A Digital First approach to news requires learning about a variety of new tools. One that our reporters have been urged to consider is a “beat blog”—a blog that complements and augments their regular news coverage. One challenge is time. So I asked Luther Turmelle to give us some guidance on how he manages to handle it all. Luther has kept up two beat blogs for a while—one on the towns he covers, Cheshire and Wallingford—and one on his third beat, utilities and energy. While he wrote this for our reporters, there’s great advice here if you’re thinking of starting a blog or looking how to improve yours. Thanks, Luther, for finding the time to write this.
If YOU are interested in writing a blog for our Community Media Lab, please contact me, email@example.com, 203-789-5743, or Angi Carter, at firstname.lastname@example.org, 203-789-5743.
By Luther Turmelle, North Bureau Chief
email@example.com / Twitter: @lutherturmelle
Ed Stannard asked me to write a blog post about .... blogging.
Ed said he thought it would be a good idea for me to share my thoughts with all of you because I write two blogs for the Register, “Life In Two Northern Towns,”
which is about the two towns that I cover (Cheshire and Wallingford) and “Power to The People”
which is an energy blog. Advice coming from somebody, who doesn’t have an overabundance of spare time, either within the work day or outside of it.
I don’t claim to be an expert or anything, but I have some definite opinions about blogging, some of which I’ve developed on my own and others which I’ve read about that claim to be best practices.
So, as Casey Kasem
likes to say, on with the countdown:
1) Pick a time that works in your schedule to blog and stick with it: I prefer to blog at the end of the day, after I’ve filed my daily stories. But that may not work for you, so go with what makes you comfortable because you’re going to want to post as frequently as possible.
2) Set a reasonable goal for the number of times you plan to post each week: In a perfect world, we’d all be able to make blog posts every day. But breaking news and our personal lives have a way of getting in the way of meeting a goal that is so ambitious. So start slow. Two or three times a week is better than once a week and there may be brief periods in which you can handle a one-a-day regimen.
3) Vary your content: The space that we have to blog in lends itself to a variety of uses. One of the best are meeting and event announcements that come in a few days before they are scheduled that you know are unlikely to make it into the print edition. It’s better to get something online and then promote it with Facebook or Twitter than to not give it any mention at all.
But don’t turn your blog into an upcoming events bulletin board. Some posts could be what radio anchorman Paul Harvey
used to call “the rest of the story.” Given print edition space limitations, we’re sometimes not able to squeeze in the kind of detail that might interest some readers. So use the extra journalism real estate that a blog provides to go beyond “all the news that fits.”
Another possibility is commentary or news analysis, as long as you label it as such. As reporters, we have to be objective, but in my humble opinion, nobody on the face of this earth is totally objective. We are all shaped by life experiences that give us opinions on everything. In order to keep the lines of communication open with sources on your beat, it’s probably not a good idea to take one person to task, particularly if it’s someone you have to deal with all the time. But if your council or board of selectmen repeatedly keeps revisiting an issue and never resolves it, you ought to be able to come out and say so. I think a blog makes the perfect forum for that.
4) Use hyperlinks and pictures if you can. Anyone who needs help learning how to do this should come and see me, because if done properly, hyperlinks can help better inform our readers on the subjects we’re blogging about and pictures can make a blog post look better. If you use a photo or an image you track down in an online search, you should credit where it came from. If it is a photo from a politician’s web page, you should say that.
It’s probably a good idea that if you’re writing a blog post about a company that may seem a tad controversial to stay away from using their corporate logo. Companies are very protective of their logos and you want to stay away from doing something that is more trouble than it’s worth. But if a company is donating a check to your local food pantry and that business has a logo, by all means use it.
5) Use your writer’s voice: View a blog as an opportunity to put a little bit of yourself in any post that you can. People read a reporter’s work either because it is a topic they are interested in, is about a somebody they know or who lives in their town, or because they like the way a journalist reports and writes.
6) Keep it reasonably short: I know, we’ve all seen blogs that go on for pages at some web sites around the country. But when you can, stick to keeping it at a couple of paragraphs. That’s not to say you can’t write long if the situation really warrants it. Just don’t make every paragraph into “War and Peace.” Make use of links to other stories to help make the point that you’re writing about. That’s the beauty of the web.
If you have any other questions, feel free to ask me. Again, I’m not claiming to be an expert, but I’ve blogged for a while (and that doesn’t include my personal blogs).