Portfolio Options for Journalism and Media Students

Photo by Matt Scott

Photo by Matt Scott

I’m talking with our Senior Seminar students tonight about some options for creating portfolios to represent their work during their Mass Communication courses at Linfield. With all the links and details I need to share — and realizing others might like to have this information too! — I decided to post about the topic here.

Edited 2/26/14 to add a few items that came up during the discussion with the students. I appreciate their suggestions and insights!

The end is near. The end of college, that is.

And so it’s time to create your portfolio! Here are some portfolio design tools, roughly organized from least daunting/expensive to most complex/costly. Each of these could probably accommodate the variety of materials — from plain-text documents to videos — that you’ll want to share, and can also grow as you move on in your careers.

And remember, whatever you choose, great content is the key — so while you should make your portfolio attractive, and should ensure that your overall digital identity represents you well, don’t neglect the quality of the work you share with the world!

Photo by Linus Bohman

1. WordPress.com sites

Most students set up a WordPress.com blog in our first writing course, so you may already feel comfortable with the site. It’s familiar, easy to use, and free. However, it also contains advertising that is outside the user’s control, and it tends to look “bloggy” without a lot of customization. Paid upgrades are also required to get your own domain name and to remove ads. That said, it’s a simple solution that can satisfy many students’ needs and preferences.

If you want to stick with the WordPress style and interface, but make it your own — and make it look more professional — an independent WordPress site may be a good option. I’ll address that process below.

2. Commercial portfolio sites

If you want to try something other than WordPress, there are many commercial portfolio sites that offer a home for resume-style information and multimedia work samples.

Susanna Speier at Poynter gives an excellent overview and comparison of some of the most popular journalism portfolio sites: Pressfolios, Muck Rack, Clippings.me and Contently. I can’t do a more thorough job here than she’s already done in her post, so check it out for full details (and, of course, go to the sites themselves for the most recent feature and pricing information).

An advantage of using a portfolio site designed for professionals in your field is that many such sites offer social networking and/or career-advancement features that might help you make connections and find jobs.

pressfolios

Carbonmade (examples) is a service I learned about recently. It offers a nice-looking, simple portfolio, and seems to be designed primarily for visual artists. “Meh” (free) and “Whoo!” ($12/month) plans are available; “Meh” allows you to post five projects and 35 images, while “Whoo!” allows 50 projects, 500 images and 10 videos, plus other features.

Behance ProSite (paid, currently $11/month or $99/year; example) is another popular professional-grade option that also is visually oriented. It syncs with WordPress/Tumblr blogs, and offers Google Analytics and SEO features. Behance content is shared on other websites, which could boost the visibility of portfolio work.

Seelio is a portfolio site specifically designed for students — of any major. While some universities have partnered with Seelio to offer portfolio services to their students, students at other schools can still use the service for their own work. Though all the portfolios are cookie-cutter in style, they are at least sleek and easy to read. A disadvantage is that using a student-oriented site may be limiting as you move on in your career.

A Seelio portfolio site. Click to embiggen.

A Seelio portfolio site. Click to embiggen.

3. Simple website builders

There are a variety of ways to build your own website without coding skills. Three options with various free/paid plans are Weebly, Google Sites, and Squarespace. You may even be able to sell products (e.g., photo prints, ebooks, etc.) through your site. Another option that one of our seniors is currently using is Wix, which similarly offers free/premium plans for its HTML5 sites. He reports that it’s been easy to use and requires no coding knowledge. His portfolio is still a work in progress.

I haven’t used any of these personally, but one of our Electronic Arts students, Kelly Carmody, has a very nice Weebly site for her work — that’s how I learned of the site.

4. Self-hosted WordPress sites

Students undaunted by a somewhat more challenging task can consider setting up their own self-hosted WordPress sites. Independently hosted WordPress sites offer many more customization possibilities and, as such, a greater sense of individual identity than do free WordPress.com sites. Having your own domain name (probably a variation on your actual name), not having odd ads with your content, and customizing your site in every which way — these are all major advantages of setting up your own site.

Working with WordPress is also a good experience for aspiring media professionals, who will find that WordPress is used as a content management system by many media organizations.

That said, skill with WordPress alone doesn’t really distinguish a student as a job candidate (see this Twitter conversation among journalists and professors, which also contains other good career/portfolio advice) … but it won’t hurt. Again, the content of your site is what will set you apart.

There’s a ton of documentation available for WordPress, including this guide to getting started. Pretty much any WordPress question or problem you have can be resolved through a quick Google search. You can teach yourself everything you need to know, if you take the initiative and are willing to be patient with technology and with yourself.

As for hosting, Reclaim Hosting is a new service designed for educators and students wanting to “reclaim” their digital identities. Registering a domain is $12, and hosting is free — at least right now, during Reclaim’s pilot phase. This is a small-scale operation, but a colleague’s experience of their support during a recent account setup was quite favorable.

You can also use a larger hosting operation, of course. I use Bluehost (though I’d have tried Reclaim if it had been around when I started this site!). There are many choices, and prices vary.

It’s important to remember that if you set up your own WordPress site with your own hosting, you are completely responsible for your site, and shouldn’t count on customer service help. You will need to handle site security and backups on your own — or prepare to be hacked. Even on my little blog right here, I regularly get notifications of attempts to hack into my site, which are blocked by my security measures. (Among other things, I use two-step authentication, which is also available for WordPress.com sites, and which you should use everywhere it’s offered.) Brace yourself for dealing with these issues if you go this route.

Below are slides from a brief talk I gave about self-hosted WordPress sites to a fall 2013 class that may be useful … but they’re just the teeniest, tiniest, most infinitesimal tip of the WordPress iceberg. We toured WordPress.com features and discussed reasons to move to an independent WordPress site.

Other tools and advice

  • Make all content easily visible. Don’t post links to files that require your viewers to download files and open them in another app. If there’s a way to make portfolio items immediately visible so viewers can enjoy them right there on your site, do that. If you need to use a third-party service to make that happen because your chosen platform doesn’t offer a seamless solution, try these possibilities: embed and stream your videos from YouTube or Vimeo; embed and stream sound clips from SoundCloud; post and embed text documents from Scribd or Issuu; post and embed slide presentations from Slideshare; post and embed Flickr photo slideshows.
  • Storify: if you’ve done social media work, you can use Storify to collect social media content, annotate it, and build a story from it. You may then be able to embed the entire collection as one readable unit on your portfolio site.
  • Tumblr: can be used as a portfolio option with the right themes and setup.
  • Even Pinterest can be used for a portfolio. See this advice, Steve Buttry’s example, and a wide variety of resumes on Pinterest.
  • Here’s a collection of infographic resumes for the visually minded.

Other to-do list items for seniors

  • Don’t neglect your LinkedIn profile (or, um, get one, if you haven’t already). It really is used by recruiters.
  • Do a general social media cleanup. Use Facebook’s profile preview to see how your profile looks to the general public and to friends. Also consider a more deliberate use of your Facebook timeline to demonstrate your career path and achievements (see Steve Buttry’s advice on this, as well).

Good luck with your portfolio and career adventures!

Educators and professionals: Any other portfolio or web-presence tools and ideas I’ve missed? Please share in the comments!

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