RGMP 2: Start a blog

Yesterday I started this series of posts called “Reporter’s Guide to Multimedia Proficiency.” (I like the way the abbreviation RGMP reminds me of the Canadian Mounties — RCMP.) The first topic was Read blogs and use RSS. Today’s topic might seem mundane to many of you, but I always say that writing a blog with commitment, on some kind of regular schedule, makes you smarter.

The advantage for a journalist who needs to catch up, who needs to learn new skills for a digital and online world, is that having a commitment to a blog drives the blogger to search out new information. It’s kind of like taking a college course for credit instead of auditing the course. If you’re just auditing, when the rest of your life gets busy, you’ll just quit going to the classes. Some people abandon their blogs, of course. But those who make a commitment and stick to it soon find that the blog connects them to new developments and kindred spirits in ways they had not anticipated.

Now, before I get to the nitty-gritty, the key to having a blog that makes you smarter is reaching out. A blog should not be seen as a soap box for your personal posturing. Blogs are great vehicles for sharing information and knowledge, and sharing travels in two directions.

A blog is one node in a giant network of nodes, with a human being behind each one of those nodes. Your blog gives you a way to see and be seen — but only if you use it with a spirit of sharing and connecting.

These two practices are essential:

  • Link out. That is, link to other blog posts. Not just blogs, but individual posts. This makes you visible to other bloggers and also (via trackbacks) to other blog readers.
  • Comment on other people’s blogs. Particularly blogs with subject matter similar to yours. In the comment form, always type your name and your blog’s URL in the boxes provided — this allows anyone who reads your comment to click your name and go to your blog, bringing more readers to you.

Your blog posts can be short. About 300 words is plenty for most blog posts. Right now WordPress is telling me I’m at 372 words (whew!), so I’d better insert a subhed.

What to blog about

You can blog about your beat (if you have one), but if you’re reading this because you want to boost your online skills and digital tools savvy, I suggest you choose a more personal topic. Here are some examples:

  • Multimedia Reporter: Ron Sylvester was a 40-something courts reporter when he started this blog to chronicle his own learning experience in online and multimedia. Although he quit writing this blog and moved to another one in 2007, Multimedia Reporter still stands as a fine example of a journalist’s journey into a new set of skills and practices.
  • Meranda Writes: Another reporter’s blog, but from the younger generation. Meranda Watling started this blog about the same time she started her first full-time daily newspaper job (in Indiana), straight out of college (Kent State). I love this blog! I feel like it’s better than most textbooks in demonstrating how to be a reporter.
  • The Linchpen: Student journalists write blogs too, and while the quality and content varies widely (as you might expect), this one by Greg Linch, who studies at the University of Miami (sorry, Gators!), is consistently interesting and professional in tone. It’s raised Greg’s visibility tremendously, and I expect it will help him get a job when the time comes.

How to start blogging

I recommend WordPress.com above all the other free blogging platforms, for various reasons. One big reason is the vast number of tutorials and lessons and support (see an example: a one-minute video that shows you how to save a draft of a new post). See this overview of WP features if you need to be convinced.

Just go there and click the big blue button that says Sign Up Now! (It couldn’t be any easier.) I wrote a post last month about how to get started with WordPress.com. To summarize the steps as simply as possible:

  1. Register at WordPress.com (you cannot change your user name later, so choose wisely)
  2. Start a new blog and give it a URL (e.g., myblog.wordpress.com); this also cannot be changed later, so what you pick for “myblog” matters a lot
  3. Read Getting Started if you feel nervous about this
  4. Modify Settings (change your blog’s title, etc.; lots of stuff can be changed any time)
  5. Choose a Theme (how your blog looks); you can change this as often as you like (cool!)
  6. Write your first new post — and publish it
  7. Delete the “Hello World!” post that WordPress gave you
  8. Edit your new post and add a hyperlink (then Update Post)
  9. Test your link on the live blog! Does it work? If not, go back to the Dashboard and fix it
  10. Customize your sidebar(s) with widgets — this is fun!

Resources for bloggers using WordPress.com include how-to videos, the official WordPress.com blog, and — best of all — the official support site, where typing your question or the name of a feature into the huge search box at the top of the page will bring you a clear answer to almost any question. (Trust me, I have used it many times.)

The weekend is coming up. Why not make a late New Year’s resolution and start your new blog this weekend? What are you waiting for? This is not rocket science. Any writer or reporter can do it.

Closely related: 5 tips for blog beginners (July 17, 2008)

From Paul Bradshaw: Starting a blog? 12 ideas for blog posts

28 Comments on “RGMP 2: Start a blog

  1. Cool! It is good to know that 300 words for a post is long enough.
    Yes, I love WordPress! It does come in handy, and it is not very hard to use too!
    I have been trying to promote my blog–giving comments on other blogs and posting stuff from my blog on BBS. I will try link others. Are there any other ways to get more readers? Mindy, will you write something on promoting blogs?

  2. Thanks for the mention and the kind words, Mindy. :) I get e-mails all the time from other reporters who want to but don’t know where to start in building a blog. Now I can send them your way.

  3. great advice – WP is an amazing educational tool that is within everyone’s grasp – and it’s free! The CMS in free wordpress templates is more sophisticated than many local newspapers use.

  4. Great list … I can’t stress enough that journalists should blog, and they should READ blogs!

    I find a lot of journalist bloggers don’t read any other blog but their own. That doesn’t really connect them to the larger community of their niche topic, and the miss out on link-out and comment opportunities.

  5. Thanks for the comments, everyone. I feel a little reluctant about writing this series because it seems like everyone should already know all of this. But every time I go to a newsroom or talk to journalists, I find there are still a lot of folks who need to learn this stuff.

  6. Mindy … just curious as to why you’re such an advocate for WordPress.com. I use Blogger for my personal blog and WP.com for other purposes, mainly because it lets me set up static pages. But Blogger’s faster, and it lets me post advertising. Seems to me that each has its uses.

  7. @Dan Kennedy – I still have one blog on Blogger, but overall I prefer the themes, widgets, and marvelous Akismet spam control that I get from WordPress.com.

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  14. There’s another incredibly valuable reason for reporters to blog. Your blog can become a digital repository of ideas, links, documents and repeatedly used resources that’s easy to get at. I’m a crime writer at the Kingston Whig-Standard, the daily newspaper in Kingston, Ontario, Canada and I’ve been blogging about my beat now for roughly six months. I’ve started turning old documents, records and even audio interviews into digital content. I’ve found myself going to my blog (while working on new newspaper stories) to double check details that are embedded in that material and are easier to get at online in one place, rather than rooting through paper files.

    I’ve tried to ensure my blog is a mix of old gems and new discoveries for readers but the deeper I go, the more I realize it’s a valuable resource for me too.

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