Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Blogging week #2 How to create your own blog

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 10, 2010

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

Today, let’s get the basics demystified once and for all.

Firstly setting up a blog is cheap (and it can be free); it’s quick (you’ll be up and running in less than 20 minutes); and really, it is easy…I promise.

There are two options: buy your own webspace and install a blogging platform (if, for example you want to tie it in with your portfolio website); or just register with a blogging website.

I’ve covered the installation process in other articles, like this one for journalism.co.uk, so let’s just talk free platforms.

WordPress, Tumblr, Posterous, Blogspot…

There are a whole host of blogging platforms out there (they’re known widely as Content Management Systems or CMS).

Each one has its own benefits and downsides. Look for other blogs you admire and like the look of, and follow their route. Here’s a quick introduction.

WordPress.com

URL: http://yourname.wordpress.com
Cost: free
Used by: Adam Westbrook, journalism.co.uk, Duckrabbit, studio .fu, Innovative Interactivity, 10,000 Words

The best thing about WordPress is its ease of use, regular updates and flexibility in terms of appearance. Writing a blog is as easy as filling in a box, formatting some text, and inserting pictures.

WordPress opened up their code to developers years back which led to the creation of countless unique themes anyone can use. It means you can give your blog a personalised appearance quite easily. You can use ‘portfolio themes‘ to show off your work and ‘magazine themes‘ to give your blog a newspaper appearance.

It has some downsides though. WordPress is particularly vulnerable to spammers and security hacks, simply by way of its popularity.

Tumblr.com

URL: http://yourname.tumblr.com
Cost: free
Used by: NewsWeek, Paul Balcerak, Dave Lee, Adam Westbrook

I’ve really grown to like Tumblr of late. It’s an appealing alternative to WordPress, designed for short-form blog posts, sometimes as short as a single photograph, quote or link. Readers can leave comments, but more often ‘reblog’ the post.

If you don’t have time to write lots, or prefer using images and video to communicate then Tumblr’s a great option. It’s all about sharing good content: photographs, links, videos, audio. If you spend an inordinate amount of time browsing the web, taking photographs, or shooting video Tumblr is a great place to share your discoveries. For example, if you’re a science journalist, it could be a great platform for either sharing links to articles you’re researching, or for documenting the shooting/editing of your multimedia.

On the downside, Tumblr’s themes are far fewer in number and it has fewer options for customising the look of your blog. However, for many users that’s OK – they’re all about the content.

Posterous

URL: http://yourname.posterous.com
Cost: free
Used by: Cafacio, Rebecca Thompson

Posterous is relatively new to the blogging scene and has a USP all it’s own: you update it via email. No need to login to update your website – you just send it an email. Attach any media you want and it appears online. Although WordPress now offer a similar function, it has given Posterous an edge in some quarters.

Posterous are now trying to claim more of the blogging market by making it easy for users to transfer from a WordPress, Tumblr or Blogspot host to their own.

Their pitch is their simplicity – again if you want a blog you can update very regularly and on the move. However, if you’re all about the long considered articles, you might find Posterous limits you.

Blogger

URL: http://yourname.blogspot.com
Cost: free
Used by: Angela Saini, Bombay Flying Club

By far and away my least favourite blogging platform, this is the one Google product I am no fan of. Blogger (or Blogspot) is one of the older platforms, but like MySpace, its age is starting to show.

I have not used it seriously myself, but a Blogger blog is easy to spot – it’s usually the familiar Orange or light Blue. I gather it has similar functionality to WordPress (in some ways better, as it lets you embed any media you want) but lacks sorely in appearance.

If you want to make your blog look different you have to edit the HTML or CSS yourself, which explains why so many Blogger sites, well, look alike.

Typepad

URL: http://yourname.typepad.com or http://www.yourname.com
Cost: $8.95/month – $29.95/month
Used by: FeatureStoryNews, Recovering Journalist

Finally, the paid-for option, Typepad, which markets itself towards the Small Business/Professional market.

For the price it offers ‘beautiful themes’ and mapping your domain is included. As a very happy WordPress user, I can’t really see what Typepad could offer which would make me get my credit card out – but please feel free to correct me in the comments!

So they’re the main players. There are plenty more including LiveJournal and Xanga – you can read a brief history of all of them on Mashable. There others of course, but I think for beginners WordPress, Tumblr or Posterous offer the most realistic options. So, what are you waiting for? Go get signed up!

Journo-blogger of the day: David Stone

David Stone is a local radio news editor in the west of England, a job I know from experience, is extremely time consuming. Yet somehow he finds time to run broadcastjournalism.co.uk a blog & resource site dedicated to radio and television news.

He describes his blog as “…a jotter-pad for my own constant attempts to refresh and expand my learning, and partially a way of sharing what I know with aspiring journalists and interested third parties.”

David’s constant attempts to improve his skills has led to great practical articles on things like how to conduct the perfect vox pop, and how to find news in a quiet local news patch. He’s also teaching himself shorthand so expect some good tips on that too.

Broadcastjournalism.co.uk does what most blogs should do: it is useful. It is step-by-step. That’s the reason it’s a regular read for me. Is your blog useful?

Tomorrow: how to build an audience for your blog!

27 Responses

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  1. Tracy Boyer said, on August 10, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    Great series, Adam! If I may, I’d like to point out one important difference about WordPress as a CMS – wordpress.com is more of a hand-holding “I-will-do-everything-for-you” system similar to Blogspot. On the other hand, wordpress.org is for more advanced users who feel comfortable setting up their own hosting/domain support. The bonus of using the .org advanced feature is that you’re not stuck with the crummy yoururl.wordpress.com extension on a domain name, which is always a hassle for people to remember. So, I would advise people who are setting up a blog to actually put in the time to learn enough to jump to the more advanced level. I transitioned from blogspot to wordpress.org in 2009 and I couldn’t be happier! Cheers, Tracy

    • Adam Westbrook said, on August 11, 2010 at 8:24 am

      Good point Tracy. I mention that briefly at the top too. And my experience is the same, having moved my portfolio site to a WordPress.org I couldn’t be happier either!🙂

  2. rayduff said, on August 11, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    I’ve started experimenting more with Blogger – if you want to run something that doesn’t tie you into domain or hosting fees then its quite useful. And you can run adverts from the word go.

    My HU12 website has grown out of The Hedon Blog – and actually you can’t necessarily tell its Blogger – other than the ‘ugly’ http://hu12net.blogspot.com/ name.

    The theme was downloaded quite easily from http://www.ourblogtemplates.com/

    • Adam Westbrook said, on August 13, 2010 at 10:32 am

      Hi Ray,
      Thanks for the info on using Blogspot – I wouldn’t be able to tell hu12net was a Blogger site!

  3. Bilgix said, on August 11, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    good blog really

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  5. Adam said, on August 12, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    I’ve been a happy Typepad user for many of my blogs (but not all) since it was launched. The thing to bear in mind is that it’s best thought of as a crossbreed between the free hosted services (like Blogger and WordPress.com) and the host-it-yourself options (WordPress.org / Movable Type et al). You get most of the flexibility you get with a self-hosted platform, but with the management ease of a hosted one.

    Depending on the level you want to go to, you can customise almost everything about the platfom, bring in any widget from outside sites (which the non-paid for services restrict), write templates from scratch (or get someone to build them for you). And it comes with support, which can be handy.

    • Adam Westbrook said, on August 13, 2010 at 10:34 am

      Thanks for the Typepad info Adam – certainly customer support is handy, especially if you’re running businesses off these sites!

  6. Craig McGinty said, on August 13, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Been a user of TypePad for a little over six years and as Adam highlights what you are paying for is very reliable hosting, with the blogging software on top.

    One reason I recommend it is that people can concentrate on the writing and blogging side of things, instead of having to get their head around a WP install.

    Like all systems there are a few annoying things, but overall it’s let me crack on with building my site and enabled me to plug in to other destinations such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube very easily.

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