Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Blogging week #4 Give your blog a visual edge

Posted in 6x6 series by Adam Westbrook on August 12, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Themes

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

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

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

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

Some cool portfolio & magazine themes from around the web:

Modfolio Theme, Graph Paper Press

Portfolio Theme by Organic Themes

Portfolio theme by WPESP

Workaholic Theme, Graph Paper Press

Irresistable theme by WooThemes

F8 static theme, Graph Paper Press

Plugins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Journo-blogger of the day: Jen Grieves

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

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

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

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

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

Online ad revenue: what journalists are getting wrong

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 9, 2010

Image credit: DavidDMuir (cc)

How much money has your website made you recently?

For all but the lucky ones, the figure is rarely enough to buy a latte, let alone support a family. And for all but the smart ones, the figure is usually from Google Adwords revenue.

Here’s the crunch: journalists running their own websites, whether they’re hyperlocal blogs,  online magazines or video sites are getting it wrong. They think there’s only one way to make money from a website – advertising. It’s how newspapers do it, so why should they think any different?

Actually, running a website for profit isn’t about building an audience of millions and raking in the ad revenue. For most of us, even the top niche bloggers, your audience will be in the thousands, not the millions. And that just doesn’t pay.

Doing it right

I was kindly invited to speak London’s prestigious Frontline Club this week, on how to make it as a freelancer in the modern age. Speaking alongside me was the inspiring Deborah Bonello, a journalist who actually has made money from her website, without using ad revenue at all.

In 2007, realising she wasn’t doing the journalism she dreamed of, she packed her bags and moved to Mexico, to carry out what she called “an experiment in digital journalism”. She set up MexicoReporter.com, a website which would be the foundation of her business. Starting life as a free wordpress blog (like this one) Deborah spent months filling it with content, covering stories all over the country.

It became hugely popular with the English speaking expats in Mexico, of which Deborah estimated there are more than a million from the USA alone.

If you ask Deborah how much she made from ad revenue, chances are the amount would be small. But if you ask her how much her website has made her: she’d answer ‘a lot’. By putting loads of free content online she had a strong portfolio to show editors when she approached them with stories. Before long she was getting commissions, and shortly after a retainer from the LA Times.

Now based in London, she’s landed a great gig with the Financial Times. In other words, her website has made her thousands.

And it’s likely she wouldn’t have had the same luck without MexicoReporter.com.

How to really make money from your website

The secret is this: your website is a vehicle for making money elsewhere, not an automatic money making machine on its own.

01. promotion: keep your website regularly updated with examples of your work. And keep producing content, even if it’s without a commission. It pays dividends when you’re offered work or a job off the back of your portfolio. Deborah’s work came because she updated MexicoReporter.com even though she had no-one to pitch to.

02. expertise: maintain a targeted, well promoted, blog which establishes you as an expert in your field. The money comes when you’re offered work because you can prove you know what you’re talking about. I have become both a lecturer and a trainer because of this blog, for example.

03. affiliate: be clever with your links. Affiliate links are dedicated hyperlinks to a product which give you a cut of the money if that product is sold. Reviewing a book, CD or anything else available on Amazon.com? Use an affiliate link to share the revenue. Many companies offer affiliate deals to bloggers.

04. sell: use your website as a vehicle to sell products, targeted around your niche. If you specialise in a certain type of journalism, or Google Analytics tells you your audience are a certain type of person, can you create an online store so they buy direct from you? Tracey Boyer has opened a store on her blog Innovative Interactivity with just that in mind, and Media Storm run a store too.

05. and yes, adverts: but you can be clever with adverts too. The UK based service Addiply created by Rick Waghorn solves some of the problems with Google Ads by offering locally targeted adverts for local based websites. Local bloggers say it’s bringing in results.

A combination of two or more of these things could bring in more money than the Google Ads cheque could. If more journalists looked beyond advertising as their sole business model, we’d move so much faster towards a financial base for the future of journalism.