Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Guest Blogger: Steering Clear of the Niche

Today's post is part of the May Blogathon, in which bloggers trade posts write for another person's blog for the day. Rebecca Robinson is the guest blogger for Write Beyond today! As a fellow freelancer, she offers some pretty valid points about not wanting to box herself into a single niche, which is a pretty timely post considering this week I'm blogging about a journalist's niche.

When I saw Katie’s tweet (@hinder) last week about needing a Blogathon guest poster, I jumped on it, admittedly because I wanted to snap up anyone as quickly as I could regardless of whether it would be a good fit.

(Call it Needy Freelancer Syndrome: the tendency to grab anything that comes your way and treat it as if it’s the key to your salvation, even after you realize that a 400-words-for-$15 article on joint mobilization won’t buy you happiness, fame or fortune…or even pay your water bill.)

Once I took a closer look, though, I realized that Katie’s blog Write Beyond the Cubicle was the ideal place for me to guest post, particularly during her “know your niche” week. You see, I am the consummate generalist. Homelessness? I write about that. Faith communities? Heck yes! Social entrepreneurs, cops, performance artists, sex workers? Lemme at ‘em!

What I love most about journalism is being able to tell so many different stories, to immerse myself in so many different realities and do my best to portray those realities to readers, finding the common thread that ties their life experience to that of someone whose world may be completely different than their own. It makes my life richer, and pushes me far beyond my comfort zone, whether I’m digesting wonky data or reporting in the field, into places that are unfamiliar, surprising, and sometimes downright scary.

I like to think I’ve had modest success in my three-plus years of journalism (a little under a year as a staff writer at a Vermont daily newspaper, a little over two as a freelance writer and editor in Portland, Oregon). But every day I hear that I would do better if I picked a niche and stuck with it. It’s key to building a coherent brand! It’s the only way you’ll ever make money!

These are valid arguments that are impossible to ignore, given their ubiquity on blogs and on the “future of news” lecture circuit. But for someone who’s not only interested in damn near everything but also relishes the challenge of absorbing new knowledge and communicating it coherently to the public, niche-ifying seems limiting.

I fully accept that this view may spring from my complete inability (or unwillingness?) to choose a path and stick to it, or a stubborn refusal to accept that my chosen profession is changing in ways that don’t necessarily align with my particular passions. But part of me genuinely believes that a journalist can build a brand through producing a body of high-quality but varied work instead of becoming the go-to authority on all things X.

But enough about me…what do you think? Comment away; I eagerly await your wisdom. (Or your rants. Those are fun too.)
- - - - - - - - -
Rebecca Robinson is a freelance writer and editor driven by insatiable curiosity and a passion for storytelling. (She’s also a fan of muckraking, wonkery, and keeping ‘em honest.) Her work has appeared in numerous print and online publications, including the Oregonian, Street Roots, Willamette Week, and Dowser.org. Got a story? Get in touch: Rebecca.michelle.robinson@gmail.com.

Also, check out my post on Rebecca's blog. It's all about being aware of the niche you are creating with internships and early career jobs.


  1. I write in a pretty big blog niche, too: pop culture/modern media. I talk about the geeky side of movies, books, tv, and video games. I keep hearing the narrow narrow narrow comments, too, but I'm not listening. My readers tend to enjoy my more generalized commentary on geek media. And I enjoy writing it.

  2. I have always thought generalization leads to a richer life ...