There is much more to blogging than simply posting stories on a free WordPress site and hoping half a dozen people will actually read them.
Journalists who develop technical blogging skills will be at a significant advantage in the workplace. It’s easier than it looks.
But a big part of blogging is not technical at all: it’s about building a community of readers and informants, promoting your site, developing an editorial strategy, exploiting social media, and maybe getting other people to write for your site. And you can do all the things that traditional media do, such as news gathering and writing features. Don’t ignore the multi-media potential.
So what’s the best way to go about it?
If you’re new to blogging, just play around with your blog for a semester or so. Start to explore the gizmos on the dashboard. Change the theme, and the header image; put up a picture gallery (in a click-through gallery, every picture viewed counts as another page view). Definitely find out how widgets work: the image widget is fiddly, but strongly recommended for highlighting good content, as on St Helena Online (which started out as a student blog at Coventry).
WordPress publishes lots of how-to guides. Here’s the one for widgets: http://en.support.wordpress.com/widgets/
There are also lots of instructionals on YouTube. If in doubt, Google your question, including the word “WordPress”.
Otherwise, just click on every link on the dashboard and see what it does.
Do use tabs to promote your site (right hand side of the page when you’re creating a new post). But think about which categories you want – not too many. You can make them appear in your top menu (in the dashboard, find Menus).
Once you’ve played around with your initial blog, try to identify a subject you can make your own. It needs to be something that makes you stand out from the crowd. Is there a gap in the blogosphere – something that no one else is writing about? If not, could you write about your specialist topic from a new angle?
Maybe you could start a hyperlocal blog, covering a specific community. That would really impress potential employers in the news media, and it could make you a part of a network of hyperlocal bloggers around the country. There’s lots of help available from the Talk About Local organisation.
YourCV1.com was a hyperlocal that was run by third-year journalism students at Coventry. Maybe you could take it over?
The Online Journalism Blog run by Paul Bradshaw of Birmingham City University is another great resource for anyone wanting learn about blogging – or indeed, about journalism.
Once you have identified your niche topic, it may be worth paying for your own URL (the address of the blog). WordPress will encourage you to do this – you don’t have to!
If you’re really serious about it, then you need to investigate creating your showcase blog on a non-Wordpress server, such as http://www.dream-hosting.co.uk. This does cost a bit more, but it enables you to bring a commercial element to your blog, and install plugins such as a widget for running events listings. You get much more scope in shaping the appearance of your site.
WordPress.com sites are the free ones. WordPress.org is for people who buy space on a server. If you’re serious about becoming an expert blogger, then you need to be using wordpress.org – but starting a free blog with wordpress.com is a good way to learn how it all works. Note that St Helena Online, cited above, is a free site, but that’s because of a technical glitch.
Moving a site from wordpress.com to wordpress.org can be fiddly, so it’s best to get your niche site it on the right platform from the outset. WordPress has “happiness engineers” who can move the site for you, but they charge.
There’s nothing wrong with wordpress.com sites. The school of media at Coventry has several, including its Key Concepts in Media and Communications site, here.
Here’s TheSavvyIntern on Four Ways Blogging Can Help Your Career.
You can create a page, to sit on the top menu, for content such as your CV.
Josh Halliday landed a job at The Guardian pretty well straight out of his journalism course at the University of Sunderland on the strength of his hyperlocal and his Twitter expertise.
… note that, despite the advice on this page, he DIDN’T spend money on his blog. And he says, don’t put too much effort into it: in his view, mastering Twitter is more important.
And don’t get swallowed up by your blog. It can only take you so far.
The real objective is to try to get work published by established media. Your blog may help, but don’t let it distract you from pitching stories and ideas to newspapers, magazines, radio stations and websites “out there”, beyond Student Land.
And if you do get something published elsewhere… link to it from your blog.