So, journalist, you have named your new blog, now what? You need to start blogging.
I’m a big believer in just doing it and learning as you go. You’ll get better as you learn what works and as you read more blogs in your topic area and read blogs about blogging. A good list of blogs to read are listed to your right under “Blogs I like.”
I think one of the challenges for some journalists who blog is that a blog is really a very different medium than a news story. So I’ve come up with some of my ideas of what makes a blog different. I’m assuming as I write this that whoever is reading this has some familiarity with news stories, so I’m not going to going into the rules of the road for them.
These are suggestions based on my experience, writing the Family Life blog for a daily newspaper, reading lots of blogs (and by a lot I mean hundreds) and reading a lot about blogging and the media. You may disagree with some of my points. If so, feel free to comment and explain why. I’m always learning, too, and love to hear other points of view.
Also, like any rules, these can and should be broken when it makes sense. Bear in mind that these guidelines are meant to apply to journalists who blog on a newspaper Web site, so I’m not going into a lot technical tips about the mechanics of your blog because you likely won’t have control over these. With that said, I believe these tips will apply to general bloggers who are doing it for marekting, fun or a cathartic release.
10 DOs when you blog as a journalist
- Start with an introduction: Even though your blog likely (and should) have an “about me” section, your first post should be an explanation of who you are, why you’re blogging and what you hope this blog will accomplish. Blogging is really the opposite of the distanced news story. Readers want to know who you are and why they should listen to you. And if they like you and like what you write, they’ll keep reading.
- Be accurate: The biggest mistake a journalist can make is to be inaccurate. That’s so intrinsic to what journalism is supposed to be. And this doesn’t change on a blog. If you make a mistake, correct it immediately. If the story develops, and your blog post becomes incorrect because it was based on early information — explain that to readers. Don’t just update surreptitiously and say nothing. Explain that you found out more information, so what you said earlier was wrong. Remember, it’s a conversation. And nobody wants to have a conversation with a liar.
- Use attribution: If you’re blogging about an issue that was reported in a news story, both link to the story and credit it. Don’t present other people’s reporting as your own. If you’re repeating an assertion that you don’t know as fact, attribute it in the same way you would in a news story. If you’re writing about a person accused of murder, be sure you attribute any potentially libelous statements to a reputable source — the police, the district attorney’s office — and make it clear that the charge is an accusation, not a fact. You can be sued for libel on the Web just like you can be in the newspaper.
- Know your audience: Blogs are intended to reach a niche, not a mass audience. So you need to figure out first who is your target audience, and then diligently keep your content on track for this audience. This can be tough at a newspaper, which for decades has had the philosophy of trying to be something for everyone. A blog that tries to reach everyone, will end up reaching no one, I believe. When I conceived of my parenting blog, for example, I had a very specific audience in mind: moms with kids from birth to age 12. I picked that audience because I wanted to capitalize on the trend of mommy blogging, and I felt this niche was under-served by the traditional newspaper. Colleagues at my newspapers asked me: “What about single people?” “What about people without kids?” “What about parents of teenagers?” “What about dads?” I think they deserve their own blogs, and, certainly, there are some dads, some single people, some childless people who read my blog. But I can’t resonate with my core audience well if I’m trying to reach all these sub-audiences. In other words, a blog that’s really interesting to a mom of a toddler likely won’t be interesting to a single person without kids. I believe you need to be single-minded in your niche to set it apart, so you can really reach that target audience and serve them in a way mass media doesn’t.
- Give your blog a personality: It’s OK to let the reader get a sense of who you are. In fact, it’s vital in a blog. Include facts about yourself; express your point of view; be candid. A good blog in general does not read like a news story. It’s not a news story. (There are exceptions, of course, that work. My newspaper has a “breaking news blog” that reads just like a news story, but it works because its goal is to give readers news immediately.) Most blogs, though, are intended to complement news stories, not replace them. So they need to give readers something beyond “just the facts, ma’am.”
- Use conversational tone: Blogs are conversations with readers. They are meant to be interactive; they are meant to be engaging. So don’t be stodgy. Use first-or second-person point of view, not the third-person that’s usually used in newspapers. (That means refer to yourself as “I” in a blog and address the reader as “you.”) Use humor if it makes sense. Be chatty if that’s your personality. Be sarcastic if that’s more you. Be yourself.
- Write something: This may seem obvious, but I’ve seen blogs that are just a list of links with no explanation of what the links are. Why would anyone click on them? Why would anyone return to such confusion? A blog is a written document. Or if it’s a photo or video blog, it’s a visual document. But it needs content of some sort or readers won’t want to return to it. Also, you want your blog to index in Google, so it will come up in Google searches, and Google won’t see your blog as content if there is no content. (I’ll get more into indexing and Google searches in a later post.)
- Give readers something new: There are millions of blogs out there, and likely thousands or more on whatever topic you are writing about. You don’t have to be one-of-a-kind to get readers; but you do need to give readers something new. Whatever you do, don’t just repeat content that’s already in the newspaper without any additional context or content. To me, that makes little sense. A blog should complement the content in your newspaper, not compete with it. In my mind, it’s fine to give readers a copy of a story you wrote in the morning newspaper, but also give them something more — extra quotes that didn’t make the paper, an inside look at the interview, your analysis on the subject.
- Give your opinion: The blogs I like the best are those that have an opinion. How much opinion you put in your blog will depend on what you’re blogging about, what you cover for the newspaper and how comfortable you are with expressing your opinion. Journalists are taught to keep their opinions out of the news, so this can be tough. There’s a balancing act here between how much opinion you can offer when it relates to a story you’re writing about. I think it’s fair game to express an opinion about something going on outside your community that relates to your topic. For example, if you blog about the courts beat, you probably don’t want to say whether you think the suspect in the high-profile murder case you’re covering is guilty before the trial is resolved. That would make you appear biased. But you could opine to your heart’s content about a national case, such as O.J. Simpson’s recent conviction for robbing a pair of memorabilia dealers.
- Interact with readers: As I said earlier, blogging is a conversation. So if readers comment, reply to them. If they criticize you, don’t get defensive. Thank them for expressing their point of view. If the comments are really inappropriate, your newspaper will likely have a mechanism for deleting them. To me, this is a real last resort, reserved only for the most over-the-top comment. I like the dialogue that happens among commenters, and I like how commenters end up talking amongst themselves on blogs. Readers should be able to reach you through your blog to complain, to compliment, to share an idea. Provide your e-mail address or a “contact me” section. Invite them to talk to you. And if they do — answer them. Never ignore a phone call or e-mail from a reader.
On my next blog post, I’ll go into search-engine optimization and how it relates to a journalistic blog.