Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Blogging week #5 Five big mistakes I wish I hadn’t made

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 13, 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.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times this week that I have been doing the blogging thing for about five years. You’d think that means I know what I’m talking about…what it really means is I’ve made plenty of rookie errors along the way some of which I have been able to fix, others I’m still living with now.

Five things I wish I knew when I started blogging

.01 Get your own web space and domain name

This blog, you’ll notice, is adamwestbrook.wordpress.com. It is a wordpress hosted blog, all the files and posts are stored by them. It works great sure, but it means there are lots of limits.

I can’t embed any flash or javascript code into a post to, for example, embed a video on the BBC iPlayer. WordPress doesn’t like i-Frames, it thinks they might be a security risk.

It means I miss out on Google Analytics, SEO, and advertising options like Addiply.

I can’t host my own files and I can’t create a stunning portfolio with it either. To do that, I have created a separate portfolio site (take a look, it’s at adamwestbrook.co.uk).

Why does that matter? Because when most people talk or write about me, they link back to this blog and not my portfolio, and it’s the portfolio that ought to bring in more work. I could (and probably will) transfer it all over, but the risk is I loose all my readers.

So here’s the takeaway: if you haven’t set up your own site yet, then really think about spending £60 a year on web hosting. I use BlueHost for my other 3 sites and I think it’s excellent.

.02 Do the mailing list

If you’re going to blog about your specific niche, and you know you’ve got a well defined target audience, then for lordies sake get their email addresses.

It means your blog can eventually become a weekly newsletter and if you get enough readers, then you could even get it sponsored! Appearing in someone’s inbox makes them more likely to read what you write too. You can use sites like Aweber or MailChimp to do the legwork for you.

.03 Be specific

I wasted years of blogging time just writing about any old crap. It wasn’t until I narrowed what I write about right down did the readers come. Don’t make the same mistake – know what your blog is about (can you summarise it in a single sentence?) and then stick to that. And do it really well.

.04 Be valuable

This chesnut again: but it matters. Ask yourself before you click “publish” every time ‘will this post make my readers’ lives better/easier?‘. This is where those old news judgements come in – does it tell them something they didn’t know before? Will it surprise them? Amaze them? Make them laugh? Will it save them money or time?

If your post does one or more of those things then it’ll get eyeballs, comments and it’ll go round Twitter & Facebook like the clap.

.05 Be profound, be prolific

Write lots. Aim to turn out around 2 or 3 posts a week (especially to start with); but your ‘draft posts’ folder should be full of loads of articles, most of which will never see the light of day. You need to write lots to get better, but also to let you choose only the very best to publish.

And finally, don’t be in this to do something mediocre – to be yet another voice in the ever-growing crowd. Be in this to do something epic: become the go-to site for your niche, become a thought leader, aim to change peoples’ lives with your writing, that after all is why blogging is so powerful.

How to keep writing

One of my readers, Will, asked last week if I could include something on how to keep a flow of ideas running, so you’re never stuck for something to write. The creative block is a bugger, and it affects us all, but there are somethings you can do to prevent it.

Keep inspired

The key thing is to make sure you never run dry with inspiration. Regularly fill your mind with new ideas: that means reading all the other blogs & consuming all the other media in your field of interest.

It also means reading blogs and consuming media outside of your field of interest too. So many ideas for this blog, for example, have come from reading design blogs or business blogs where the word ‘journalism’ does not appear.

Get out there

Go to museums, read magazines, take photographs, or just go for walks. Exercise is a great way to overcome a creative block: it clears your lungs and your head – if you can, take 30 minutes each day to go for a walk.

Oh, and watch less television.

Write things down

Whenever I am hunting around for inspiration it’s always with a pen in hand. Don’t passively consume new ideas – write them down, and save them for later. Writing stuff down makes it more likely to resonate later inside your brain. Use something like Instapaper to save good articles for later; I usually set aside time on a Sunday to go through my save pages and make notes on them.

Mix up formats

If you’re really stuck for a blog post idea, go through the different formats I have discussed in the past week. Is there a good list post I could do? What about a guest post – who could I invite to write something? Could I do a special series this month? Is it time for a sneeze post? What about a link parade?

Ask your readers!

And the greatest way to make sure you’re always keeping your readers happy is to ask them what they want to read – and then deliver! You could write an appeal as a blog post, or email your subscribers with an online survey. You could even ask the Twittersphere.

Journo-blogger of the day: Pieter Wisse

To end the week without mentioned photojournalism would be a crime, so today’s journo-blogger is Dutch photographer Pieter Wisse.

If you want an example of using a blog to be both prolific and profound, Pieter’s hits the mark. 500 Photographers is more than just a blog, it’s a whole project: to document one photographer a day, every weekday, for 100 weeks.

Regular as clockwork, a new photographer appears every day (he’s currently on 095). Each post is small in words and contains a few images and often a film about the featured photographer. The aim? At the end of it, Pieter hopes “of being an archive of amazing photographers of the 21st century.” That’s pretty epic.

Thanks for reading this week! Now a question: do you want more articles like this in the future? Go on, hit me with some feedback!

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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!

Blogging week #3 How to build an audience

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 11, 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.

We all want readers, right?

There’s little more galling than spending hours on a crisp blog post, announcing your presence to the world and finding nobody’s listening.

The first thing to remember is this: why should anybody read what you write? Why should anyone know you exist? No-one has a right to be instantly noticed in the crowded online world. But it is possible to quite rapidly build a regular audience, and with that a community, prestige, perhaps even extra income.

I know this because I’ve been on the journey. This blog you’re reading now was started on the 1st September 2006 (after my Warwick one was closed down).

I started writing in earnest, and a few people read it – mostly friends and relatives. It maybe got a thousand page views a month, which amounts to roughly 30-odd a day.

And it carried on like this…for nearly three years.

It was OK, I never really had any blogging ambitions, (I was more interested in my journalism); I updated maybe two or three times a month, writing about whatever interested me.

Then, about 18 months ago, I did two things, which I hadn’t been doing before.

  1. I wrote about one single thing (and wrote about it well)
  2. I made sure whatever I wrote added value to other peoples’ lives.

That’s the blog you’re reading now: solely about multimedia journalism (and not interspersed with details about my last holiday), with lots of practical articles like this one.

And sure enough, more readers emerged.

I’ve learned over that time what brings and audience to a blog and what doesn’t. There was no keyword wizardry going on, I didn’t buy anything from Google. I just started writing good stuff, which helped other people.

Seems simple, right?

Five things you can do to add value to your blog and build an audience

Be valuable & regular

The most important thing you can do is write about a very specific thing, and write for an audience who are interested in that thing. So, if you’re a travel journalist, running a blog for business-travellers, write articles which they will find useful.

It’s the difference between an article titled “W00t! I got an article commissioned!!!1 :D” and one called “5 iPhone apps to make your flights fly by”.

Put yourself in the shoes of your readers. What are the difficulties in their life (the pains, the wasted time or dollars, the boredom) which your journalism can fix?

Second of all, be regular. You should really be writing good, useful, valuable articles two or three times every week. Punctuate them with week-long specials (like this one), guest posts (see below) or links-of-the-week type posts.

Engage

The next most important thing to do is engage.

It is not enough to write for the masses, sit back and let them leave comments. Every comment you receive (especially in the early weeks and months) you should respond to. Any debate which sparks off the back of one of your posts you should join in with.

Be controversial. Be provocative. Make some noise. Challenge people.

Another great way to bring in readers, especially important ones, like big names in your field, is to comment on other peoples’ blogs. Say you’ve got competition from another blogger in the business-travel sector. Start commenting on their posts – they’re bound to follow the link back to your post.

Don’t make it obvious, just leave genuine, thoughtful and maybe provocative comments, and they’ll look at who you are.

List posts

An easy way to guarantee your posts are valuable to other people is to write plenty of ‘list’ posts. You’ll recognise them, especially if you’ve read my blog before, or Mashable, or Smashing Magazine. The one you’re reading right now is a list post (and you’re on number 3, by the way).

Lists are popular for two reasons. One, the reader can tell from the title alone whether the post will interest them and they can make a quick decision whether it’ll add value. A list-post title promises quantifiable, tangible advice as opposed to long-winded rhetoric.

And two, if they’re interested enough to click to your post, they can quickly scan down the list itself to see if they’re learning something new-they’ll either click away very quickly, or ideally, you’ve written something good so they’ll hang around.

Aim to write at least one list-post a week when you start blogging – you’ll make your blog so much more valuable.

Sneeze & squeeze posts

Sneeze and squeeze posts are used a lot by ‘professional’ bloggers but they’re useful to occasionally adopt yourself.

A sneeze post is a way of breathing life into old articles, usually taking the form of “Top 10 most popular posts this month” or “15 articles you might have missed”. See my quarterly ‘summary posts’ or the Media Blog’s weekly Top 10 for examples.

It’s a shame, isn’t it, when you write a new article, the one below it slowly slips beneath the waves. Writing a monthly, or quarterly sneeze post brings them back to life – and gives new readers a chance to look through your archive.

A squeeze post is another thing entirely. It’s actually a way to turn readers into either subscribers or customers. It offers them plenty of free stuff (like an ebook or a free report) in return for their valued email address. Something to think about if you decide to take your website to the next level.

Guest posts

Finally, another way to bring in readers with shit-hot content is to get other people involved, usually in the form of a guest post.

They’re used lots by successful journalism blogs like Innovative Interactivity and plenty of the biggest blogs in the world like Copyblogger and Lateral Action.

Identify the big players in your sector and invite them to write a post for you for free. They’ll usually be flattered, and will be happy to do it in return for some link-love. The best bit is they’ll link to your blog ever-after, so you get a chunk of their readers.

Think about interviewing other big players and publishing the interview too. On my other storytelling blog, blog.fu, I’ve invited four film directors to answer questions about their most recent pieces. It’s great for my readers, nice for them, and cool for me. Win, win, win!

And you thought blogging was just an amateur hobby! It is actually a little bit of an art and applying just a couple of these proven blog techniques will almost certainly bring in more readers. But the whole thing must be built on focused, valuable content.

If you’re not making your readers lives easier, more informed or entertained, why would they give you a slice of their fought over attention?

Journo blogger of the day: Christine Ottery

London based freelance journalist Christine Ottery is a good example of someone using not just one blog, but several, to really make the most of their niche and boost their position as an expert in the field.

Christine’s beat is science & environment news and she’s written for the likes of the Guardian and the Ecologist.

Her personal blog, Open Minds and Parachutes, while not that frequent, features some pretty long-form analysis of journalism and the environment, including this excellent piece about campaigning climate change journalism.

Alongside this there’s a tumblr blog which acts as a portfolio site and, as if that wasn’t enough, another blog, Women’s Mag Science – which hones in on a very specific and well defined niche.

Christine’s blogging is similar to that of science journalist Angela Saini who I’ve mentioned many times before. Her blogging and journalism has led to a book deal. Seriously, I’ll say it again, if you are lucky enough to have a journalism specialism get out there and start a blog about it!

Tomorrow: 10 awesome plugins & themes to give your journalism blog spark

(*cough! list-post cough!*)

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!

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 MexicoReporter.com 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!

Blogging for journalists: a whole week of help!

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


For several years now, journalists have been told about the importance of blogging; many have been told they ‘must have a blog’.

But just because it’s a bit like writing an article, doesn’t necessarily make it a walk in the park for journalists. Many millions of people start a blog around the world only to loose faith and give up.

So what makes a good blog? How do you build an active audience of thousands or more? How do you make sure what you write hits the right buttons?

All next week I’ll be blogging about blogging, with a new article up every day.

Set your RSS readers to stun: adamwestbrook.wordpress.com from Monday…

Have a good weekend!