After a decade-long break from journalism, I returned to the field and realized that I needed a better-looking online portfolio. I’ve been keeping links to my writing clips on this website, but it’s rather text heavy. I tried adding one image per story, but the page looked rather disorganized since it’s essentially an article format with images and story descriptions piled up vertically one after the other. So, I explored portfolio sites out there for writers and journalists. (UPDATE: I’ve since figured out how to make a more visually-appealing portfolio in WordPress, which is what my site is built in, but the portfolio sites are easier to use.)
What I looked for:
- clean and organized look
- easy for the reader to navigate
- easy to use on the account or dashboard end
- looks good on mobile
- the ability to organize content by sections (say, by type of writing or by topic)
The portfolio sites I considered:
For all the sites, you can add a clip by simply entering its URL. The sites do all the work for you, grabbing the headline, an excerpt, and an image for you. (Some do a better job at this than others. I found myself having to upload images for some clips.) All of them have editable fields in case you want to change the text or upload a different image. For stories that don’t live online, you can also upload PDFs. All of these sites also have spots for your social media handles.
At first I tried to get away with just looking at existing samples of these sites. But I realized that in order to truly understand how they worked, I had to sign up so I could experience it myself first hand.
Networking Component: Yes
Aesthetics: Busy, one-page scroll
Contently is free for writers. As far as I can tell, there’s no limit to how many clips you can have. The area for the headline and excerpt is editable, and there doesn’t appear to be a limit for the amount of text, so they can be as short or long as you want. You can also drag each story around to control the order you want the stories to appear in. But there’s no way to create sections. It’s just one long scroll. The more clips you include, the more unwieldily it becomes.
This is what it looks like from the account end, which is pretty similar to the front end.
I found myself having to upload images myself for a lot of the clips, particularly for older stories or ones on less well-known publications. Another problem concerns the box on the side that shows the publications you’ve written for. For smaller publications, the logo often shows up tiny (you can see it in the screenshot above). But you can write to support and ask them to fix it; they were impressively fast in responding.
The look is too cluttered for my taste. The advantage of Contently seems to be the networking component. You can become part of a freelance pool (by invitation, and after taking an online tutorial about their system). They have their own workflow system where you file stories and communicate with editors. I just joined the freelance pool, so I have yet to see if any work results from it. I’ll keep it for that one purpose, but the look as well as the inability to create sections dissuades me from using it as my main portfolio site.
Here’s what Contently looks like on mobile:
UPDATE 12/1/2017 – Please note that since publishing my review, Contently has changed its layout and account interface.
UPDATE 1/3/2018 – Here’s a look at the updated Contently. They added an “available to work” button at the top which you can toggle on or off.
Here’s the new account view. Instead of editing each article block right where it’s placed, you now have to go to this page to do it, which is an extra step.
And here’s what editing one of the article blocks looks like. There are new required fields. You have to choose the format of your work (article, email, Facebook post, tweet, whitepaper, video, etc), the topic, and skills used. I found their “topics” section lacking. For example, this story I wrote is also about race, but race is not an option and I can’t add it myself. The “skills” section, for a journalist, is also lacking. There’s no fact-checking, for one. The skills are geared more towards marketing and content creation for businesses. Some of the skills on the pulldown menu are: 3D animation, aerial photography, brochure design, case study writing, data visualization, explainer video, ghostwriting, presentation design, product video, seo writing, and real estate video.
I like this new interface even less than the first one. One improvement, though, is that it seems to do a better job at pulling in the images that accompany your article.
Cost: Free for 10 clips. $5.99/mo or $11.99/mo for upgraded accounts
Networking Component: No
Aesthetics: Clean and organized, one-page scroll
Clippings.me has a large header image on top. The page is one long scroll, but you can create sections by inserting horizontal rules, which keeps things organized. $5.99/mo gets you unlimited clips, a custom domain, password protection to access your portfolio if you want it, and the ability to use Google Analytics. $11.99/mo gets you an unbranded site, meaning the clippings.me mentions are removed from your portfolio.
The account end looks very similar to the front. On top are spots to upload media or add a URL or divider. You can arrange the sections and clips in any order you’d like.
Each clip is the same size, giving the site a clean look. However, I also felt a little hemmed in by the images being horizontal in orientation. I mean, they don’t have to be, but if you upload a vertical image, each image in the portfolio has the same dimensions, so the vertical image doesn’t fill up the whole image area. Because this bothered me, I actually cropped some of my photos to make them work for a horizontal space. Clippings.me allows for four lines of excerpt text. For some of my longform feature stories, I tried to enter the subheads in the excerpt area, but they were just too darn long to fit in the space provided.
Clippings.me on mobile:
Cost: Free for 10 clips and one page. $4.99/mo for unlimited clips and pages. $7.99/mo includes custom domain, article backup (handy in case the publication you wrote for disappeared), and a password protect option. Pay a year in advance for either plan and get two months free.
Networking Component: Not really
Aesthetics: Clean and organized. Can choose from various themes.
Because Journo Porfolio has several themes to choose from, I have three different versions of what it looks like (there are six themes total). It’s very easy to change the entire look of the portfolio in a minute, much like WordPress or SquareSpace.
For the free account, you only have one page to work with, so like the other sites, it would be a one-page scroll. But with the upgraded accounts, you can create as many pages as you want and assign clips to those pages. You can see this in my last example, where I created separate pages for Content Writing, Essay & Creative Nonfiction, and Journalism. Because it allows pages, Journo Portfolio could be used to build out a whole website. The one complaint I have is that it doesn’t let you put clips in the order you want; it automatically orders them by latest date first.
For networking, I put “not really” because while it doesn’t seem like a site where editors hang out to assign stories to freelancers, there is an option for people to subscribe to you and be notified every time you add a new item to your portfolio. You can also opt in to a directory. I haven’t explored those quite yet to see how it works. The site provides its own analytics but also supports Google Analytics integration.
The view from the dashboard:
Journo Portfolio on mobile:
UPDATE 12/1/2017: Not sure if I missed this the first time around or if it’s a feature they added later, but you CAN put your clips in whatever order you’d like. (Hooray!) On each page, you can arrange clips by oldest, newest, or a custom order.
Cost: $9.99/mo. This gets you 250 stories and full text backups of every story. $14.99 gets you a custom domain, expanded backup (which includes a screen shot), a way for you too choose who sees your portfolio, and stats on how many people are viewing your portfolio. Free trial for 14 days.
Networking Component: No
Pressfolios is similar to Clippings.me in layout with a large header up top and clips of the same size organized below. You can create sections. Clicking on “View By Section” on the right will open up a menu with the sections you’ve created. But for some reason, I don’t love the look of Pressfolios. There’s something kind of clunky about it. There’s a place for your bio up top, but also a spot at the bottom for an expanded bio and larger photo, which seems redundant. If you are available for freelance, you check a box, and then a green box with “Available for Freelance” shows up over your photo at the bottom. It makes you look like an ad. You can arrange clips in the order you want. The images, like Clippings.me are all horizontal and there’s also limits to the amount of text you can enter. Each clip allows for three lines for the headline and three lines for the excerpt. I couldn’t fit the entire headline for some of my stories (see the middle two stories above). It was even more limiting than Clippings.me.
The view from the dashboard:
Pressfolios on mobile. This one had a glitch for mobile. Look at the first screen shot and how the navigation goes right over the large type with my name:
5) Muck Rack
Cost: Free for journalists
Networking Component: Yes. They make their money charging PR people access to journalists.
Muck Rack looks a bit like a cross between LinkedIn and a portfolio. It’s got a resume vibe. It pulls your bio (and your feed) in from Twitter but there’s also a place to write your own bio. (Warning: if you delete your tweets, as I sometimes do, the deleted tweets will remain in the feed in Muck Rack.) Each clip shows just the headline; mousing over the clip gives you the excerpt. It’s a one-page scroll. There’s a section for awards at the bottom and best ways to pitch you. You can reorder the clips by date or do a custom order, but you can’t separate the clips by section. The whole thing is vertical and leaves a lot of space on the sides. I don’t like the way it looks.
When you sign up for the site, there’s interview questions and a verification process, which are not mandatory. (The questions are easy: Where was your first journalism job? What’s the funniest news-related hashtag you’ve seen? BTW, you don’t have to answer them all. Your answers show up on your page and I opted just to answer a few.) The main point of this site is for PR people to pitch journalists. PR folks can add you to their own lists when creating press lists. It’s unclear to me if editors look for freelance writers on the site, but that’s definitely not their focus or how the site makes money. The site is written with PR people as the target audience. “Muck Rack Alerts notify you anytime a journalist is looking for a source, sharing relevant information on social media and when a story is published that needs your attention in minutes.” And this: “PR can now be quantified and justified more than ever before and social media has opened a whole new world of data. Muck Rack makes it easy to calculate the impact of your articles. Identify the specific journalists who are helping your story reach more people, faster.”
Muck Rack on mobile:
Both Contently and Muck Rack don’t allow the ability to create sections to organize your clips, so those are out for me, though I’ll keep Contently for networking purposes to see if I get any work that way. Muck Rack seems to have robust networking, at least with PR people, though I don’t know if this is true as I don’t have first-hand experience. If you’ve been on Muck Rack a while, please share your experiences.
That leaves Clippings.me, Journo Porfolio, and Pressfolios. Out of these, Pressfolios is the most expensive and also the least flexible. (It’s the one where I couldn’t fit long headlines). It’s also the least attractive of the three to me.
Aesthetically, I liked Journo Portfolio the best. I’m not really fond of having your bio right up top; I want to see the clips front and center. A few of the themes at Journo Portfolio allow you to do that. I also liked the ability to have separate pages for different content. It’s also slightly cheaper than Clippings.me.
So, for me I declare Journo Portfolio first place and Clippings.me runner up. I hope this is helpful to others trying to decide how to build their portfolios. What do you use and why?