Beginning blogging for journalists: Get started, already!

By now even the crustiest journalists are aware of blogs and regularly read them, if still averse to writing them. But there remains plenty of resistance and discomfort at the thought of elevating them to an active and important part of the journalistic canon. A couple of examples I’ve encountered in recent months offer some anecdotal evidence that this will be a very difficult obstacle to overcome.

One is from a general assignment writer asked to fill in for a beat writer whose duties included Monday-through-Friday postings, and who wasn’t enamored with the extra online duty:

“Oh, and they want me to [slight sneer] blog.”

Another, from a longtime metro reporter confronting a new career reality after being laid off, flinched a little at the suggestion that displaced journalists at least ought to be blogging as a means of personal branding during their career transition:

“I’m an old-school kind of journalist. I’m not used to writing about myself.”

In the case of the former, I do think it’s the word that grates on many from the print mindset. It’s a combination of “Web” and “log,” and to my ears it does reek of pure bloviation. Which many journalists believe is all that blogs are.

Yet blogs are hardly the province of narcissists any more.

Alex Gregory / The New Yorker
Alex Gregory / The New Yorker

I’ve decided not to bother with folks who won’t even consider the prospect of learning digital skills, even blogging — they’ve already sealed their own fate.

But if you are outside the newsroom and still feel that way, then you’ve got bigger problems than those recalcitrants who are still employed.

Frankly, there’s no conceivable reason why journalists — professionals who live to inform, explain, tell stories, communicate — should be balking at having a blog of their own. Longtime journalist, magazine editor and now blogging superstar Andrew Sullivan expounded recently that blogging portends “a golden era for journalism” as it matures, and draws more intelligent practitioners to its ranks:

“The blogosphere has added a whole new idiom to the act of writing and has introduced an entirely new generation to nonfiction. It has enabled writers to write out loud in ways never seen or understood before. And yet it has exposed a hunger and need for traditional writing that, in the age of television’s dominance, had seemed on the wane.

“Words, of all sorts, have never seemed so now.

Can blogging save journalism? A former NPR ombudsman thinks it can do more than that. Others maintain hell, no. It’s an endless debate that will rage on, and it’s a topic for another time. At the very least, it’s important for journalists, especially those out of work, to think of blogging as “media career insurance.”

Getting started is easy — if you don’t want the fuss and expense of paying for a hosted service, you can start a free blog here, on WordPress, as I have done, or on Blogger. You don’t have as much flexibility with your templates and in the case of a WordPress-hosted blog, you cannot place ads or do much else with your sidebar. Ultimately, you want to gravitate toward your own site, ideally with your own name or blog’s name in the URL, as I am in the process of doing. (For a few extra dollars, you can purchase a domain name and have WordPress or Blogger host it while you begin building that site. That’s what I should have done with this blog, but I was in a big old hurry to get it going. Perhaps you can learn from my mistakes.)

But as a means of experimenting with the form, and discovering your blogging voice, there’s no better way than to just start doing it.

Gina Chen of the Syracuse Post-Standard, who has been blogging on family issues for her newspaper site and recently began her own online journalism blog, has an excellent 10-point list for blogging-journo newbies that stresses accuracy, conversation and interaction with readers, and yes, offering opinion and personality. They needn’t be exclusive of one another, as our traditional journalistic breeding has taught us.

You need to put some thought into what you want to blog about. Since the Web is a niche platform, as opposed to the mass of newspapers and other legacy media, you need to identify and research your niche. If you were a beat writer, you’ve got a head start. The fine Beat Blogging site is a good resource to learn how to use blogs to add depth and context to reporting, get tips and develop sources. Interviews with blogging journalists are a regular feature, and there are examples of the work these journalists do with their blogs.

This four-part series written by a young Web journalist and entrepreneur whose work I’ve benefitted from is designed to help journalists plot out their foray into blogging: Make a plan, get to know your niche, interact with your readers and learn from newspaper blogs that know how to do all those things.

rick2
images.gocomics.com

When Doonesbury’s resident reporter, Rick Redfern, took a buyout from his (fictional) newspaper last year and began blogging, he didn’t do much in the way of understanding how blogging works, and how different it is from the one-way medium to which he was accustomed. In fact, he remained rather dismissive about it all.

So it is important to have a strategy for your blog, and to know where you want to go with it. Ultimately, getting back to work, whether it’s for another employer or for yourself, is the goal. If you already regard yourself as an expert in a particular area because of your past reporting or editing experience, a regularly updated blog builds on that, and serves as your living, breathing C.V.:

“Getting the job of your dreams requires being a qualified and compelling candidate. Most people spend all their time worrying about the qualified part without working on the compelling part. Who cares if you graduated summa cum laude if no one actually bothers to read your resume.

“Writing a blog on your subject of choice helps to qualify you, but more importantly, it makes you a compelling candidate that stands out from the crowd.

There are plenty of other points for beginning bloggers to keep in mind as they get going, including the prospects for making money, how often to post, etc., that I will take up soon.

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8 thoughts on “Beginning blogging for journalists: Get started, already!

  1. First, thanks for the shout out.

    Second, you make a ton of excellent points, including: blogging isn’t an option for journalists. You need to do it. Period.

    I, too, have heard journalists says they are “old-school” so blogging is out. (I’m getting a bit frustrated with that mindset. I’m old-school, too. I started as a journalist more than 20 years ago, but I’ve lost none of my journalistic integrity by blogging. And I’ve learned a lot about what readers want.)

    The thing is: The world has changed, and as you put it: “Frankly, there’s no conceivable reason why journalists — professionals who live to inform, explain, tell stories, communicate — should be balking at having a blog of their own.”

    Well said.

    — Gina

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  2. Thanks for the plug, Andy, and that’s for the comments Gina. Glad to see a fellow print type taking the plunge with the blog thing.

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  3. Hey Wendy, cool post…I’m not a professional journalist but the piece brings up some interesting questions for me.
    If a blog is, if nothing else, a branding bridge between “paying” journalism jobs, then do you think it will ever serve as anything more than that? In other words, at the end of the blogging day, you still have to sell something to a newspaper or publisher to make money you can live off of right?
    Other than popping a few adsense ads in here and there, I can’t see any real way to monetize one’s fine blog content to a degree that pays the bills. Am I wrong?

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  4. I don’t think anybody expects to make a lot of money, if any, from blogging, and while there are folks who can and do blog for a living, for most of us it’s a means of building an online presence. “Branding bridge” is a good way of putting what many blogs are all about.

    This blog isn’t going to pay the rent, but it is my first sustained attempt at blogging, and after four months I’m generally pleased with how I’ve done with it. I’m starting to get more comments, feedback and links as I build my professional credentials and become part of a conversation on the topic of career reinvention and digital skills for journalists.

    Blogging can lead to other opportunities that can lead to income, including full-time job offers and for a rare few folks even book deals. I soon will embark on some speaking and writing engagements based on what I’ve written here. All this will pay off somehow — the freelance money is trickling in a little too — but it’s fun to explore the possibilities.

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  5. I hear ya…I can see the future of blogging now. People with a couple of years of good blog content will bundle it up, print it out, but it between some cardboard, glue it to a spine, and sell copies by the thousands!

    We will come full circle – digitize your writing for branding, then undigitize it to make a living – haha!

    Looking forward to your next post.

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