Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Blogging week #4 Give your blog a visual edge

Posted in 6x6 series by Adam Westbrook on August 12, 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.

As I said earlier in this series, WordPress remains the most popular blogging and website platform for journalists and news businesses.

It has it’s problems, sure, but it’s also the easiest to grasp and the most flexible. Plus, if you choose to install WordPress.org onto your own website, the possibilities are almost endless.

Whether it’s finding a cool theme to make your blog stand out, or those nifty plugins to make it more usable, WordPress wins hands down.

So here’s a helpful list to help you through the countless options out there…

Themes

The best way to find good themes for your blog is to search “wordpress magazine themes” or “wordpress portfolio themes“. Adding the word “free” to the search gives you the free options.

Generally a paid theme will cost anything between $20-$80 depending on how good it is. For the cost you get better usability, (although I am yet to find a reason to really compel me to pay for a theme).

Through personal experience I have found two providers particularly good for journalists & creatives: Graph Paper Press (who designed the theme for my personal website, not to mention Duckrabbit & KigaliWire) and Organic Themes (who I’m using for studio .fu‘s redesign later this year).

NOTE: you can only install your own themes if you are using installed WordPress software from wordress.org on your own hosting. Any WordPress.com sites have their own, limited themes.

Some cool portfolio & magazine themes from around the web:

Modfolio Theme, Graph Paper Press

Portfolio Theme by Organic Themes

Portfolio theme by WPESP

Workaholic Theme, Graph Paper Press

Irresistable theme by WooThemes

F8 static theme, Graph Paper Press

Plugins

Plugins are easily added to any wordpress blog through its dashboard. They work behind the scenes to create added functionality, such as better SEO, cool comments boxes, or a javascript gallery to show off photographs (and you don’t need to know what javascript is to use them). They’re accessed by going to the ‘plugins’ tab to the left of your WordPress dashboard.

NOTE: The majority of plugins are only available on self-hosted WordPress.org sites.

All-in-one-SEO for WordPress: this is an essential plugin because it automatically does most of your Search Engine Optimisation for you. You give it some keywords when you install it, and you can choose to update individual articles with search words too.

Maintenance Mode: a boring one but good practice to get this. Activating it creates a “My website is currently down for maintenance, check back soon!” type message, while you carry out tweaks or redesigns. It stops people seeing your site with its pants down, which is always a good thing.

SlideDeck: a nifty, and scarily simple plugin I discovered only recently. It lets you create mini slideshows on your website, just by filling in a box with words or images. The resulting images are displayed in javascript too, which means even iPhones and iPads can read it.

Page-links-to: also boring, but useful. It turns an item on your websites navigation bar into a link to another website (useful, if your work is spread over several sites).

Google Analytics for WordPress: sorry, plugins are quite boring aren’t they? This one is good though – installing Google Analytics gives you a really accurate breakdown of the visitors to your site (where they’re from, what pages they visit, how long they stay) – you can really use this to your advantage.

For more, check out this article I wrote for the European Journalism Centre, and an extremely comprehensive list of 85 plugins by Paul Bradshaw on the Online Journalism Blog.

OK, it’s been a technical one today, I know, but don’t be scared off by the sheer numbers of options out there! Themes are a great way to make your blog stand out, and if you intend on using it to host a portfolio of your own work, vital. Plugins are free. They’re fast. They make your site awesome. Simples.

Journo-blogger of the day: Jen Grieves

With just 11 posts under her belt, British journalist Jen Grieves is the newest blogger featured this week. But if I tell you every one of those posts has been written this month (today is the 12th) you’ll realise she means business.

I have included Jen (who I worked with briefly in my radio days) because she’s a good example of choosing a specific niche, which you know loads about. Jen is diabetic and her blog Young, Fun and Type 1 answers a specific problem her readers have: can you enjoy your roaring twenties with diabetes? And how? (See her post on dating with diabetes for an example).

They say there are three ‘mega-niches’ to write about (which people will always be interested in): Health, Wealth and Relationships. It’s early days but Jen is writing about two of them and that’s a sure-fire way to bring in readers. She has, too, the potential to build a community of young diabetics from around the world, turn her site into the go-to place for ideas, information, support…and from there the possibilities are endless (books, courses, events, products, documentaries…). Jen is making a good start on that responding to every comment she receives (see yesterday’s post) and plugging the blog on Twitter & Facebook.

See why blogging is so important? You don’t even have to be blogging about journalism (and in fact, it’s probably better if you’re not).

Tomorrow: five things I wish I knew when I started blogging & some help on making sure you always have something to write about!

14 Responses

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  1. Dan Thornton said, on August 12, 2010 at 8:33 am

    Nice post, and I’ve spotted at least one plugin I’m not using yet!

    The only addition I’d make is that there are several theme options which are designed as a basic and fairly elegant framework you can sue straight away, but are also designed to be hugely customisable and easy to tweak, change and custom design – although you might need the skills of a designer/developer to make the most of them sometimes.
    The main ones are Chris Pearson’s Thesis and Studiopress’ Genesis themes (I use a couple of the other Studiopress themes on some of my other sites, and I’ve been thinking about implementing Genesis on TheWayoftheWeb when I get some time to play!)

    • Adam Westbrook said, on August 12, 2010 at 1:45 pm

      Hi Dan,
      Great suggestions – I’ve read a bit about the Thesis theme and it appears to be one of the best out there.
      And yes, I should have explained, you can tweak any design with some basic HTML/CSS skills. I hadn’t heard of Genesis though – I will try it out!

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  5. Keith revell Blogging tips said, on August 18, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    Hi great list of themes and plugins,
    just thought I would give a tip to anyone using wordpress – you should always run a second wordpress blog on your site as a test blog, you can block it from the search engines as it is for test only.
    This is for testing everything that you want to change on your main site including changing the theme.

    If you load a theme that is broken in some way worpress reverts back to the original theme BUT on the odd occasion it will make your blog go to a white screen for your entire site and back panel also, which means you can not see any pages and you can not log into wordpress to change anything, this has happened to me 3 times on different blogs and it makes you panic especially when you have over 1000 posts and it is not easy to fix for the average person who knows nothing about scripts.
    WOW sorry a bit of a ramble but worth doing

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