and really calculating what you re-tweet so that it jives with your reporting/what you want to reflect. When I was freelancing for a bit the biggest thing was just getting your name out there. Once people knew who you were they started coming to you with story ideas. I also tried to make my own brand by coming up with a column or story ideas that were unique.

What is the biggest take away someone should have when building their own brand to market themselves as a writer, reporter, photographer, etc? What advice would you give them?

Always be cognizant of what you’re putting out there whether it’s online, in print and in your day-to-day dealings with people. Treat everyone as a potential source and portray yourself as a journalist at all times possible. At the end of the day I tell my sources that they may not always like me or what I write, but as long as I’m fair, balanced and accurate then I’ve done my job. And they appreciate that honesty.

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