Make the most of blog power

 

Jump on the bandwagon now and maybe even earn some money. Freelance Graham Holliday, who writes Noodlepie, a blog about food from Vietnam, urges journalists not to miss out on raising their profile

STAFF JOURNALISTS AT The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian and every shade of newspaper in between have joined the blog bandwagon, but freelance journalists have been slow to harness blog power. Those that have are using blogs in many varied and innovative ways.

Blogs are free, or at least cheap, and they’re easy to use. You can publish anything from text and photographs to video and audio files immediately.

You are the writer, editor and publisher all in one.

Freelance journalists can use blogs to fatten up features, research stories, garner contacts, market their work, earn cash and publicise projects.

Christopher Allbritton raised $15,000 (£8,600) from readers of his Back to Iraq blog in March 2003. The cash enabled him to travel to Iraq and report on the war and he became "the web’s first fully reader-funded journalist-blogger". As a result of his blog he was hired by Time magazine. Allbritton returned to Iraq in January 2005 and continues to blog his experiences while freelancing for Time and other outlets.

However, some three years after Allbritton’s reader-funded endeavour, donation-driven blog journalism has been slow to catch on.

New York-based, award-winning freelance journalist and journalism professor Sandeep Junnarkar is one exception. He set up Lives in Focus with photographer Srinivas Kuruganti in May 2005. The blog aims to give voice to "those who are rarely given space or time in traditional news media". The initial project looks at the impact of a new patent law in India and its effect on the HIV+ population.

"I wanted to go back to the roots of the kind of reporting I idealised as a young reporter. I wanted to talk to people about their lives. The impact of social, economic and health crises on their lives," explains Junnarkar. "That’s when I realised this is the way to do it. To start a blog that deals with those issues that are closer to my heart than what I’ve often done as a professional."

Junnarkar uses a combination of video, audio, photographs and text. He raised $6,000 (£4,440) in donations to fund flights to India and living expenses during his stay.

He didn’t travel in the style he’s previously experienced with one of his paymasters: "When I’ve flown somewhere for The New York Times to report a story I’ve usually stayed in a hotel or something, but in this case we stayed with friends, other reporters and family members. We didn’t take taxis, we took rickshaws. We really tried to stretch out the money," he says.

The freedom of unlimited space on a blog means Junnarkar is able to go into far more depth than would be possible in a newspaper. Junnarkar and Kuruganti have gathered almost 2,000 photographs and 13 hours of video interview. Although he finds reporting this way liberating, it’s not financially viable to make Lives in Focus his major source of income at present. "I still don’t see this as a model where I could do this and this alone for a living," he explains. "The $6,000 hasn’t covered any of the time I spent afterwards."

Reporting on a blog can make a journalist more marketable. Dutch video journalist Ruud Elmendorp is based in Kenya. He has received commissions based on his blog, Video Journalist. He says the blog gives him the freedom to experiment with methods of reporting. "Blogging allows me to develop creative new ways of reporting. For example, I am just starting my own television channel on the internet and will see how that works out," he says. "Blogging is partly for fun and for business. I use it to spread the word about my latest work and sometimes my future plans."

Kieren McCarthy, a freelance technology journalist, uses his blog as a release. "I’m filled with stuff every day that can’t possibly be sold as articles and it’s a useful outlet," he says. Unlike Elmendorp, McCarthy doesn’t see his blog as a marketing tool.

"I don’t see that it makes me more marketable. That would suggest that editors read blogs in a professional way. They don’t."

However, blogging from the ICANN (Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers) and WSIS (World Summit on the Information Society) conferences on the future of the internet in late 2005 helped increase his visibility. "It raised my profile significantly," he says. "At least among people in the industry I tend to cover. Lots of people have commented on my blog entries and the fact that they like what you write makes them more likely to approach you or trust you."

McCarthy’s blog entries from the conferences were published by The Register.

He incorporates interview podcasts (downloadable audio files) into his blog. "The US ambassador said he’d listened to my WSIS podcast and really liked it.

He said it was nice to have something that gave time to the issue. I particularly enjoyed that because my deep belief is that people are patronised and underestimated by the media and that a very, very large group of people want calmer, more in-depth news."

Like many other bloggers, McCarthy has one eye on earning bucks from his blog at some point. "The dream, of course, is that I can start running advertising on the site, thereby making the blog itself a viable business. If you get a high enough profile it may be possible in future to syndicate blog entries to media outlets. But let’s be honest, that’s wishful thinking."

Wishful thinking or not, some high-profile, nonjournalist bloggers earn thousands of pounds every month from running advertising on their blogs.

Schemes like Google’s Adsense programme and Blogads mean incorporating advertising onto your blog is simple to do. However, journalists have thus far been slow to see the benefits.

"I think we’ll see more savvy freelances realising blogs offer a way to showcase their work and make them money — both through extra commissions via established routes and also through things like Google’s Adsense advertising, and Blogads," says Neil McIntosh, assistant editor of Guardian Unlimited.

"In the longer term [advertising] will offer a great chance for some specialist journalists to become one-person publishing houses."

Background

HOW TO START

Easy to learn. Quick to publish. High visibility. Blogs hook directly into the power of the Google search engine, meaning they are generally more visible in internet search results than traditional, static websites.

Where do I start?

Sign up with a blog provider. Blogger is free. Typepad costs from $49.50 (£28) to $149.50 (£86) per year. WordPress is free downloadable software that allows you to publish a blog on your own webspace.

What should I blog about? And how?

Take the narrow niche approach, like Sandeep Junnarkar. "Focus on one aspect. I didn’t want to write about AIDS in India, but about people’s access to drugs and how they are surviving this crisis."

"Maintain a regular stream of posts."

Ruud Elmendorp

"Write what you think. Be personal and informative. Do not stretch outside your sphere of knowledge. Respond to comments left on your blog. Use it as a therapeutic tool and expect nothing in return."

Kieren McCarthy

"Blog early, blog often. And be careful what you say about your editor!"

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