March 12, 2019 (Updated )
You’ve all heard it, it’s the talk of the town (maybe even at a Journo Resources event), you’ve gotta get yourself a journalism portfolio website, to show off just what your journalism skills are made of. But, what exactly do you need, and how do you do it without spending any dollar?
Personal websites have gone through a full cycle of relevance over the last couple of decades. In the early 2000s they seemed pretty vital, but setting one up was a daunting task that often involved building the entire thing yourself. It was essentially a case of you and Coding for Dummies, which isn’t really anyone’s idea of fun.
By the time the social media revolution took hold, it seemed more sensible to dissolve yourself into a Facebook page or Twitter profile and not worry about the concept of owning your own little space on the internet. But as that era comes to an end, or to use the Silicon Valley term ‘pivots’, maybe it’s time to get your home(page) in order.
A personal portfolio site is generally a good call. It allows you to showcase your best work while cutting out the mundane bits of Twitter, especially if you published them a while ago. It’s also a solid strategy to take ownership of what happens when you Google your name. Oh, and the good news is, they’re easier to build than ever.
Get The Domain Name Of Your Dreams
Owning YourName.com or WhateverYouLikeToBeCalledOnline.co.uk is the first important step towards creating your online presence and luckily they’re pretty cheap. Most [dot] co [dot] uk domain names tend to cost around £10 a year, and you’ll often find voucher codes following you around the web as soon as you start planning your site.
Where To Look For Domain Names?
There are a whole host of places out there, but you essentially just need a trusted name who aren’t going to pointlessly upsell you on everything. I’m a big fan of Hover.com, but whereever you pick, just make sure you do your research.
While there’s not a hard and fast rule, it’s often better to keep your domain name ownership separate from where you host your site. Domain name prices rarely change and their overall administration isn’t normally time-consuming, so you’re unlikely to want to move where your domain name is registered.
Hosting providers are the complete opposite (see below) so don’t be fooled by the convenient-sounding offer of bundling them together into one easy bill. Keeping them apart gives you more flexibility and makes the process of transferring your site throughout its life easier.
What If My Name’s Taken?
If you can’t find your name [dot] co [dot] uk, there are still lots of different endings. You could end with a [dot] com, or go whacky with a [dot] biz, [dot] tech or adding a journo after your name to make www.dearlovejournalism.co.uk.
It’s also worth noting that good ol’ GDPR has made a lot of the various privacy tools domain name providers offer (and up-sell) redundant. Gone are the days of your address being plastered everywhere on the internet. Maybe that makes clicking all those cookie banners worth it? Or not.
Finding The Perfect Host
Welcome to the Wild West of the internet, where companies will happily charge you anything between zero and thousands of pounds for varying degrees of customer service and reliability. Luckily we’re here and we know a good deal when we see one.
There are two main directions you can go down:
The ‘All-In-One’ solution: Companies like Squarespace, Wix, Wakelet, and WordPress.com will happily make all your problems go away. They’re a great option for people who aren’t too bothered about the technical aspects of maintaining a website and want something to look instantly nice. However, their templates can sometimes be limited (especially on mobile) and the last thing you want is your website to look identical to a fellow journo’s.
In terms of price, you can set up for free on Wix, and WordPress.com, but you will have to pay to link your domain name in – as a guide, it’s currently £3 a month with Wix. Squarespace, on the other hand, will charge you a flat fee of £10 a month.
The ‘DIY’ solution: WordPress.org is about the only game in this town. It’s simple, the chances are you’ve used it before, and it’s really easy to customise. The only real downside is that WordPress.org sites often need a regular bit of maintenance. Plug-ins need constantly updating, as does your main WordPress version and that brand new theme you want can be a bit pricey.
It’s worth stressing here the difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com, which are both very different things. While WordPress.org is free to use as a piece of kit, you’ll still need to find someone to actually host your site like DreamHost or HostGator – prices start from a couple of quid a month, though you do get what you pay for to a certain extent.
My advice would be to decide what you actually want your site to do and take things from there. Is there a blog or clippings page you want to regularly update, or is it just a one-pager with some contact details that you’ll change when you get a new phone number (aka never)? The chances are that unless you’re actually launching a news site at the same time, the ‘All-In-One’ solution will do you just fine.
Email Me, Maybe?
Your email address is your first impression and it says a lot about your attention to detail. Sending out a pitch, cover letter, or a CV and expecting a prospective editor to reply to SparkyPrincess1991@hotmail.com implies you haven’t moved with the times and aren’t willing to adapt.
Mass market (and secure) services like Gmail or iCloud are fine but there’s something particularly classy about asking for replies to firstname.lastname@example.org and making that happen doesn’t have to break the bank. While a lot of domain registrars will happily charge you extra to use their shonky webmail service, you can also use Google’s GSuite for a few pounds every month or something like Zoho Mail for free (cheeky hidden link down the bottom of their page). And don’t be daunted by the prospect of moving your conversations to an address people a unfamiliar with, most just hit the reply all button anyway and you can easily set up forwarding from an old address just in case.
One final thing to remember is that the web is iterative. Just because you set up your site one way, doesn’t mean you can’t completely change what it’s about in a few months time. The point of having a personal portfolio site is that it’s there and it’s yours. Buy, create, and set up things in a way that gives you the most options possible. Because you’ll likely be paying for that domain name for life.
Jack Dearlove is the Design Lead for Journo Resources, and has previously worked in national newsrooms such as The Sun, Metro.co.uk and the Evening Standard. He also runs Tubemoji, to help you get around London.