Apr 24, 2007

From Reporter to Blogger

In my career as a journalist I’ve worked at six newspapers and am now trying to establish myself as a freelance writer and independent blogger. I can’t help but wonder what I should take from my print journalism background into the blogosphere.

Some of the transferable skills seem obvious. Clean, concise, easy-to-follow writing is a must if you want to be read. As a reporter I learned to unfurl tangled issues related to urban development, environmental protection policy and social services and then lay the issues out in way that both educated and entertained. That’s a valuable skill in any kind of writing, blogging included.

Relevance seems like another biggie. I imagine, like in newspapers, writing about topics that matter to a wide-ranging audience will increase readership. But in this realm, a writer can choose her ideal audience and cater to them if she wants.

But on the flip side, if a topic has been written about ad nauseam online chances are you don’t want to blog on it unless you have something new to add. Blogs seem to have become popular for giving media consumers reports that traditional media outlets didn’t offer. In newspapers, content decisions are often based on what journalists think the audience needs to know. That’s why I had to slog through so many agendas of the planning and zoning boards. But in blogs it seems to be much more about what the audience wants to know. Media consumers today can act more like patrons at a salad bar, feeding on those reports in traditional media outlets and in the blogosphere that interest them most.

One aspect unique to blogging is the potential to hold a real discussion. I’m anxious to experience this side of blogging first hand. As a reporter I could never really participate in the discussion. I had to be objective, or at least I had to pretend not to be a politically minded being. Feeling obligating to turn off that part of my brain hurt my writing and reporting. I didn’t feel free to develop and share insights I gained from reporting.

Even when I spent months investigating and writing issues-based enterprise projects, I rarely felt like my writing generated much of a greater discussion. At least if the discussion was happening, I never saw it. I quit my last full-time newspaper job and moved to Central America for two years in the summer of 2004. Because of the timing of my leave, I haven’t experienced what it’s like to be a print journalist in a world where blogging rules. The only back-and-forth exchange that I experienced was the form of an occasional letter to the editor or personal email.

The nature of traditional media has been one-way communication, from the news gatherers to the masses. Real discussions used to take place only on a small scale, usually face-to-face or in the form of phone calls, letters or emails. But the Internet in general and blogging in particular have revolutionized how we communicate and share ideas because it offers a public venue for an infinitely large multi-directional exchange.

I’ve become a blog reader and now I’m anxious to be a part of the revolution as a blogger, one of the many who get to start the conversation.

What Journalists Can Learn from Bloggers
What Bloggers Can Learn from Journalists

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