You’re a new reporter, assigned to a beat and someone in management (or a professor – ha!) tells you you need to write a weblog. What are you to do? Here are my top tips about blogging, speaking as someone who’s been studying the blogosphere since 2001. These obviously aren’t ALL the tips you can learn about blogging, so don’t take it as any kind of definitive list. It’s MY list – that’s all.
- Write about something you care about.
If you think you’re going to blog about local school districts and you have no interest in local school districts, well … good luck with that. I honestly believe that’s why many journalists’ blogs are not so interesting or “bloggy.” They’re doing their job, which is something Hunter S. Thompson warned about: “I’ve always considered writing the most hateful kind of work. I suspect it’s a bit like f***ing, which is only fun for amateurs. Old whores don’t do much giggling”
- Be prepared for the wall.
Related to number 1 in some ways. After about six months, you’re going to hate blogging, especially if you do it every day. You’ll wonder how you’ll ever write another thought. You’ll think it’s all been said before. You’ll wish you’d never created a blogger.com account. My advice: This happens to everyone. DON’T STOP!!! If you stop, your blog will be like 80 percent of the other blogs on the Internet that haven’t been updated in forever. Remember: this is normal. The feeling will subside if you keep doing it.
- Be liberal with the links and comments.
If you find something you like on the Internet, link to it. Comment intelligently on other blogs related to your topic. And don’t EVER take an idea without acknowledging where you found it. It’s called the hat tip (aka via, or thanks or inspired by). Learn it. Live it. Blog it.
- Don’t obsess over your damned pageviews!
I’ve done it myself, but it’s silly. If you write well, have a good niche and market yourself appropriately, people will read. Write well, and write passionately, and write intelligently, and people will come around. Obsessing over pageviews or traffic is something best left to the web staff. IMHO, it’s like waiting for the clock to run out in a basketball game when you’re ahead. If you do this, it will cause you to play less aggressively and possibly lose out in the long run. (Qualifier: it’s good to know where people are coming from, especially if you discover a new blog through referrals. I’m not saying you shouldn’t pay attention to web traffic. Just don’t obsess.)
- Don’t feel dirty about pimping your blog posts.
There are millions of pages on the Internet, and 99 percent of Netizens will never read what you write, especially if you don’t make sure it gets in front of the right people (see my post about Romenesko here). You WANT people to read your weblog. The best way to do that is to tell people – especially other bloggers, who will link to what you write and drive traffic to your blog.
- Don’t spam.
Related to #5, it’s one thing to point out something that you’ve written that’s important. It’s another thing to think that EVERYTHING you write is important enough to fill up e-mail inboxes with. Be judicious with your marketing and you’ll be rewarded. Overdo it and you’ll get a filter.
- Be gracious.
This might sound like a foreign concept, but there are a lot of erudite, intelligent people who blog who don’t work for news media. They may even live in your town and care about the topic you’re covering. If they contact you, don’t act like it’s beneath your station to acknowledge that they may have done something right. Similarly, if someone starts a blog on a topic similar to yours, don’t feel threatened. It’s not a zero sum game, no matter what the corporate folks say.
- Whatever you do, find time to blog daily.
I used to think bloggers could avoid this, but I’ve come to think that daily blogging is like daily jogging. If you don’t keep it up, you’ll eventually quit. Yes, take a break now and then, but when you’re on the blog job, be faithful.
- Respond to your readers.
There is nothing I can’t stand more than a blogger who doesn’t read his/her comments and respond when appropriate. That’s not blogging. That’s writing a newspaper column and calling it a blog post. It’s like putting lipstick on a pig. And, btw, if you’re going to call it a blog, you ought to have comments.
- Okay, this is the 9 1/2 tip: Whatever you do, DON’T OVERUSE NUMBERED LISTS! Stephen Covey popularized this aggravating numbering system with his “7 habits of highly effective people” back before weblogs were even popular. Magazines use them to gin up debate (like Rolling Stone can really rank the top 100 albums of all time). Now, everyone has a list of this or that. Lists are fine, but leave off the numbering, okay? Please?
Is that it? Yep. At least as far as I’m concerned. It’s not rocket science, like, say, running the federal government or anything. Have fun with it. Remember: It shouldn’t be drudgery. If it is, find something else to occupy your time.
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