Journalism 101 – What Bloggers Need to Know
The blogger vs. journalist debate has been a heated topic for years. Bloggers are influential, educational and informative, but some believe (including an Oregon court) blogging doesn’t equate to journalism, hence bloggers aren’t considered by some as completely legitimate resources. However, with the influx and influence of blogs, several traditional news media outlets, including The New York Times, have adapted and taken on a more blog stylistic approach. This year, The Huffington Post (considered a blog) won a Pulitzer Prize, which is typically awarded for “achievements in newspaper and online journalism.” This was considered a well-deserved victory for blogosphere credibility. However, The Huffington Post also adheres to several standard journalistic practices, something all bloggers should do.
There are significant differences between journalism and blogging, including the idea that “the media” (is supposed to) remain objective and unbiased. Bloggers, however, are known and revered for sharing their opinions. And, to succeed as a blogger, implementing a personality is vital – Something that is clearly absent from traditional news writing. Regardless of these differences, there are important lessons you can learn from journalism, and implement into your blogging practices.
Let’s jump into some Journalism 101 every blogger should know:
Cite Sources and Attribute Content (no ifs, ands, or buts!)
As a content creator, educator, news relayer, information slayer, your job as a blogger is to give your readers the most accurate information – This includes citing and attributing everything you’ve used, read and referenced when writing a post. Whenever you borrow information from another blog, a company website, an article, a case study, report, etc. this needs to be sourced (including a link) within your post – even if you’re paraphrasing! Otherwise, this could land you in a messy case of plagiarism. It’s also extremely easy to give source credit, so there’s no reason not to. You simply place exact copy in quotes, include the article or blog post title, the author or company’s name and a link.
Tech journalist, Jolie O’Dell wrote a blog series called, “Be a Better Journo” in which she discusses attribution:
“There are multiple reasons this is in your best interest, the first being that it saves you from looking like a story-scamming scumbag. Second, it saves you in the event of a retraction, in which case you can point a finger and say your source was wrong. Third, especially in the case of opinion and speculation, it allows you to maintain at least a modicum of objectivity. As in, ‘I’m objective, but Kara Swisher said these guys are doomed to failure by patent infringement lawsuit.’”
“…And finally [citing sources] it’s fair and right, which is the only reason you should need in the first place.”
As O’Dell points out in her post, “How to Tell a Journalist from a Blogger,” bloggers are notoriously known for generalizing sources, claiming info as their own, and acting like rabid pageview/pagerank greedsters. To avoid this bad rap, citing sources and attributing content is one of the most important journalism standards a blogger should absolutely follow. These rules also apply to images. Unless you took the image, or bought it on a royalty free microstock photo provider, like iStockphoto.com, then you must give source credit.
Plagiarism is unfortunately rampant in the blogosphere, so if you feel and/or know that others are plagiarizing or ‘borrowing’ your own content without appropriate site sourcing, KISSmetrics recently released an article called, “How to Keep Content Thieves from Stealing Your Work,” covering preventative methods.
Make Deadlines, Don’t Break Them
Journalism is great in that it teaches you (i.e., strikes fear in your heart) about the importance of making deadlines. Simply put, as a journalist, if you don’t make a deadline, you’re fired. Readers are looking to you for a consistent flow of content, and if (blog post) deadlines aren’t met, competitors will start to look mighty fine. Successful content marketing strategies also heavily rely on re-purposed content. If blog posts aren’t written and published, this could also affect potential content for your newsletters, Facebook and Twitter updates, etc. Create a content calendar, include deadlines, and make ’em, don’t break ’em!
Choose a Style and Stick to it
Hardly anyone strictly abides by the AP Stylebook anymore (though it’s a good foundation). However, implementing a style, and sticking to it, gives your blog consistency and accuracy. If you lowercase all of your headlines, keep it that way throughout all blog posts.
Edit, Edit, Edit
Think people won’t notice a little spelling or grammar mistake? Think again! Charles Duncombe, an online entrepreneur, conducted a series of tests on website analysis, and he found that a single spelling mistake can cut online sales in half! A journalist’s work always goes through a rigorous editing process, even when there’s a tight deadline to make, and so should your blog posts. Put together an editing team, and have them give your posts the digital red pen before publishing – This includes fact checking, because nobody’s perfect. Are you a team of one? Spellcheck should become your new best friend. Read posts aloud, and triple check posts before publishing.
Fix Your Mistakes
Journalists make mistakes (they’re just like us!). The usual suspects include name misspellings, incorrect dates, and even factual errors. If someone points out a mistake, graciously thank him/her, and fix it quickly – the great thing about the digital age is, most mistakes can be fixed. Trying to cover up a mistake, however, should be avoided and is frowned upon (see: Social Media Faux Pas). And, people will definitely call you out on it.
Write for Your Audience
Journalists write with their intended audience in mind, as should a blogger. As Brian Clark from Copyblogger says, “The key to successful blogging is an alignment of interests between writer and reader. It’s that sweet spot where what’s good for your readers matches what’s good for you. Don’t focus on having a great blog. Focus on producing a blog that’s great for your readers.”
Implementing these standard journalistic practices into your every day blogging ways will not only make your content stronger, but will move bloggers one step closer to becoming recognized as the influential, inspirational and educational content creators we know they/you are!
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