Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Blogging Week #1: why journalists must blog and how

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 9, 2010

In this week-long series, I’ll be explaining why you really can’t ignore blogging if you’re a journalist. I’ll guide you through the basics of getting started, and reveal some top tricks for making blogging work for you.

When I wrote my first blog post in October 2004, the word ‘blogging’ was only just being used. It had only just – perish the thought – made it into the Oxford English Dictionary.

And I’d never really heard of it either, until Warwick University, where I was studying, introduced its own in-house blogging platform: Warwick Blogs. If the name wasn’t very imaginative, the idea certainly was – to give every student at the university the opportunity to create their own blog & website and get publishing online.

And thousands of us did. We wrote serious blogs about politics, ones with funny pictures and rude jokes and even some about student union politics. We were the only student body, other than Harvard I’m told, to be doing it.

Fast forward nearly six years and a lot has changed.

Blogging is now part of the media mainstream, a viable source for news stories, opinion and gossip. It’s not just bored students writing now either: single mums in Tyneside, GPs, policemen, prostitutes and yes, even the journalists themselves from Jon Snow to Nick Robinson.

For me, blogging has transformed from a revision-avoiding-hobby into a career changer. It has got me work, training and speaking gigs, and a bit of money. I’ve seen my readers start small, before growing by more than 10,000 visits a month in just twelve months (I’ll explain how this week).

Although it has never made me a penny directly, blogging is a huge part of the work I do, which is why I think almost all journalists need to blog–about something.

What is the point of a blog?

A blog (or web-log to give it its full dues) is sort of like a regular diary entry. Except you put it on the internet. And make it something a specific group of people might actually want to read. The thing that actually makes a blog a blog (and not a normal web page) is its RSS feed, which identifies each individual post as part of a larger series and delivers new posts to peoples’ newsreaders or inboxes.

It usually includes meta-data, like a date, author and tags. Having a single page, where you paste a bit of text on top of older text (like this one) is not a blog (although it may claim to be) – it’s just a web page with text on it.

If you’re running a larger website a blog is a good way to remind people you’re still alive, and publish engaging valuable content which gives them a reason to keep coming back.

6 reasons why you really must have a blog

01. you’re a specialist in your field

Probably the group most in need of a blog are specialists. If your beat is windsurfing, green technologies, Indian politics – whatever – you *must must must* update a regular blog.

Otherwise how is anyone going to know you’re really a specialist? It’s a great place to update new ideas and gives you a platform for research which might not make it to the mainstream. If your paid work is drying up, a blog keeps you in the loop hunting for stories.

I’ve mentioned Angela Saini several times before because she’s got it covered. She uses her blog to promote herself as an expert science journalist (and she now has a book on the way).

The aim: to create a blog which is the ‘homepage’ for your particular niche. If your blog is the first place people go to find news on green technology, you have established yourself as an expert in the field. Cue more work.

02. you’re a freelance journalist

The other group who really need to embrace blogging are freelance journalists. If you’re working for yourself, trying to tout your wares in a crowded marketplace, a blog is one of the best ways to remind people you’re still alive – and prove you know what you’re talking about.

Your blog should sit alongside your own portfolio website (and ideally be connected to it). You can write about whatever really, although a niche expertise is best. Use it as a place to sound out stories, or even just practice your specialism – for example if you’re a freelance photojournalist, make sure you update your blog with new images every week.

The aim: to run a blog so interesting, editors are reading it regularly and approaching you (yes, approaching you!) with work.

03. you’re a foreign correspondent or hyperlocal reporter

For journalists covering an international beat, a blog is a lifeline. You can use a blog in two ways: the simple way, which is to create regular updates about your work in whatever country you are in. “I’ve been researching a piece on the Rwandan elections today…” or “I’m filming a piece for The Times Online this week”; or the cunning way, which is to launch your own one-person news service.

In this instance, the blog actually becomes a stream of articles, video, audio you are producing in your patch. You make it whether it gets bought or not, and the blog becomes a regular platform. And there’s proof this works. Deborah Bonello used her website to boost her profile in Mexico; Graham Holliday‘s Kigali Wire covers his beat in the Rwandan capital in the same way.

The aim: to run a blog which establishes you as an expert in your particular location. It should get you work both in the mainstream media, but also create revenue streams within the local/expat community too.

03. you work for a big organisation

Even if you’re not a freelancer, running a blog about your beat is a great way to connect to your audience on a new level. Jon Snow’s popularity has increased because of his frank writing in his regular SnowBlog. People check Robert Peston‘s blog for business news and for a bit of personal comment. People like to read Nick Robinson‘s blog to find out what corridors of power he’s been snooping around today.

Not only can a blog help you connect with your audience, it can build you a community of fans, and even turn into a source for stories and case studies.

The aim: to create a blog which makes you look less like a corporate machine and more like a human.

04. you love something outside journalism

Yes, it’s possible! Some people have interests which have nothing to do with journalism!

If you can’t muster the energy to blog about your work, then your hobby is just as good. Why? Because if you’re into something then chances are thousands of other people are too. A lot of lucky people (like Lauren Luke) have turned their hobby into full time work by using a blog in the right way.

The aim: to create a blog and build a community around a passion. It keeps you writing and helps you practice audience engagement (vital skills for journalists) – as well as helping you pursue your personal interests.

05. you’re a student

Last but not least – the student journalists.

You have no excuse. Get a blog. Get writing. Get used to it. Blog about what you’re learning, or what you want to learn. Use it to get involved in the debate about the future of journalism.

Or even better, if you know your future niche, get writing about it straightaway. It takes at least 18 months of awesome content to really build a following and reputation so use your student time to do that.

The aim: to either become the next Josh Halliday, Michelle Minkoff or Dave Lee and have your blog catapult you into a job at the Guardian, Washington Post or BBC; or have established yourself as a leading expert in your field of interest by the time you graduate, so you can power straight into independent work.

If you know any other cool ways for journalists to use a blog, you know where the comments box is!

Journo-blogger of the day: Paul Balcerak

American journalist Paul Balcerak (@paulbalcerak) works for Sound Publishing and runs a personal blog on practical journalism which the perfect mix of new ideas, tips and analysis.

It’s a WordPress hosted blog which he cleverly uses alongside a tumblr blog, on which he shares briefer observations.

Paul writes several times a week, but has always stood out in my Google Reader because of the quality of his ideas and analysis – good proof well thought out ideas and content wins the day.

Tomorrow: from WordPress to Posterous – the different platforms available and how to use them!


53 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Sharon said, on August 9, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    Fantastic post Adam. Think I’ll post a link on my blog later this week to this post as it’s most relevant. Will be doing a weekly wrap of all the interesting reads I’ve come across in relation to media, journalism and freelance writing.
    Keep up the great work – always enjoy reading your stuff!

    • Adam Westbrook said, on August 10, 2010 at 8:24 am

      Great stuff – a weekly wrapup is a really good way of keeping yourself reading, blogging and adding value to your readers. Glad you’re liking the mini-series 🙂

  2. paulbalcerak said, on August 9, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    Thanks for the shout!

    What’s weird is that I just submitted a post for TNTJ today about blogging and your post nailed a smaller point I was trying to make (mine isn’t up yet, but I’ll come back here and drop the link once it is). You’ve done a really good job of pointing out that blogging with a focus toward either journalism or the journalism industry signals to everyone else that that’s what you want to be—sort of like “don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want.” I touched on that amid saying “Look, who cares what you blog about, just blog.”

    The bigger point and the gist of the post is that blogging is one of, if not the, most essential skills for a young journalist to have because it leads to so many other skills—HTML coding, community management, SEO, building your own brand, etc.

    Anyway, I know I’m biased, but great post! I’m looking forward to the ensuing posts in this series.

    • Adam Westbrook said, on August 10, 2010 at 8:25 am

      Really good point Paul, especially about how it leads to so many other skills. Post the link to the TNTJ article when it’s up!

  3. […] London based multimedia journalist Adam Westbrook explains the importance of blogging for journalists, including freelance writers: Why journalists must blog and how […]

  4. […] Blogging Week #1: why journalists must blog and how « Adam Westbrook (tags: blogging blogs journalism tips niche content writingforweb onlinenewspapers news online) This entry was posted in links. Bookmark the permalink. ← links for 2010-08-09 […]

  5. […] worry what you’re blogging about (though blogging about the industry you want to head into has its benefits), just blog and be […]

  6. paulbalcerak said, on August 11, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Here’s my first TNTJ post: Blogging: The skill that begets all others.

  7. […] Ces Ă©lĂ©ments de rĂ©flexion concernent twitter. Mais valent bien sur pour tous les rĂ©seaux sociaux. Et pour les blogs. […]

  8. […] you need any encouragement to start blogging, Adam Westbrook recently posted Why journalists must blog and how — followed by five more posts that will give you a lot of inspiration! This entry was […]

  9. […] about the students using his ‘sell fake stories’ idea to get them through university. Why journalists must blog, and how: Adam Westbrook’s written a week of articles, taking you through most of what you need to […]

  10. Andrew P. Smith said, on August 17, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    Adam, thanks for this series about blogging for journalists. I am a freelance photojournalist in Jamaica, and I just started blogging since July 2010. Currently I am blogging about events I have covered, and I will soon be adding a blog dedicated to Jamaica’s sustainable development issues. The info given in your series is very useful and I will be applying them. Andrew Smith

  11. […] recent journalism blog, published just this week, listed the top six reasons why one must have a blog. The reasons are as […]

  12. […] Step One is to read about Why Journalists Must Blog and How. […]

  13. […] Why Journalists Must Blog Now […]

  14. […] Why Journalists Must Blog Now […]

  15. […] Start a blog, begin a Tumblr, start audiobooing, whatever – you’ll need to do it now to get over beginner’s nerves and to give yourself time to develop your voice. […]

  16. […] series: “Why journalists must blog and how”. The first post of the series can be found here, but navigate around the site to find the others. They are a must […]

  17. […] Why journalists must blog and how, by Adam Westbrook […]

  18. […] Why journalists must blog and how, by Adam Westbrook […]

  19. […] a new media journalist specialising in online video, blogging and social media outlines the importance of blogging (in this case specifically aimed at journalism student bloggers!): “You have no excuse. Get a […]

  20. […] you need any encouragement to start blogging, Adam Westbrook recently posted Why journalists must blog and how — followed by five more posts that will give you a lot of […]

  21. […] Why journalists must blog and how, by Adam Westbrook […]

  22. […] Adam Westbrook believes blogging is a platform that empowers journalism and that it should not be ignored by journalists. He believes that it gives journalists more personality and makes them appear more human. […]

  23. […] right, but you do need to be willing to try and experiment with current trends in journalism like blogs and social media sites like Twitter and […]

  24. […] his blog, new media journalist, film maker, lecturer and blogger Adam Westbrook offers six good reasons we should have one too. Blogging is an important skill for journalists (especially freelancers!), […]

  25. […] Adam Westbrook explains in his article explaining the 6 reasons any journalist must blog; blogging allows some […]

  26. […] Adam Westbrook believes journalists should blog and he gives six reasons why in his article Blogging Week #1: why journalists must blog and how: […]

  27. […] for student journalists than seasoned veterans of the profession. As Adam Westbrook writes, it takes about 18 months of solid writing to start to build an audience and get noticed online. If you use your time wisely when you’re a […]

  28. The state of Journalism Blogging | emkova said, on September 28, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    […] market and build up connections with the public. Adam Westbrook’s excellent summary about the importance of blogging to journalists succinctly points out the essentials, especially when it comes to young up-and-comers just […]

  29. […] things should be able to find my results and many more. First up: Adam Westbrook’s ‘Why Journalists must blog and how‘, part #1 of a five part series on blogging for journalists. I stumbled upon this post purely […]

  30. […]  mali broj novinara, pokuĆĄaću da vas sve „ubedim“ zaĆĄto je  dobro da novinari bloguju. Evo jednog zanimljivog pogleda na to kako i zbog čega novinari treba da bloguju, a ovo je moj […]

  31. […] Adam Westbrook also really believes in the importance of blogging for journalists. In his article, Westbrook talks about his personal experience with blogging as a journalist, as well as listed 6 […]

  32. […] Blogging is a great way to crystallise your own ideas and get feedback, not to mention a great way to learn, build a platform and a reputation. It worked for me and it was great fun, so go on, get busy writing. Here’s a series I wrote a couple of years back with advice on how to start your own blog. […]

  33. […] his blog post titled ‘Blogging Week #1: Why Journalists Must Blog and How,’ Westbrook tells student journalists “if you know your future niche, get writing about it […]

  34. alexbeaubien said, on October 15, 2012 at 2:33 am

    […] has become an important tool for journalist, especially for the freelancers. A journalist’s blog allows a potential employer to see his work. A blog – as well as […]

  35. […] has become an important tool for journalist, especially for the freelancers. A journalist’s blog allows a potential employer to see his work. A blog – as well as […]

  36. […] it work? You bet. Ex-Blogger Adam Westbrook mentions that it has worked for journalists including himself, and past student journalists Josh […]

  37. […] who feels strongly about the necessity to blog is Adam Westbrook. His article, aptly titled “Why Journalists Must Blog and How” delves specifically into the importance of blogging for journalism students. His strongest point is […]

  38. […] Why Journalists Must Blog and How […]

  39. The Contagion said, on November 21, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    […] Westbrook, an experienced blogger who wrote his first post in 2004, says on his blog that as a student journalist, “You have no excuse. Get a blog. Get writing. Get used to it.” […]

  40. […] London based multimedia journalist Adam Westbrook explains the importance of blogging for journalists, including freelance writers: Why journalists must blog and how […]

  41. […] as the description of this blog declares I have started this blog as part of my MA course at the well-known Birmingham City University. To be completely honest I was intuitively thinking to keep everything I would have learnt in secret, like a martial artist doesn’t want to show her/his most powerful techniques, but this concept simply doesn’t fit in the New Media world. Like the successful video journalism entrepreneur Adam Westbrook suggest in this old article about: […]

  42. bigkidsmum3 said, on February 17, 2013 at 8:51 am

    Great stuff, Adam! Even those of us who remember hot metal have to embrace all the brilliant opportunities of the 21st century. I shall be linking lots of aspiring journalists to your blogs, so stand by for even more traffic.

  43. […] journalist, not only do I have to vacate my cave, but I’m expected to join this online frenzy. “Student journalists have no excuse [to not have a blog]. Get a blog. Get writing. Get used to it…. Credit to Adam Westbrook for that wakeup […]

  44. Where to From Here? | EmilySpink said, on March 10, 2013 at 10:03 am

    […] with a few handy examples and work from the likes of Westbrook (2010), Glaser (2008) and Salmon (2010) and Briggs’ Blogging for Better Journalism (2012), I […]

  45. […] having little to no relevance to journalism. After much research, it appears I was wrong. Or, as Adam Westbrook basically puts it, I was living in a […]

  46. […] So we come to blogging. My classmates, myself included, were apprehensive to the idea at first. However, Adam Westbrook brings the point home, for as a student journalist we “have no excuse. Get a blog. Get writing. Get used to it.” […]

  47. […] tell the story but to analyse, contextualise and provide deeper meaning. Journos are expected to be on top of the news-cycle and engage with their audience over a multitude of […]

  48. […] But I will openly admit that I was wrong. I am entering into a journalism career in an everchanging world and face the risk of being left behind. So I decided I had to man up, stop being a pessimistic fool and in the words of Adam Westbrook, “Get a blog. Get writing. Get used to it.” […]

  49. WTF is Blogging? | thisisntlegacy said, on March 11, 2013 at 1:54 am

    […] Adam Westbrook compares a blog to a “regular diary entry,” and the analogy is a sound one. The biggest difference between the two in my mind is that a blog must be entertaining. […]

  50. […] As grist for that mill, here’s an article by American journalist Paul Balcerak, with a list of reasons why a journalist may want to start a blog: Why journalists should blog, and how. […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: