Five things that should be in your organization style guide

While I was at Back on My Feet, something I was proud of completing was, with the great help of a colleague, a company style guide.

A style guide should be a fundamental piece of documentation that goes a long way to creating an institutional memory. If everything imploded, a style guide would help you rebuild your organization — with workflow being more explicitly enumerated in staff manuals.

As your organization grows, it’s easy to wake up and find a lot of disparate, disconnected pieces that you’ll need to assemble again. Take hold and  keep connected the work you do for a tighter, more inspired and successful campaign.

In looking at other guides and finding value in ours, there are a few items that I think every style guide should include:

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A lesson in branding for startups

I’ve squabbled with people over domains and publication names, of projects and story titles.

There was a moment of inaction in creating the technology news site for Philadelphia that I am now proud to say continues to take on readership and bring on partners. Technically Philly certainly isn’t descriptive on its own and makes for a fairly long domain. But I like to think we’ve developed some degree of brand recognition. That name means technology and innovation coverage to a few thousand people in Philadelphia.

The secret is, I think, that within reason, if you brand it, they will come.

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Choose your business name on domain availability

When you’re launching a business or a brand, a check for domain availability has to be part of the brainstorming.

I worked with Shannon McDonald to launch a hyperlocal news site for Northeast Philadelphia. Initially in late 2008, she wanted the product to be the Web presence of a print product she wanted to call NEast Magazine.

It’s not where we ended up.

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Weekly in print, daily online: the new slogan of The Temple News

It was sometime this month two years ago that, while still an undergraduate at Temple University, I started tossing around what I hoped to be a new tagline for The Temple News, the college newspaper on North Broad Street.

Weekly in Print. Daily online, I suggested.

I wrote it on a piece of paper and posted it in my cubicle, as editorial page editor. In the mid-1990s, our newspaper staff rather presciently decided to move from printing three days a week to just once, having already dropped from a daily a few years earlier.

The intent, a front-page story read at the time, was to reduce costs at a time when the Internet would soon be the source of all news. Gosh, they were a bit too early, but dead on. So, they’d update daily online and follow-up with the biggest stories weekly.

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I’m the proud new owner of my own business cards


Once I admitted I was late, I just kept delaying the inevitable — buying business cards.

I got into the full-time, freelance writing back in December, so I ought to have had something right away. I could have passed them out when I spoke at a high school journalism conference and with the many sources I’ve met in my freelancing work since.

Well, now I have them, double-sided cards, as depicted above, though the colors are a bit darker and the text a bit harder to read here than they are when printed. Much thanks to colleague graphic designer Brian James Kirk who did the dirty layout work.

There are those who say business cards are old hat, but, let me answer my own question, they are still absolutely necessary for a freelance journalist even today. Below I share what I did and related learning.

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When your brand is good enough to be a verb, coming to news media

jellocosby2The frequent mention of market dominance is when a brand becomes a verb.

Xerox that. Get a Band-Aid.

Of course, that has clearly followed online.

Google that. Digg that – though not Digg me. Facebook me; the confluence of Twitter and tweet and twittering. You don’t LinkedIn someone, which might relate to how Facebook could crush its professional conterpart if it would only offer a more restricitve and private version of a person’s Facebook profile for colleages.

Can this come to news media?

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Turning down the self-promotion

We are stuck in an echo chamber, a friend said to me recently.

While the digital divide is slowly lessening and more people are online all the time, there is a very small community that is always repeating itself  on whatever the social media of the moment is – lately that has been Twitter, of course.

I’m part of it, no doubt. Because our society today demands self-promotion, or so it seems. The echo chamber is so small and there are so many people talking – mostly about the same things – that it’s tough to be heard over it all.

Your post or your story or your A1 article is getting buried, surely a big part of why newspapers are faltering. The democratization of the Web has given megaphones to anyone with an Internet connection, so no longer does your daily newspaper have the same pedastal.

So, if you want to be heard, you flee to MySpace, or Facebook or Twitter or on your blog or wherever else.  I believe that you have to put yourself everywhere online if you want to compete in a media field of your choice. But it’s easy to cross over from active self-promotion to incessant self-indulgence.

I’ve done it myself, so here’s my pledge to do better.

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What is your blog's focus?

You should be blogging, even if casually and infrequently and briefly.

I’ve already said that journalists of all stripes, anyone interested in media, research or anything in which your writing, your name and your credibility is best served defended and re-defended somewhere it can be found.

One of the best reasons to traipse into this fad — and, of course, blogging is fad for now, fashion, perhaps, later, because we won’t know of its longevity for some time — is because there is no better way to develop a voice and a focus. These are, they tell me and tell me and tell me again, central qualities to all writers of note and consequence, indeed, even writers and speakers and thinkers of even relative success.

And it’s harder than you might think.

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Newspapers like the Philadelphia Inquirer need an attitude

It’s the attitudes that got them into this mess – newspaper executives thinking the party would never stop, but newspapers need to combine an appreciation and interest in learning the future with the confidence of being the most powerful news sources in the world.

Too many just seem to be running scared.

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Required reading to own your name in a Web search


I don’t want to repeat this anymore, so let me direct you elsewhere.

I got an e-mail from a young aspiring journalist, still in high school and already coming to the questions I just started coming upon late in college. Her question:

how do you buy spaces on a google seerch?

Hey, even she will tell you that I told her to work on her grammar and spelling. (Oh, word processors, what have you done to us?).

But more importantly, it made me realize I never wrote the obligatory “own your name in Google” post. I have surely touched on it in previous posts, but rather than repurpose that information or rewrite what has been written so many times, I say to young reporter or fresh-on-the-web journalist, find out why branding your name online matters, and then read the following – because they’ve already done the job.