Practicing What I Preached: Tackling the Journalism Student's Summer To-Do List
A few months ago, I posted a link to an ambitious summer to-do list from the journalism and technology blog 10,000 Words. With nearly half of my summer gone and my sons away on vacation, I’ve decided to see how far down the list of 30 Things Journalism Grads Should Do This Summer I could get without access to the resources at the Cronkite School– similar to what traditional journalists would have to do to update their multimedia skills on their own.
Task #1: Start a blog and post at least twice a week.
Check. (This challenge is off to a great start!) I’ve had to write two blogs while in graduate school, one about being a non-traditional (older) student and this one about social media and personal branding. So rather than start another, I’ll resume writing this blog with a post about how easy it is to start one.
As recently as a year ago, I’d never knowingly read a blog, much less written one. I ignorantly had bought into all the stereotypes about bloggers being people in their pajamas/basements/garages writing about their hobbies/interests/obsessions and assumed they had nothing to say that would interest me. In fact, blogging is an important journalistic skill and an effective way for emerging journalists to create an online footprint or for established reporters to update their skills, show initiative and showcase their talents.
It wasn’t until we grad students were assigned blogging as a weekly task that my eyes were forced open to the power of blogging as a professional tool. I had only a weekend to decide on a topic, select a theme (what the blog looks like) and find my voice. Fortunately, I found an excellent resource in The Huffington Post’s Complete Guide to Blogging. The quick, easy read explained to me in practical terms how to get started and keep a blog going. It really was all I needed. (That and a deadline, courtesy of my professor.)
So how do you get a blog up and going within a weekend?
1. Pick a topic. Consider your career goals: What beat interests you? Are you interested in local, state, regional, national or international issues? Do you have a particular passion or talent that complements your journalism training? Make sure the topic is narrow enough to develop an expertise yet broad enough to allow you variety of subjects to explore. Among my graduate cohort we had an incredibly diverse range of blog topics: the established business journalist blogged about Phoenix business news, the amateur epicurean wrote about her adventures in the kitchen, and the aspiring international correspondent covered front pages of newspapers from around the world.
2. Pick a blogging platform. There are many blogging platforms available, some of which are free. (All of the above highlighted blogs were created using the free platform WordPress.com.) A paid service may be appropriate for those who are interested in making a career of blogging, but for those who simply want to try their hand at a new medium, the free services are more than adequate.
WordPress.com and Google’s Blogger have easy-to-use sites that walk you through setting up a blog. You can use their templates or personalize your blog with custom headers featuring your own photos or graphics, as well as specific widgets for desired functions such as search or archives.
3. Find your voice. Blogging is a more intimate medium than traditional print. While you don’t have to become a diarist or reject the journalistic standards of objectivity, you do want to find a tone in your writing that engages your reader and invites conversation. That voice can be authoritative or humorous, skeptical or entertaining. Just make sure it’s authentically your voice.
4. Start writing. Use your first post as an introduction to your blog. Outline your vision for the blog and what the reader can expect from you. Make sure you identify yourself on your “About” page and include a photo that presents a professional image.
5. Keep writing. Update your blog at least twice a week. Refer back to that introductory post from time to time to see if your posts are in sync with the goals you first set out for your blog. If they aren’t, consider acknowledging the shift in a post or adjust the focus of your content to get it back on track. And then get back to writing.
It really is that simple.
Next up: Task #2: If you already have a blog, write a post that gets retweeted 20 times. Been there, done that and then some! (Well, only once, but that still counts, right?)