After six years, 520 posts and who knows how many words, this is the last thing I’m going to write on this blog.
It’s a decision I’ve been thinking about for almost a year and I’ve kept putting it off, partly because I still had things I wanted to figure out and share with you, and also because – believe it or not – this blog does make a bit of money!
But 2o12 has been a year of reflection and contemplation for me and ultimately of heading in new directions. Over the last few years my interests and passions have developed to the point where I now no longer think of myself as a journalist, but more of a producer and publisher. What I write about has gradually shifted from news to storytelling, to cinema to entrepreneurship, and I know that’s not what many of you come here for.
At the same time, how I think about creating stuff has changed and I want to focus my energy on building things that matter: films, magazines, books, businesses and more. Sadly a weekly blog post, and hours spent on Twitter don’t fit into that.
I’ve spent some time bringing together 20 of my favourite pieces from the last few years and written five brand new ones, and put them all into a one-off collection. If you’re here for the first time and want the highlights this is for you, or if you want an intensive burst of ideas and inspiration in one sitting then I recommend it too. It’s completely free: you can have the pdf right here, no email address or nuthin’.
In a few months I’ll be leaving my life in London behind and seeking some new adventures. I’ll be heading to Paris in January and then to wherever the wind takes me. There is no plan or strategy, just embracing uncertainty, putting faith in having no plan.
I’ve got some bold new projects I want to start, some experiments I want to try and I’ll generally be gettin’ busy gettin’ messy. I’m still insanely passionate about creating insightful, intelligent and thought-provoking factual stories so a lot of my projects will be trying to solve this problem.
I’m also crazy about storytelling structure and visual storytelling and still have loads of questions about it. The response to the Inside the Story project earlier this year was awesome, and I have plans to develop it in early 2013, most likely in magazine form. If you’ve downloaded a free copy of the ebook, then you’ll hear about it later this year. Click here to get a copy if you haven’t already.
I’ll be location independent so I’ll still be working with clients in the UK and elsewhere and I’ll continue to be available for film, motion graphics and writing commissions. Click here to contact me about that. I’m also still consulting and training, and there are still a few spaces left on the next video journalism workshop in November. At the same time, if you’re an organisation committed to creating great narrative experiences anywhere in the world then drop me a line too, maybe we could work together one day.
Finally, and most importantly, I want to say a huge thank you to you for reading all this over the years. You can double that thanks if you’ve ever left a comment after a post, triple it if you’ve retweeted, reblogged or shared a post, and quadruple it if you’ve ever bothered to send me an email. Knowing that something I’ve written has inspired another person, given them a new idea, or helped them do something awesome always puts a smile on my face.
After all this time blogging about journalism, what advice can I offer? Well, there’s a spot open for someone to share more new ideas about how journalism can be done better. If that appeals to you, then remember: be positive, not critical, share and inspire and above all be immensely generous.
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.
I have honestly no idea what will happen next in my life but here are some ways you can keep up with whatever the hell does happen.
My Journal: I’ve slowly been building a personal online journal. Is it just another blog? Sort of, although it is really a blogazine, with each article individually designed, as a way for me to practice web design. It’s a 100% personal site, so if you’re interested in me as a person then take a look. Inspired by Robin Sloan’s brilliant tap essay I’m going to be making tributes to people, things, places and stuff that I really love.
My homepage: My main website is still there – it’s the best way to contact me.
Twitter: I’ll still be tweeting and tumblring, although a lot less frequently.
Hotpursuit.co: This is my new publishing venture..it’s just a top co right now, but will develop more in the future. Still you can sign up to the mailing list if you really want.
• • •
And lastly, I’m not stopping this blog because I have lost faith in the future of journalism or the industry. Quite the opposite. In the lifespan of this website we’ve seen journalism hit hard, and its foundations thoroughly shaken. But the last two years have brought an energetic burst of new ideas, platforms and experiments from ordinary people that I’m certain will propel us through to a remarkable new age, where stories are told, ideas are spread and the truth always challenged.
If you ever despair, remember: we are just at the beginning.
The first thing to realise is that the secret is not to come up with a new idea.
There is rarely such a thing. Instead, the secret is to look at a space with people, or businesses already established, and see what they’re doing wrong. Then invent something that improves on what they do.
Whether this is blogging, publishing, film-making, business, photography or whatever, you can do this. The “gap in the market” isn’t some big group of people that no-one has thought of targeting before. It’s found in the shortcomings of players already in the market.
Here are some disruptive approaches into any of these fields.
Be the inspirer: use your work to inspire and excite others with new ideas: this is how I have blogged for six years. People love being inspired.
Be the connector: bring people together, either in person, or online, like a good party host. Create a digital space for people to interact (a forum, a social site) or a physical one (start a monthly meetup).
Be the combiner (of new ideas): I’ve written about this before. Combine two disparate ideas to make a new one.
Be the leader: have a vision for how things can be better and actively set out to make it happen. Others will follow.
Be the experimenter: be about lots of ideas, rapid prototyping, quick feedback. Very few people do this openly in any niche (afraid of looking stupid)
Be the doer/maker: get busy building (films, books, events, software) – let your actions speak for you. Probably the best way to go (after all, anyone can talk the talk..)
Be the problem solver: actively look for the problems in a particular area, and create solutions.
Be the UX fixer: any bad (reading, watching, buying, discovery, sharing) experience is an opportunity to own the market, simply by creating a better experience. Instagram wasn’t the first photo-sharing app, but it’s the one that’s the most satisfying to use.
Be the most fun: constantly surprise and delight your users/audience/readers.
Be the most caring: how many magazines or news websites give a damn about their audience? If they really did, would their products be full of adverts? All big organisations and corporations have this human disconnection problem (when was the last time your bank wasn’t an arsehole?)..and they’re all opportunities for smaller, leaner people-driven competition.
Notice the two items that are missing: be the fastest and be the cheapest. They’re races to the bottom and should be avoided at all costs.
Where do ideas come from?
I’m talking ideas for projects, ideas for stories, ideas for businesses.
By now, you know that “there’s no such thing as an original idea”. That’s true, but it’s only half the story.
Twyla Tharp in her excellent book on creativity describes the “unshakable rule that you don’t have a good idea until you combine two little ideas.” It’s an eye opener because it makes you realise that there’s no lightning strike of inspiration. You realise that a good idea is a simple matter of combining two different ideas together.
Many of my own projects are the result of this combination.
My popular journalism prediction videos were a combination of the raft of end-of-year predictions which flood the internet each December and stylish video.
Inside the Story, which raised $4400 for Kiva this spring, came about by taking Seth Godin’s book What Matters Now and applying its approach to a completely different field of digital storytelling (you’ll notice Seth gets a nod in the book).
Meanwhile a whole industry of advocacy film-making has developed from the concept of applying a documentary approach to the third-sector market.
To take it a step further the most innovative ideas can come from combining two things which would never ordinarily be put together.
A huge amount of content for this blog, in fact, comes from combining smart things Chris, Amber, Ryan, Seth and Tim say about philosophy, life-design, productivity and marketing and wondering “what happens if we apply that to online publishing and journalism?” It’s the reason the blog’s approach to entrepreneurial journalism stands out, say, from what Jeff Jarvis or Mark Briggs might write.
Similarly, the aesthetic of online video is starting to step away from mimicking television news because videographers, armed with HDSLR cameras are taking their cues now from the disparate world of fictional cinema. They’re combining James Cameron’s style with documentary content.
Wait, isn’t that stealing?
Of course it isn’t. Kirby Ferguson, the brain behind the influential series Everything is a Remix, makes this point brilliantly in his series of films. He argues how we take an idea, transform, remix and combine it to create something new. To flat out copy What Matters Now and pass it on as my own – sure that’s stealing. But to combine it with another idea transforms and remixes it into something new.
“If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.”
Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist
Lots of young journalists, film makers and publishers are told to start blogging, but abandon it because they don’t think they have anything to add to the saturated journalism-naval gazing market. Certainly, no-one wants to read another postgraduate’s opinion of the Leveson Inquiry. So if you’re stuck, start by taking something else you’re passionate about – maybe another industry or another craft – and collide it with journalism.
If you’re lucky and persistant, sparks may fly, and give life to a whole blog, an article, a documentary – even a new business.
Wow, we’re a quarter of the way through 2011 already! How did that happen?
I’ve had an intense but brilliant start to the year, producing four commissions for studio .fu, launching myNewsBiz (the deadline’s in one week!), continuing to lecture in video journalism at Kingston University, and of course keeping this blog up to date.
Every three months or so I try to sum up the most popular posts for those of you who might have missed them. Here’s the last one from 2010.
5 conventions every online video journalist should scrap – a controversial one, with plenty of comments.
10 free and totally legal programs for multimedia journalists – the most popular post this year by far. An update is on the way soon.
My 10 predictions for journalism in 2011 – check out my video predictions for the big trends in journalism this year.
Great online video: The Sartorialist – my favourite piece of online video so far this year.
10 Great themes for your online magazine – if you’re starting an online magazine, here’s a great resource of free & premium themes to use.
How journalists can get ahead of the game in 2011 – I rummage through JWT’s annual intelligence report to see if there are any big trends journalists should know.
Can journalists really be entrepreneurs? – I ask some of the most successful j-entrepreneurs in the UK.
The first question every entrepreneurial journalist should ask – you’ll have to click to find out what it is!
10 revenue streams for your news business – does what it says on the tin. I list 10 revenue streams every j-entrepreneur could use.
On revolution – This one got picked up by BBC News Online the night Mubarak fell.
If you like what you see, don’t wait for another three months to find out what posts you’ve missed: subscribe and get each email delivered straight into your inbox! The box is on the right…
Earlier this week, I suggested Flavors.me has the edge over WordPress, when it comes to creating a visually unique portfolio website for journalists.
But, when it comes to doing something more complex – such as creating a new online magazine, then WordPress still wins hands down (in fact, don’t even try using Flavors, it wasn’t designed for it!).
If you are starting an online magazine, or a complex blog, you’ll need a theme with the flexibility to create new articles and arrange them, create featured posts and media galleries. Luckily, hundreds of WordPress theme designers have come to the rescue with some awesome themes – many of which, won’t cost you a thing!
After a several weeks lost in theme galleries, I have picked out 10 really exceptional themes. I won’t describe each one – you can see for yourself whether it suits your purposes. Remember, don’t just pick themes based on their colours or fonts – those can be changed by editing the theme’s CSS file.
Free wordpress themes
(A NOTE about free themes: these themes come from trusted producers (such as WPShower), or via a trusted curator, such as Smashing Magazine. However there are dangers with using any old free theme you can find, as highlighted in this article. Thanks to @mike_rawlins for the tip)
Magazeen by WeFunction | Demo
Premium wordpress themes
The Style by Elegant Themes $39 per year | Demo
Magazine Theme by Organic Themes $69 | Demo
Bulldog by SweetThemes $33| Demo
Why pay for a theme? Some of the benefits of a premium theme are better support, often better coding, and more flexibility. I have used both free and premium themes in the past; the free ones can have bugs and be a lot harder to understand for a novice web designer.
Any more to add? Stick ’em in the comments!
Journalism aside, do blogs make a difference?
Today, two victories for two campaigners who have been using blogs to get their message across, heaping pressure on the establishment and building a community of support.
Fighting the law…
Firstly, in Hull in the North East of England, John Hirst also known as the Jailhouse Lawyer won a victory he has been waiting five years for, with reports in the press that the British government have (reluctantly) decided to give prisoners the vote. It comes after John won a landmark case in the European Court of Human Rights back in 2005, which ruled Britain’s disenfranchisement of prisoners violated their human rights.
Now whatever you think about whether prisoners should have the vote, John’s legal victory did not mean a change in the law like it should have. The previous Labour government stalled on the issue quite shamefully, and led to people like me making photofilms like this.
For a background on this story, check out this film I shot for the VJ Movement back in May 2010.
From his small terrace house in Hull, John persisted with his campaign and his blog became his main voice. He blogged everyday and built up a not insignificant following. He’s been interviewed on countless news programmes, and as I said earlier this year, he’s even been able to make money from advertising deals on the blog.
…and fighting companies
[UPDATE December 2010: WordPress took down the original blog, but it has now been moved to this address.]
Secondly, and closer to home, my mum and her partner Toni have finally been awarded a claim from financial company Welbeck Wealth, after a persistent campaign via a blog. Owed several thousand pounds, and ignored via the usual routes, they started Welbeck Group, I Want My Money Back!, and blogged regularly about their treatment.
Toni’s clever use of SEO and a growing readership soon put the blog in the top three results when you Googled Welbeck Wealth. As you can imagine, this irked the company somewhat, who – quite remarkably – threatened to sue for defamation (a claim they soon retracted). More importantly, Toni’s blog brought out a community of other unhappy customers, and even at one stage, a whistleblower, who gave her an interview. She was, in some ways, acting like a consumer journalist on this one story.
And today, the company finally paid out – again, reluctantly.
Neither victory would have been possible without the dogged persistence of both John and Toni, who kept going, even when it seemed no-one else was interested anymore. But online publishing – free, quick and easy – gave them another weapon to change the world.
Can blogs create change? Maybe, just maybe.
It’s been quiet on the blog so far in September, as I’ve been working hard starting and completing around half a dozen new projects (who said multitasking couldn’t be done?!)
I know it’s not what you stop by here for, so I’ll keep it brief.
Two commissions from the VJ Movement have kept me very busy this month. The first, a challenging story on the uncertain fate of refugees in Britain, was published a week ago. I spent some time with a Kurdish refugee who doesn’t know whether she’ll be kicked out of the UK. Her legal files are in a pile of boxes somewhere in south London; she’s in York. Click here to watch it.
An article on the closure of Refugee and Migrant Justice also appears in this week’s edition of Big Issue In The North.
A second commission, on the surprisingly expensive problem of Japanese Knotweed, is delivered this week. I’ve had fun trekking through woodland, stalking through quarantine facilities and taking a look at the new Olympic site on this one.
Some more films
Meanwhile, studio .fu, my production company is slowly gathering pace. I’ve been working on building a portfolio of work, and building relationships with potential clients too. I’ve finally completed a short about the artist Toni Lebusque, and I am delivering two films for two clients this week (phew!).
Great fun has also been had beginning a series with presenter Matt Walters about green living…which began by filming his car being demolished – I’ll share when it’s up!
Some words and sounds
I’ve been appearing in various forms elsewhere on the internet. Check out my views on paying for journalism on the Tomorrow’s News Tomorrow’s Journalists blog; I’ve also appeared at owni.eu (in French) and the European Journalism Centre this month. More time is being taken up by blog.fu, studio .fu’s own storytelling blog. And I’m also becoming slowly addicted to Tumblr too.
And a couple of weeks back I appeared alongside Richard Wilson and Jon Slattery in Judith Townend’s Meeja Law podcast. It’s called I’m a Blogger Get Me Out of Here and here’s my segment talking about being a blogger and keeping on the right side of the law. (Click on the play button to listen)
I’ve clocked up more track-miles talking to journalists and academics about social media. I was in Glasgow at the start of the month talking about how universities can use social media more; a couple of days later I had the privilege of running a training session at Trinity University College in Leeds. More training plans are in the pipeline as we speak.
There’s some really cool Next Generation Journalist stuff on the way in the next week or so. I shot interviews with several of the interviewees for the book – you’ll get to see them soon. And there’s also a Facebook group to join. Don’t forget copies are still available – and now there’s five good reasons to get a copy too!
And back to the classroom
And as September rolls around its time to think about the new academic year; I am returning to Kingston University in London on a more permanent basis this month, and teaching both undergraduate and post-graduate video journalism modules.
It’s also required me to return to the classroom as a student, and take a Post-graduate certificate in Higher Education Teaching. Crumbs!
I promise to keep blogging useful stuff as much as I possibly can. And as always, thanks for reading!
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.
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.
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!
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…
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:
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.
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!
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.
- I wrote about one single thing (and wrote about it well)
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!*)
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
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!
Did you know one of my big projects for 2010 is to launch a new business?
With those out of the way, it’s time to focus on the business, which is why I’m very excited to announce studio .fu, a new multimedia production company. Those of you who have read Next Generation Journalist: 10 New Ways to Make Money in Journalism will recognise the model from Chapter 8.
I’ve spent a fair bit of time rattling through a business concept, target audience and finance plan – and I’ll be sharing all my discoveries along the way. I’ve set it up because I really believe online news products, NGOs and small businesses need to embrace high quality digital storytelling – but shouldn’t pay through the nose for it.
Much of the past few weeks, and the next couple of months are being spent building up a strong portfolio of digital stories, talking to potential clients and other journalists interested in collaborating in projects.
Because it’s a new business in journalism, I have promised to write about it once a week on this blog so you guys get some value out of it as well. The business is in a soft-launch phase ahead of the autumn, and already has just missed out on a commission (more on that soon).
I’ll be sharing as much of the process as possible, the ups and the downs as well. The whole thing may well fail…and in a strange way, I’d almost be quite relieved if it does – as long as it fails quickly (see this advice from the Knight Foundation!)
Changes to the blog
studio .fu also has its own blog – blog .fu which means there’ll be some changes on this site over the coming weeks.
blog .fu will focus on techniques and examples of digital storytelling as a craft. So all the stuff about how to tell stories, how to create awesome online films will appear on there from now on (you can subscribe by clicking here). If you come to this blog to learn about how to do multimedia journalism, I strongly recommend you subscribe to blog .fu!
All the posts from this blog, such as this one and this one, are now available to read on blog .fu. You can also follow the company on twitter (@letsfu)
This blog meanwhile, will focus on entrepreneurial journalism, the business of journalism and the future of news. There’ll be information about the Future of News Meetups which I continue to organise, and my own research into journalism business models.
Right, that’s it. Wish me luck!