Why Blog? A Guide for Students

What are the elements needed for a good blog?  What makes for a good blogger?  Why should I blog?  Are bloggers really journalists?

These are all questions I hear not only from students starting their own blogs, but folks in the industry as well. I’ll try and answer some of your questions here and get you on the road to blogging.

Are bloggers really journalists? Yes, this question continues to be asked.  It feels like this debate has been going on forever.  Well, maybe not forever, more like 15 years.  As students new to blogging let me answer it this way:  Journalism has become a profession where, if you want to succeed, you must be “platform-agnostic.”   The medium is no longer the message.  If you’re practicing journalism and using blogs to deliver your journalism then you are a journalist.  But, the debate is really a silly one that has lost meaning  over the years as citizen journalists and other start-ups have come on the scene.  Check out this video for more blogging myths.

* Who was the first blogger?  There are many claims but it’s a silly question.   Blogs evolve and what bloggers were doing in the early and mid-90s and what they are doing now is vastly different.

Blog Aggregation!  As in much of journalism, beware the jargon. Blog aggregation is the newest phrase in Web jargonese, thanks to the arrival of TBD — a new Web site that is selling itself, well, as a blog aggregator.

Blogs aggregate. That’s what bloggers do.  If you look through this post, you will notice I have aggregated a few links for you.  The first blog I edited at washingtonpost.com was Early Returns.  We didn’t call it a blog in 1998 — we saw it more as an “online roundup.”  Because, yes, we aggregated links 🙂  Providing links is one of the keys to success for your blog.  As you do your research for your blog entry, keep track of the links to what you’re reading and then link out.  You’re sharing your research and knowledge with your reader!  Think of linking out as a form of attribution.

What are the elements needed for a good blog?

  1. Linking.  We just talked about this.   Ultimately, providing a thoughtful, credible series of links will help create an audience that will come to your blog for your expertise and perspective and, most importantly, keep them coming back.  Providing a link to Lindsay Lohan’s fan page may not do much for credibility.  So, THINK BEFORE YOU LINK!
  2. Reporting.  One of the many misperceptions of bloggers out there is that they don’t report.  You’re reading, researching and, in many cases, interviewing for your blog entries.  Don’t take shortcuts.  Link out and attribute often. Practice journalism, not plagiarism.
  3. Writing.  Perhaps the image of the blogger in their PJs ranting about the Red Sox has created the myth that writing doesn’t matter on blogs.  It does. Again, remember, blogs are another platform for doing journalism.  All the ‘old’ rules apply. Don’t take shortcuts.  Write, edit, revise, rinse and do again.  Just because you can hit the publish button right away, doesn’t always mean you should.  Take time with your blog entries and respect your audience.  Typos and factual errors always have turned away readers and blogging doesn’t change that.
  4. Length.  My old boss at washingtonpost.com was fond of saying, “Write as long as it takes.”  That rule remains true today.  I work with bloggers at ESPN who write entries in the 1,500-word range — and readers love it.  Ideally, a blog entry is in the 300-500 word range but if written well, readers will read long entries.  Consider doing a series of blog entries on a topic — that’s one way to get readers to come back while keeping your entries short.
  5. Headlines Count. In the “good ‘ole days,” writers would write stories and copy editors would write headlines. Those days are gone.  As a blogger, you need to carefully construct headlines for not only your audience but also for search engines.  The better and more specific your headline, the easier it is to get accessed by search engines.  And, you can make your headline work for you, covering ground in the headline that draws the reader in.
  6. Update regularly.  Pretty much every student who I’ve had set up a blog has complained about not having enough time to blog.  But, that’s not really a surprise.  Journalists have always complained.  It’s what we do.  But, don’t just set up your blog and let it sit.  That’s a waste.  A successful blog, like a successful garden, needs tending.  Your audience is not going to just show up.  Find a time to blog every day and do it.  Incorporate pictures, video, audio.  Experiment with polls.  Read and comment to other blogs and, hopefully, they will link to you.
  7. Interact.  Respond to questions and comments from your audience.  Not all the comments you get will be nice.  But never respond to snark with snark.  It’s tough, but maintain the line.  Have a discussion, not a shouting match.
  8. Passion. Finally, the key to a good blog is finding a topic you have passion about and writing about it.  Share what you know, share what you are learning, share your adventures.  It’s easier if you have a passion for the topic.

Why should I blog?  Besides being a requirement for most of my classes, students should blog because it allows you to practice your writing and your multimedia skills.  And, like anything, the more you practice, the better you get.  In the process, you are creating a body of work that you can show those looking to hire you for an internship or a job.  Remember, your blog is part of your digital footprint.  Take it seriously.  As my friend Mindy McAdams has been known to say, JUST DO IT!


About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing amherstwire.com, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at washingtonpost.com. He also edits part-time for espn.com with the NFL and college football network.
This entry was posted in Blogging, Business of Journalism, ESPN, Future of Journalism, innovation, Internships, Jobs, Multimedia and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Why Blog? A Guide for Students

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