I recently delivered a lecture to first year journalism students at the University of Lincoln. Here’s a round-up of what I told the students.
Blogging recently celebrated it’s 20th birthday, and in the passing two decades it has become a huge part of the internet. In that time blogs have evolved from online diaries to also include journalism, fanclubs, pretty much anything you can think of. It’s easy to start too — just head to WordPress, Blogger or Tumblr and start finding out for yourself.
It isn’t helpful that blogging and social media are essentially platforms open to be used in any way and by anyone, it becomes a bit daunting. However, there are plenty of great parts about blogging it allows you to practice writing and playing with online tools without any pressure. The hard work you put into your blog can then be used to help you get some work experience or a job.
What should I blog about?
When it comes to writing a blog think about what interests you and how you would like to approach that topic. Avoid rewriting what other people have already reported and think about what you can add to a story that someone else has already told. This could include personal stories, people you can interview or looking at the story from a local perspective.
Don’t try to write about something which you know other people are already covering and are capable of doing it better than you. For instance if you are interested in football then BBC Sport and Sky Sports will already be covering the general news and have a lot more resources than a single blogger will have access to. This doesn’t mean you need to dismiss talking about this subject completely just think what you can bring to it. That might be looking at football on a local level or writing about a specific part of the sport.
A knowledge of law will help you too — mainly as a precaution. You might one day publish something that someone disagrees with so make sure you know about libel and defamation. If you would like to know more information McNae’s essential law for journalists is a really helpful guide. Copyright is an important issue too — make sure you don’t use someone else’s words or pictures without permission. If people are happy for their photographs to be used then they will be called creative commons.
Writing for online
In comparison to newspapers and magazine blogging gives you a great amount of freedom — you can write articles as long or as short as you like, use pictures, videos, audio and design a page to look however you like.
There are plenty of resources online to help, there are tools within blogging platforms that help to embed photos and videos. Other options consist of Flickr, embedding YouTube videos or SoundCloud uploads, or even embedding tweets and Facebook posts. You can also link to other websites to back up your research, and open up your blog to the rest of internet.
There are simple ways to design what your posts look like using different fonts or sub headings. There are some more technical ways to change the way your posts look and for those you would need to learn some code. There are plenty of tools to help you online, a good way to understand code and what it does is Code Academy.
Although you can use all these techniques think about which of these would be the best way to tell your story. You can write a blog which consists of thousands of words but other people might not be interested to read it all. Don’t distract from telling your story. Spelling is also really important, read some style guides if you are struggling.
Working in a newsroom means you have more time and training to be able to fact check stories, in comparison blogs are usually run by one person but that doesn’t excuse you from writing accurately. People won’t want to read your blog if they know your reporting isn’t accurate or truthful, and it won’t help to showcase your writing skills either.
Reporters also aren’t helped by the fact that there’s lots of ways for people online to start false rumours with spoof Twitter accounts and photoshopped images. There’s some great examples of this on the blog Is Twitter Wrong?
A helpful guide is the Verification Handbook with contributions from BBC, ABC, Storyful and other verification experts and it details ways to make sure the information you find on social media is true.
The basics though are check if a Twitter account looks reliable, things to check include:
- Do they tweet regularly?
- Are they an expert in what they are tweeting about?
- Is it a spoof account?
Also work on the idea that something is only true if you have two reliable sources.
What about Twitter?
Twitter is similar to blogging but you only have a 140 characters to say it. Twitter works by you following other people and creating your own newsfeed, and if other people enjoy what you tweet about others will follow you and also retweet you.
Some people have very strict rules about how to tweet (a regular one is don’t tweet about what you’ve had for lunch) but in general write about things you find interesting. You can share articles you like, write about your opinions on news or exciting things you are doing.
Twitter is a good resource to find out what’s happening by searching what other people are saying on the site. Hashtags are a good way to follow what’s happening and events or certain news stories will have their own.
For more information Twitter has a detailed section of their website explaining the basics and best practises.
The best way to understand blogs and Twitter is to just start doing it. Your first posts might not be perfect and it might take time to develop readers and followers on Twitter but take it as an opportunity to perfect and to experiment. And remember to enjoy it.