Blogging for Journalists: How and Why?

The academic year is close to an end and hundreds of journalism students around the country are ready to climb the corporate ladder. As an aspiring journalist, Amina Ahmed tells you why blogging is so important and how you should go about doing it

A blog is an informal website consisting of entries called ‘posts’ that appear in chronological order. The term ‘blog’ was coined in 1997 when John Barger, a famous American blogger, called his site a “weblog”. Blogging is increasingly used in all types of professions. Universities use it to keep all the students connected, think tanks use it, companies both small and large use it to promote their brands and newspapers have their blogs for more informal pieces. According to socialmediatoday.com, 6.7 million people around the world blog using blogging sites. For an aspiring journalist, a blog is to you what a gun is to a soldier.

Simon Munk is a freelance journalist for the likes of Sunday Times, Mail of Sunday, Wired, Guardian, etc. “It [blogging] shows interest. If I was hiring, I’d be far more interested in the avid blogger writing good pieces than someone who’s been through all the academic hoops but has little to show in terms of get-up-and-go initiative or real-world writing experience,” He said.

So what are the benefits of blogging?

It showcases important skills: Starting a blog is easy – there’s a variety of blogging sites to choose from with WordPress and Blogger being the most popular ones. To keep it updated is the hard part. However, committing to a blog shows devotion, willingness, determination – and all these qualities are of utmost importance for a budding journalist. When going for an interview, not only do you have a variety of pieces to showcase, but you’ve got the experience as well.

Write about whatever, whenever, wherever: Having your own blog also means that you can write whatever you want. It can be news stories or features. They can range from 50 words to a thousand words. The topics can be of your liking. No-one is there to dictate what and how you write. This can show potential employers another side of you because chances are, once you start working, there will be a certain way you are expected to write, a certain word count to maintain and certain topics to cover.

As Simon Fitzjohn, tutor on an NCTJ course at Harlow College, told me: “A blog gives you a free reign. There is flexibility in terms of your writing style whereas in work you are straight-jacketed.”

Most blogging platforms also have their own apps. This means that you can essentially blog from anywhere using your smartphone or tablet.

Broadcasting Journalism: Those interested in the more creative and broadcasting side of journalism can use this tool to showcase their skills by uploading voxpops and podcasts on subjects of your choosing. These broadcasting pieces will show that you can use a camera/recorder and go out there and get stories.

Contacts, contacts, contacts: Social networking has literally taken over and the amount of contacts that can be made online is astounding. Having your features/articles/podcasts published online and shared on networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. will mean that more and more people will know you, know your style and know someone to contact when they have an interesting story to tell. The most important advice given to journalists – alongside blogging of course – is make contacts. People are more likely to trust you and get to know you when they have read a few pieces of your work and know where to find you in the big bad world called ‘the internet’.

Well, how do you go about getting a blog, maintaining it and publicizing it?

Choose a platform: As I said before, creating a blog is easy. There are many platforms to choose from including WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, etc. You may want to try a few before choosing the one you prefer or ask around for opinion on which one is the easiest/best to use.

Regular updates: You may choose to update your blog every day, fortnightly or even once a week, according to what you can manage. It’s important, however, to stick to a routine. People like routine, familiarity is safe, so if your readers know that you will update your blog, say, every week, they will come back to read. If they don’t know what’s coming and when, they won’t bother. Of course, if sometimes you go out of routine, it does not mean you give up. Building up this online portfolio is important, so the main thing is to keep writing.

Inspiration: It can sometimes be hard to find something to write about. Inspiration can come from many places – other blogs, the news, things around you that affect you yet you don’t even notice. The beauty of a blog is that you can write about anything you want.

Catherine Hancock, (23), has just finished her NCTJ course and actively uses a WordPress blog. She said: “I find inspiration from personal experience such as doing the NCTJ course or national stories in the media.”

Social Networking: It is very important to publicize your blog now that you have one. There is so much material out there, your blog is just one of thousands and to make sure that you get a lot of users, effort on your part is needed. The best way to get readership is to link your blog to social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Have a contact page in your blog with an email address and links to your Facebook and Twitter accounts so that people can find you. Leave comments on other blogs, follow others and like fellow bloggers posts because they will return the favour and increase your view counts. Be relentless when it comes to advertising.

“I use hash tags such as #nctj to promote my blog and sometimes they retweet it which drives more readers to the site,” Catherine Hancock said.

Treat your blog like a child – it needs your love and attention to grow.

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