Blogs can take all shapes and sizes. They can be personal, humorous, whimsical or professional. They’re also an alternative to traditional journalism, allowing writers and readers to share information and discuss topics of interest. And, if they develop enough of a following, they’ll keep readers coming back and staying longer, which ultimately translates to more advertiser interest and higher ad revenue.
The proposition is an attractive one to magazine publishers currently searching for ways to increase traffic on their Web sites, which is why more and more them are asking staff editors and writers, as well as freelancers, to blog.
But blogging isn’t necessarily about spilling one’s thoughts onto a Web page. Those who do it, say writers, need both focus and time to write a successful and sustainable blog. "I think the most important thing is to have a well-defined point of view," says Tom McLean, who has written a Weblog on the comic book industry for Variety.com called "Bags and Boards" for the past two-and-a-half years."There’s lots of sites out there and you do have to compete with them for readers."
Once you have that point-of-view, coming up with ideas isn’t as hard as it may seem, says Jon Udell, the lead analyst and blogger-in-chief for InfoWorld and InfoWorld.com. "The more information you put out there, the more information you attract," he explains. "I think there’s still a lot of journalists that have not experienced the benefits of working this way."
Udell began blogging for the now-defunct Byte back in the 1990’s. His secret, Udell says, simply involves chronicling the ongoing research he does as a "technology practitioner." "It’s basically working out the ideas that used to end up in print," he says.
Although he does a lot of his own news gathering, Udell also relies on the people who read his blog to provide fodder. "As you begin to accumulate a corpus of documents, you become aware of the effect they have on people and the interest they generate," Udell says. "A lot of information comes to me and a lot of personal contacts arise that wouldn’t have if I didn’t have the blog. It’s a miraculous thing."
To come up with ideas for his blog, McLean says he researches several comic book industry Web sites. "I look at what’s being written about comics on more industry-specific sites and pick up the things that are most interesting to my audience," he says. Also a freelance writer for several magazines including Variety, McLean says he doesn’t find it necessary to update his blog daily and instead does so as he finds the time.
Udell, on the other hand, writes his blog daily, but will skip a day occasionally, if he has nothing to write about. "It’s not like I have to write something everyday," he says. "My rule is, if I’m going to write, I should be advancing a story one way or another."
Although many bloggers choose to write informally, Udell and McLean, both of whom have more traditional journalism backgrounds, approach their blogs more formally. "A lot of people write their blogs from a very personal point of view," McLean says. "I don’t write about me or in the first person. It’s less opinionated. The thing that I think makes my blog work is that it’s a Variety.com blog. People read it because it’s on the Web site and not because it’s Tom McLean writing it."
But McLean says blogging does differ from traditional journalism in that it contains shorter passages and often contains a series of links to stories found on other Web sites. "The thing that’s very interesting in blogs is that nowadays it seems like someone always has the actual news quicker than you can get to it yourself," he adds. "But what you can offer is a quick commentary on what’s going on with the link to the story. And you don’t have to do as much explanation as you usually have to in traditional journalism. The story is more self-contained."
But it also requires dedication. "In some ways, blogging is easier than writing a regular news story" McLean adds. "In some ways it’s harder. Blogs require constant feeding. It’s about finding the discipline to stick with it."
Tips for successful blogging
ﾕ Have a specific topic and point-of-view to write about.
ﾕ Carve out a specific time of day to write the blog.
ﾕ Stay informed on your subject through reader feedback and by looking at what other Web sites in your industry are writing about.