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!