11 April 2008

SPOTLIGHT – BLOG III

Welcome to the third and final part of this SPOTLIGHT feature on blogs.

Following on from looking at mainstream media blogs, penned by both journalists and readers, we’re now turning our attention to the independent blogosphere.

We’ll highlight some of the blogs making waves in the news world and see examples of how professional journalists can play a role in the blogging universe.

Moving on from this, we’ll look at the different means of blogging on offer to anyone looking to make their mark – from moblogging and microblogging to vlogging.

And at the end, we’ll have a bunch of links to useful resources for visitors who want to pick up some practical tips on the art of blogging.


A Blogging Tail

Anyone with internet access can write a blog – simply sign up with a free host service such as Blogger or Wordpress, and with one click you’re a writer, editor and publisher.

This seismic shift in the media landscape introduces a new and very real competitor into the news marketplace – the independent blogger.

Someone who is not in the pay of a publisher but who can use the same channels and tools to compete with the major league players.

But this independent blogosphere does not exist in a vacuum – it both influences and is influenced by the mainstream news providers.

And this budding relationship is growing all the time, as shown by a recent Brodeur survey which revealed that the majority of American journalists see blogs as helpful sources for story ideas, angles and insights into sentiments on a given news event.

The blogosphere is the “tail”, says Brodeur spokesman Jerry Johnson, that’s not yet “wagging the media body”.

But who are the young pretenders in this news blogosphere and do traditional journalists need to know about them?


An orbit around the blogosphere

Digital publisher Howard Owens recommends that “blogs should be a daily routine for every dedicated journalist”.

“They should read every blog related to their beats. They should read blogs about their own interests and hobbies. They should read blogs about their profession.”

And what better way to start than with blogs from the recent 50 Most Powerful chart compiled earlier this year by the Observer.

Blog aggregator Technorati is another good way to find popular news blogs as well as those which are favoured most by fellow bloggers.

Its Top 100 by fans includes the Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo (TPM), and tech news sites such as techcrunch.

While the Top 100 by authority (based upon links to the blog from other blogs) is headed by the Huffington Post and affords high places to the Daily Kos and Drudge Report as well.

And although many readers seem yet to be convinced about the reliability of blogs as news sources, some institutions are coming round to the idea that blogs can offer valuable and effective coverage.

For example, Josh Marshall from TPM recently became the first blogger to receive a prestigious George Polk Award for excellence in investigative journalism.

Some unions are also beginning to accept independent blog authors into their ranks, with the National Union of Journalists granting membership to its first freelance full-time blogger last November.

At the same time, some bloggers are looking at ways of organising themselves into representative bodies distinct from those peopled by print and broadcast journalists.

So one could say the independent news blogosphere is growing not just by numbers but also in confidence, making it increasingly important for traditional journalists to become familiar with this rising entity.

Many online newspapers are showing their ability to do this by providing extensive blogrolls on their sites listing independent blogs relevant to their readers.

A British example of this is found at the Liverpool Daily Post, while America’s Roanoke Times also boasts a series of useful links in its Community Blogroll.

Reading blogs, using them as sources and linking to them is all well and good but what about more active engagement with the blogosphere?


How to get involved

According to blogger Graham Holliday, “freelance journalists can use blogs to fatten up features, research stories, garner contacts, market their work, earn cash and publicise projects”.

This is precisely what freelancer Neil Clark decided to do, so as well as producing work for the Guardian and Spectator amongst others, he now writes his own blog.

Providing his take on political events as well as entries on sport and entertainment, Clark’s blog certainly publicised his “brand” effectively when it won the title of Best UK Blog at last year’s Weblog Awards.

Freelancers can also use blogs as their news publishing outlet and Christopher Allbritton does just that with his Back to Iraq independent blog which is funded by readers’ donations.

Similarly, Deborah Bonello’s From the Frontline blog provides regular news from Mexico City, while Sandeep Junnarkar’s Lives in Focus blog is also partially funded by public donations.

Meanwhile, mainstream media journalists needn’t feel that this world of independent blogs is closed to them – and many around the world are showing that it isn’t.

Adrian Sudbury works for the Huddersfield Examiner as a digital reporter, but also writes about living with a rare form of leukaemia via his Baldy’s Blog, which won last year’s Weblog Award for best medical blog.

Other journalists busy in the independent blogosphere are Joanna Geary from the Birmingham Post, BBC broadcast journalist and producer Robin Hamman, and Pat Thornton from America’s Stars and Stripes who blogs as the Journalism Iconoclast.

And there are plenty more, many of which can be found at Cyberjournalist.net on its list of journalists blogging independently around the world.


Ways & Means

As new technologies develop, the ways and means of blogging also expand to move with the times.

Desk-bound bloggers hunched at computer screens typing text posts are no doubt a common sight – but it’s not the only way to get your voice heard in the blogosphere.

Moblogging always seems to be on the cusp of becoming the “Next Big Thing”, as this Online Journalism Review article shows.

Blogging using a mobile can incorporate text, photo and video posts, and the Reuters and Nokia partnership claims to have created a toolkit ideally suited to moblogging.

It’s not a particularly common activity on the UK’s news sites, but the BBC’s technology team recently gave it a try-out at February’s World Mobile Congress.

Where the mobile phone has proved its value to bloggers in recent times, however, is as a tool for microblogging.

Hosted by services such as Twitter and Jaiku, microblogging comprises posting short messages to a selected group.

Members can send mini blog posts from mobiles via SMS, or via email, instant messaging or the web.

Digital journalism expert Jeff Jarvis overcame initial skepticism to proclaim Twitter as an “important evolutionary step in the rise of blogging”, and political blogger Patrick Ruffini reckons it shortens the news cycle from 24 hours to seconds due to its immediacy.

In addition, new media blogger Pat Thornton believes all bloggers should be using the platform to share bite-sized versions of their opinions and to engage with readers.

Thornton offers several journalistic uses for Twitter, while this post outlines a total of 17 for people who want to get twittering but don’t know where to start.

And while microblogging may be a minority trend in the UK and the US, blogger Pramit Singh says it’s a far bigger affair in “mobile mad” India.

Finally, there is video blogging or vlogging, which is not something you see everyday as yet.

But the big names have dipped their toes in the water – including several Guardian journalists who have produced vlogs for Current TV.

More recently, an ITN news team produced a vlog from their reporting base in Afghanistan, which received mixed reviews from journalism.co.uk and Paul Bradshaw blogging at Poynter.

Some regional news websites have also tried their hand at vlogging, including the Yorkshire Post when it followed the fortunes of a local resident trying to obtain treatment for a serious eye condition.


Resources

The internet is teeming with resources for anyone who wants advice on writing their own blog, but this brief advice guide from the New York Times is good for the essentials.

For journalists about to embark on a journey into the blogosphere, the in-house blogging style guide from the Telegraph is particularly useful.

And anyone wanting to enhance an existing blog might find Press Gazette’s Ways to Brighten Your Blog an interesting read.

Finally, would-be bloggers who want to learn from others should take a look at the latest winners of Weblog Awards and Bloggies for inspiration.


Over to you

So that wraps things up for SPOTLIGHT’s blog trilogy, we hope the three posts have provided you with some useful info and ideas to follow up.

Do get in touch if there’s any blogs you feel we missed out or any areas you’d like to know more about.

And as always, please let us know if you have any particular themes, technologies etc that you’d like to see come under the SPOTLIGHT.

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