If you're a journalist and you aren't blogging, now is the time to start.
As crazy as spending any more of your week writing might sound, it has kept me sane these past five years and even helped me land a few interviews.
As a journalist, it's easy to get painted into a corner. Once you start covering a beat, pretty quickly people will associate your name with that topic. If you cover crime and courts, like I used to, pretty soon you're a crime reporter plain and simple. You might love your beat, but that doesn't mean you're not passionate about other things too.
And that's exactly why every journalist should have a blog. Your interests are not defined by your title or your beats.
Now don't get me wrong, I still wake up every morning with my head turning over my next interview or feature. If you don’t love what you do, blogging probably won’t help, and it might be time to consider a new beat or even a new career. But since you're reading this, I'm going to assume you probably don't fall into that category.
So with that said, here are five reasons why I think every journalist should be blogging, plus some words of warning for those that do.
1. A blog is an outlet for your passions
Everyone is passionate about something, and a blog is a fantastic place to write about all the things you care about outside of work.
As you've probably figured out by now, I like photography, film photography in particular, and I've been blogging about it on and off for the better part of a decade.
The trick is to treat your blog as a kind of catch-all for everything that doesn't fit neatly into your professional beats or isn't the kind of thing you'd necessary want to put in an Op-Ed.
So, if you've ever had the inkling to write about your passions, then you know what to do.
2. Develop a personal brand
Journalists are often encouraged to keep a blog and a social media presence in order to develop a personal brand.
Blogging can be a way to develop a professional persona and help your readers see you as a three-dimensional person with a family and relatable interests, instead of just another byline on a page.
You may even find your most dedicated readers will continue following your blog long after you've moved on to another publication.
Unfortunately, balancing your blog and your job as an objective reporter can sometimes get muddied with unexpected consequences. I’ll talk more about the dos and don’ts of blogging as a journalist in a bit, but whatever you do, make sure your personal brand is compatible with that of your employer's.
3. A blog is the ultimate writing sample
Demonstrating writing proficiency is essential to landing a job in journalism, and a blog is the ultimate writing sample.
Long before I began my journalism career, I dreamed about covering the tech industry, but I didn't wait for the opportunity to arise.
In college, I started writing about technology in earnest. In between assignments, I'd write about the technology that interested me most. I wrote reviews, Op-Eds and explored long-forgotten hardware and software. It was a lot of fun and even better practice, as it allowed me to explore new writing styles.
While that blog was long dead by the time I actually started covering the tech scene, it still helped me land my first job in journalism. It's one of the many reasons I am still blogging today.
4. Blogging makes you a better, more versatile writer
Writing a successful blog post is a lot different than writing a hard-news piece. Blog posts tend to be a little less formal and a whole lot more conversational.
Rather than trying to report the details as efficiently as possible, a good blog post takes its time revealing details as they become relevant. You'll still want to capture the audience's attention quickly, but you can be a little more creative with how you tell your story.
I cringe at how stiff my early writing as a newpaper reporter was. Yeah, I got the point across, but the stories were seldom fun to read.
It took me years to develop a more conversational style that was as efficient as it was entertaining. In many ways, I have blogging to thank for that.
5. Blogging teaches you to build an audience
The better you know your audience, the better you can serve them. It's not enough to tell a good story, you have to provide some kind of value to your reader.
The more valuable your content is, the more likely people are to come back for the next post or share it with others.
After a decade of blogging, believe me when I tell you convincing people to read your work is trickier than you might think. There is a lot that goes into building a successful blog and writing is one piece of the puzzle.
For example, how often do you think about search engine optimization (SEO) or crafting a compelling post for social media? If you're anything like me, you'd rather spend your time fine tuning your story. But good SEO or the right call to action on social media can mean the difference between getting discovered or falling into obscurity.
If this sounds hard, that's because it is. The good news is, these skills are highly transferable and will help you professionally.
Some words of warning
Like it or not, journalists are held to a higher standard, and you need to think carefully about how the things you say in public might be interpreted. Our credibility is our career, and so it's important to avoid topics that may lead readers to question our ability to report the news objectively.
This can be a tricky line to walk, especially around controversial topics like race or gender equality. That's not to say you can't or shouldn't write about them, but you may want to consult your supervisor before hitting publish.
While some issues may seem black and white to you — and ethically they may seem clear cut — that hasn't stopped journalists from losing their jobs in the past.
The case of Lewis Wallace, a transgender reporter working at Marketplace between 2016 and 2017, comes to mind. Wallace lost his job after publishing a personal blog post questioning whether journalists can really be objective or neutral.
Whether you agree with Wallace or not, right or wrong, Marketplace took issue with the post and it ultimately cost him his job.
All this is to say, it's important to consider the potential repercussions your words can have.
My advice: think long and hard about publishing anything that you wouldn't feel comfortable submitting to your editor. If it's a controversial topic or you're not sure how it might be received, consider having a colleague or even your supervisor read if over before you publish.
More to come
This post is part of a larger series on blogging that will be released over the next few weeks. Find all the posts in the series at the link below.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below:
- Should journalists keep blogs?
- Why did you start blogging?
- How do you navigate the challenges of staying objective as a journalist and a blogger?
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