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Aug 30 2013

Balance Blogging with Journalism Best Practices

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(Second in a two-part series by PR Newswire media relations managers Christine Cube and Amanda Hicken. Miss the first part? Here’s Writing for Audience: Honor Your True Voice and Learn From Bloggers.)

A few years ago, I was looking to regularly write again. In school, I wrote articles as editor of my high school newsmagazine and La Salle University’s yearbook. I loved – and missed – writing reviews, event recaps, and features.

One day I mentioned this in passing, and my husband asked, “Why don’t you start a blog?”

I laughed. Previously, I had a couple of LiveJournal accounts and abandoned both of them. I discovered I didn’t enjoy writing about myself all of the time.

“Then focus on something else … what about a blog about Cleveland?”

We recently moved to Cleveland and had fallen in love with our new home. However, the city didn’t have the best reputation, and we often found ourselves passionately defending it to surprised family and friends.

So I sat down and started Clue Into Cleveland. More than three years and 400 blog posts later, I’m still writing about the places, people, and events that make it easy to love this city.

One thing that differed from my previous blog attempts was that I reflected on what I loved about reporting in high school and college. How could I share my personal journey discovering Cleveland, while also providing a resource for visitors and residents of the region?

So when my colleague, Christine Cube, shared her struggle as a longtime journalist finding the “me” in the story, I could relate to trying (and sometimes failing) to strike a balance.

What I found is that journalists aren’t the only ones who can benefit from looking at the other side of the aisle. The research and reporting skills that journalists develop, as well as the ethics that guide them, can be adapted by bloggers to improve their blogs.

You (and Only You) Are the Newsroom

When you’re an independent blogger, you blaze your own path. However, as Christine mentioned in part 1 of this series, this freedom means you’re the only one responsible for the success of your blog.

You’re the reporter, columnist, staff photographer, editor, designer, and marketing department.  Since your blog is a newsroom of one, it helps to learn how all of these roles work together in a traditional newsroom.

Set deadlines for yourself and understand your blog’s production process.  Figure in time to edit, format, prepare multimedia, and proofread.

Plan ahead and develop an editorial calendar for the upcoming months. An editorial calendar details a publication’s focus, articles, and deadlines. They’re not just used to sell magazine advertising; they are also excellent organizational tools.

When planning an editorial calendar, decide how often you’re going to post, what your blog’s focus is, and how each individual blog post will reflect that focus. Although you can plot out specific posts for each day, leave some flexibility in case you get a piece of “breaking news” you want to blog about.  You can also use other publications’ editorial calendars to come up with relevant and timely blog posts.

Journalists are always on the hunt for new ideas and thinking about the story behind the story. Be curious. Dig into a topic and think of what perspective you bring to it.  Pitches, press releases, articles, product descriptions, and websites are helpful for research, but a good journalist doesn’t just regurgitate these. They put them into context, and so should you.

Polished Writing and Editing

Once you sit down to write, the best practices don’t stop there.  Study the storytelling practices of columnists and reporters to see how they balance stats and facts with opinions and emotion.

Familiarize yourself with the inverted pyramid, which is a journalistic tradition for good reason.  The idea behind the inverted pyramid is that your headline and the first few paragraphs are vital to piquing your readers’ interest and should have the most important and interesting information.

Doublecheck your facts for accuracy. Did some of your background come from an article someone else wrote? In addition to crediting them, dig a little further to see if you can find the original basis of a claim. You may discover something new.

Finally, veteran writers know not to lock into one writing style. Even though this HubSpot post is referencing business blogs, it makes a good point for using a variety of post formats in any kind of blogging.

You don’t have to be a grammar expert, either. Plugins, tools and grammar columns like Beyond PR’s Grammar Hammer will teach you how to finesse your writing.

Journalism Tools for Bloggers

Register for PR Newswire for Journalists for access to free photo and video archives, customizable news feeds, and our subject matter experts through ProfNet. Bloggers welcome!

I’ve found that journalism networks and association websites provide resources for all kinds of writers. The Purdue Online Writing Lab, Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, Poynter, and International Journalists’ Network are just a few places to start.

Amanda Hicken is a media relations manager at PR Newswire.  She can be found on Twitter @ADHicken or blogging about the city she loves at ClueIntoCleveland.com.

 

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