Reporters are familiar with the power of the blog.
Many journalists and media outlets use blogs to document live event coverage or to aggregate content on a specific topic. Blogs have broken major stories, served as launch pads for journalists’ careers and allowed many reporters to exercise control over what they publish.
But with the advent of social media, some have come to question the need for blogs. This topic arose during a recent workshop hosted by The International Center for Journalists in Hyderabad, India.
“Ten years ago, the blog was where you could express yourself on the Internet easily,” Alex Howard, prominent blogger and ICFJ trainer, told IJNet in an interview. “Now, in 2015, you have all of these other kinds of social media that allow people to express themselves easily to a network of people.”
But Howard and his fellow workshop trainers, including Louise Roug of Mashable, explained that blogging can still be a valuable practice for journalists to build their brand, reach their own audience and cultivate sources.
“If you think about journalism as something that isn’t just done once, where you collect together a story, file it and move on, but as an ongoing conversation with a community, it changes how you think of the practice itself,” Howard said. “I think [blogging] opens up a lot of opportunities for covering beats, whether its individual regions like towns and cities, or topics like the environment or science, politics, foreign policy or technology.”
At the workshop, Howard and Roug discussed how to start a blog and how to blog effectively. Here are 10 takeaways:
1. Pick a topic and stick to it
Figure out why you want a blog. What will you post on a daily, weekly or monthly basis?
“Once you think that through, you can start connecting the tools behind it,” Howard said. Your blog can represent your expertise on a topic. Pick something you like to cover or are interested in. But Howard advises to stay on topic, noting, “The Internet rewards focus.”
2. Pick the right platform
There are many different blogging platforms, and it can be difficult to figure out which one to choose. For reporting, Howard recommends Wordpress “for the site’s professional feel.”
If your blog is successful, you can download Wordpress software to host your blog and own your site independently. But the platform ultimately depends on what you aim to post. If you have a lot of photos, maybe a Tumblr better suits your needs.
3. Keep your tone consistent
If you are a journalist with a blog, treat the blog as if it were the front page of your media organization’s website.
“Don’t say, ‘I have this blog for personal opinions,’” Howard advised. If you’re publishing something under your name, take your audience seriously. They might be the same readers who go to your news organization for information.
4. Report and verify
If you’re a journalist with a blog, your content will be more credible, more engaging and simply better if you’ve individually reported on and verified the information in your posts. If you aren’t using your blog to break news, use it to add context to stories.
A great way to build up a following and credibility among sources and other bloggers is to link to their work. If you refer to a story that inspired your blog post or used a quote from somewhere else, tell your readers where they can find it.
6. Use photos and videos
Text-heavy blog posts are hard to get through. Include photos and videos in your posts when you can. It’s easy to use a phone to take your own photos or use Flickr to find images you can use with a Creative Commons License.
7. Fix your mistakes
“No journalist is perfect,” Howard said. “If you make a mistake, make a correction on the blog post and note that the original post has changed.”
8. Monitor comments
Be consistent with your comment policy. If you open your blog to comments – which can be a great way to interact with your readers – don’t ignore them. Monitor them so you can respond to readers, address questions, make corrections or, if necessary, remove inappropriate or irrelevant posts.
9. Share on social media
Use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites to direct followers to your blog. You can also use the sites to find people with the same interests to build up your community. Social media platforms are great for connecting with other bloggers and experts in the field.
10. Update regularly
Once you have a blog, the “journal-like” feel of the platform and the responsibility of blogging can lead some journalists to post irregularly or even rarely at all.
“It is not necessary to post every day,” Howard said. “Just be consistent – I know some great bloggers who post once a week, but when they do post, they have great content. Their readers know to expect that.”
Main image CC-licensed by Mark Hunter.