Whatever medium you want to work in as a journalist, a blog has become an essential tool in finding work. From building your portfolio to building your contacts; from raising your game to raising yourself above the competition, a blog can develop a number of key skills.
Those who don’t have a blog at all risk being left out of the game. As The Guardian’s head of editorial development Neil McIntosh recently wrote: ‘If you enter the jobs market without one, no matter how good your degree, you’re increasingly likely to lose out to people who better present all they can do, and have the experience of creating and curating their own site.”
Having a regularly updated blog demonstrates a number of things to a potential employer. Firstly, it proves your commitment: if you’re dedicated enough to write often, to get out there and find out what’s happening in your sector, you’re already one step ahead of other applicants.
Secondly, a well-maintained blog should prove that you have good knowledge in your particular area, and useful contacts.
You should use your blog to seek out leads and publish good stories. Many local and specialist bloggers have better reputations than their print or broadcast counterparts because they have spent time cultivating a good range of sources, and because they read and report on everything that happens in their sector.
But commitment and contacts are not enough on their own to land you your ideal journalism job. Skill is vital – and this is where a blog can make a crucial difference.
Writing regularly for a blog helps you hone and improve your journalistic style. It provides a space for you to develop your ‘voice’that rewriting press releases, for instance, won’t. The competition is fierce: you must be faster than other bloggers when you have a lead, or have better informed analysis when you don’t; you must have great sources and a strong relationship with your readers (which is often the same thing); and you must write compellingly, and often.
Note that I’m talking journalistic style here, not ‘diary style”. A journalist’s blog should not be ‘What I did on my summer holidays”; posting about how drunk you were or your embarrassing personal habits is not the way to impress potential employers.
A good journalist’s blog should appeal to a readership beyond your friends and have a clear focus. Typical examples include the niche blog (for instance a local music blog), the reflective blog (details that didn’t make it into your print or broadcast stories), and the running story (eg trying a recipe for every vegetable from A to Z). If you want to cover more than one niche, or write more than one type, create more than one blog.
Whether or not anyone reads your blog is not the primary goal, but if you do it well, and if you do it often – and if you do it well, and often, for long enough – you can build a reputation, and surprising things can happen: freelance work can come to you; you can be contacted by a journalist looking for ‘expert’ opinion; or, best of all, you’ll be at that interview, and the editor turns to you and says: ‘I’ve read your blog. It’s very good.’