Are Bloggers Journalists?

22 01 2009

If blogging is citizen journalism then bloggers are citizen journalists, which by definition is a form of journalism.  Blogger relations might then have much in common with media relations.

I argued this case or something much akin to it in a lecture I gave for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations in May 2008 at Leeds Metropolitan University.  

I had pursued this argument before with little opposition but when the Q&A section came round my argument hit a wall.  Richard Bailey, an academic blogger and university lecturer at Leeds took me to task on this view and Chris Norton Account Director at Wolfstar supported his assertion that blogger relations and media relations are very different. 

The two points of view can be broadly summarised thus:

The case for the prosecution

  • Bloggers don’t like and seldom use press releases
  • Bloggers are generally of independent mind and blog because they want to express their own views and opinions and not those of others
  • Blogs are not edited in the traditional sense and therefore can not be considered to be media in the conventional sense
  • Many blogs simply don’t have an audience
  • We have to engage with bloggers in a different way involving more dialogue and discussion

The case for the defense

  • Journalists don’t much like press releases either and never did.
  • I’ve met some pretty independent minded journalists in my time.  If in doubt read Nick Davies’s excellent ‘Flat Earth News’.  He’s man of independent mind (although he describes others that are not). 
  • The difference between blogs and ‘traditional media’ on line is becoming blurred.  The process of editing creates authority but it does not mean that blogs can’t be authoritative.  

I modified my view after listening to both Richard and Chris but I do believe there is a significant amount of common ground in how we approach the most influential bloggers and how we have deal with journalists who fit the more traditional mould.  I imagine however that the debate will run and run.





Beginner’s Guide to Blogging #2

13 01 2009

You have found a Blog platform and you have registered a blog.  You have also found a design template that you are happy with.  You might want to explore which features of the template you can adapt and alter.   You can often add graphics to the headline or background and this is a good way of  making a template based blog look a bit more individual.   Have a look at the widgets and see which ones will work best.  Have a look at your favourite blogs to get some ideas about which widgets to use.  Don’t worry to much about changing the look and feel of your blog even if it is ‘live’.  At this point it won’t be getting any traffic.  Work on the design and layout until you are happy.

Make sure you get the basics right.  There will be no separate proof reader and no grammar checker.  If you aren’t good at these things get someone to check your posts before you publish.  Most blog platforms have spell checkers, use them and proof read your work.  A blog with spelling mistakes or poor grammar will be the kiss of death, even if the quality of the writing is good.

The importance of the quality still can not be underestimated and it is our job to make the material engaging.  Some people find this easier than others but it can be learnt.  There are many blogs out there created by technically brilliant people who can’t or won’t write in a coherent fashion.

If it doesn’t come naturally then practise.  Read as much as you can learn what works and take advice from others.  If that doesn’t work then partner up with someone that can write.   If the content is poor then the blog is too.





Beginner’s Guide to Blogging #1

12 01 2009

Blogging seems daunting for those who have never done it before.  The easiest way to get started is to use an online blogging platform like Blogger or WordPress.  Both are free to use, easy and need the  minimum set-up.  This blog uses the online version of WordPress and you can uses the links at the bottom of this page to find our more about how to use WordPress.

For Blogger go to www.blogger.com and click on the ‘Create Your Blog Now’ banner.  Use an e-mail address to create a Google account, this takes no more than a minute and click the ‘Create Your Blog Now’ banner at the bottom of the page.   Fill in a title and create a web address in the box below.   You then select a design template and that’s about it.  Well not quite, you have to add some content.  With both WordPress and Blogger is a text editor into which you can type directly and you can add photographs by clicking on the icon on screen.  It would be quite possible for you to have a blog online within 5 minutes of starting the process.

The ease of all of this means that quality sometimes gets forgotten.  Blogs don’t have editors and there is no quality threshold that the blog has to pass through in order to be published.   We can publish what we like.   Without editors, bloggers are solely responsible for the output.  The one measure that remains is that of popularity and readership.  If the blog isn’t good very few will read it, none of them will come back and they will recommend it to no one.  Never underestimate this.  User generated content has accelerated the growth of the Internet, which passed the milestone of one trillion unique pages at some point during the middle of 2008.  With so much out there most of it is going to be ignored.  If you want an interested audience for what you are publishing and the content has to be of real interest.  It may be obvious but search a few random blogs and you will see how often people forget.





Blogger Engagement #2

18 12 2008

It is widely agreed that bloggers and podcasters dislike getting press releases; well, so do most journalists that I have met.   If we want to engage with bloggers we must establish certain things.  Are they relevant to us in terms of reach and authority?  Are we relevant to them, is what we are pitching well targeted, will they be interested and do they accept pitches at all?  Many bloggers do not.

If we have overcome all of these hurdles I firmly believe that we can talk to many bloggers or podcasters in the same way as we approach journalists – by e-mail and by telephone and on the odd occasion by actually meeting.   So is this new form of public relations just the same as the old?  Well, some bits of its are and some aspects are entirely new. 

The world is considerably more complex but the traditional skills of a good PR person are particularly useful in this new environment where much of the media has become socialised.   In addition to pitching ideas offline we can have  conversations with bloggers very simply just by adding a post or a comment to their blog.   Remember that this is a conversation in public and that mostly they will talk back.





A Short History of Blogging

15 12 2008

The word Blog is a contraction of ‘web log’.  It’s hard to be exact about when blogging started. The peripheral  ‘blogger’ Jorn Barger editor of the blog Robot Wisdom, effectively invented the term ‘weblog’ but the term “blog” was not used for another two and a half years.   It was first employed by Peter Merholz and intended as a joke. He broke the word weblog into two words we blog in his own peterme.com blog.  In doing so he essentially created the verb “to blog,” meaning to create a weblog as well as initiating the contraction of the noun into its now popular form.

The first bloggers were the effectively online diarists, who would keep a running account of their lives.  These blogs began well before the term was coined and the authors referred to themselves usually as diarists or online journalists.  Perhaps the first of these and therefore the original blogger was Justin Hall, who began blogging in 1994 and posted his first regular blog ‘Justin’s links to the underground’ whilst a still a student.    Blogging took off when the publishing platform Blogger was launched in August 1999.  It quickly became the most popular and simple to use blogging tool and it allowed mainstream internet users with little or no technical knowledge to start blogs.  Blogger was bought by Google in 2003.








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