This continues a series on advice for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms.
A new editor is taking on a demanding job that doesn’t leave you much time. You probably will think you’re too busy for a blog. But editors should blog.
I fully understand thinking that you’re too busy to blog. I started a weekly column right away when I became editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette in 2008 (I had done the same thing as editor of the Minot Daily News in 1993 when blogging wasn’t an option). I meant to start the blog soon, but quickly got “too busy” and didn’t start blogging for six months. But when I made the time, my communication with staff, the public and the broader news business improved right away. A blog is worth the time. Editors should make time for it.
An editor with a blog comments on community issues, explains newsroom decisions to the community, publicly praises staff members who excel and sets an important example for the staff. Editors should make time to do all those things.
Blogging reinforces the culture of transparency that is important for you and your community. When the editor blogs, staff members who are “too busy” understand that this is a priority and that they should make time to blog as well. They understand that engaging with the community is important, that it should be part of what makes you busy, not part of what you’re too busy for.
Blogging about your newsroom’s digital transformation promotes your digital efforts and products to the community and to the staff. You tell the community what you and the staff will be doing, so the community can hold you accountable as you execute your plans (or fail to carry through).
The blog demonstrates to the staff that you’re learning and experimenting with digital tools and techniques along with them (be sure that you link effectively and use digital tools such as embedding tweets and videos, rather than just text).
Blogging helps you engage with the community and respond quickly to inquiries and criticism. If you’re getting a lot of the same questions and criticisms, the blog can help save time, giving you a link to send to people who email you. Tony Adamis, editor of the Daily Freeman in Kingston, N.Y., says he is often too busy to blog. But he was busy this week fielding criticism about a headline, so his blog gave him an effective way to address the criticism.
If you already have a weekly Sunday column, as I did, the column can become the start of your blog. Post a draft to the blog when you finish it Friday or Saturday, inviting feedback (and using the feedback, with credit, in the finished column). Or crowdsource part of the column in the blog earlier in the week. Or post a poll on the blog early in the week, asking readers which of a few ideas to develop for the column. That way the blog will make good use of the work you’re already doing. Some weeks the column-related posts might be all that appears on the blog, but understand that a blog post doesn’t have to be as long as a column. In fact, it’s probably better to fire off two or three quick posts on different days than to spend a lot of time on a longer post.
(This series on advice for editors originally started out to be one long blog post. As it started getting too long and I knew I still hadn’t covered enough topics, I decided it would work better as a series of shorter posts.)
Finding and making time to blog
I asked some Digital First editors how they make time to blog and what they blog about:
Phil Heron of the Daily Times of Delaware County, Pa.:
I’m addicted. I usually try to do a couple of items every day, usually 1 sports, and a couple of news items. One of the things I like to do with it is have a discussion with readers and explain some of the decisions I make every day. I also find it a great way to encourage discourse and engagements with readers. …
And of course every day I try to do one of the best read things in the blog each day: The Daily Numbers. It’s basically just a collection of numbers in the news on any day, and a couple of pitch comments along with Quote of the day, Upper and Downer, etc. …
I’m an early person. That’s when I like to write. So I usually do the blog first thing, while putting together plans for the day. I’ll go back and update occasionally, or check the comments.
The truth is it’s one of my favorite things about the Internet and working online. It has given me the opportunity to write every day.
Joan Concilio, online editor at the York Daily Record:
My entire goal through blogging is to highlight what’s good about life in our town. I’m lucky — I don’t have to share all the crime and political news. Instead, I share fun vignettes on local events and also tons and tons of memories from our older residents about the town’s former stores and restaurants. The blog — and the two weekly print columns I excerpt from it — are designed to help Yorkers think positively about the area!
As far as how I find time – I’m probably the opposite of most people, who suggest doing little bits here and there. In large part thanks to the evergreen nature of most of my posts, I sit down and draft them all (get notes in files, schedule them, etc.) in one big chunk of time, then just go back and polish them up, a few at a time, in about 5-10 minutes a post once a week. This obviously doesn’t work if you’re dealing with on-deadline content, but it’s great for me … and I’m now drafted through end of July!
I take a similar approach sometimes. I wrote most of the initial drafts in this series on flights to and from Europe last month.
Stan Huskey of the Times Herald in Norristown, Pa.:
I have been taking snippets from my weekly column and using them as blog posts with usually a question at the end. …
I write a lot about local events, but when I do write about national events I try to refer to something local as a tie in.
Tony Adamis of the Daily Freeman:
I write (too infrequently) about news coverage/policy issues, responding to questions about why we do what we do, why we might not have covered something in this way or that, and respond to complaints or controversies about our performance. I try to double up my Disqus responses to commenters, when applicable. That is, if I respond to a reader comment, I sometimes will recraft it for a blog post.
I also double up sometimes. If someone emails me a question that I think other journalists might have, I might answer in a blog post or might realize about halfway through my email answer that I should turn it into a post. When I was in Cedar Rapids, I answered some questions from the community in blog posts rather than emails, or turned the emails into posts.
Michelle Karas of the Bennington Banner:
The blog is fairly new — as I am new here. I started it as a way to introduce myself to the community as well as let friends back home know the strange things that I’ve encountered as a new Vermonter. Because things are different here, from my previous home in PA and probably from everywhere. As for making time for writing, I simply try to write down the weird stuff as it happens and not let too much time go by between posts. I’d like to post twice a week, but sometimes I don’t get there.
Tom D’Errico of the Brattleboro Reformer:
I initially started the blog as a space to post and promote the daily budget of stories the reporters were working on, and gradually began to incorporate various projects I was working on. Over time, I realized it was a good outlet to talk about the journalism industry in general, and communicate how/why we did things a certain way, as well as document the shift in culture from a printed product to online content.
Extremely hard to make time to blog (apart from posting the daily budgets). Typically, I either do it in my own time (usually late at night) or I specifically set aside an hour or so in my daily routine because I have something I wish to blog about.
For example, I’ve been meaning to do a blog referring to your blog about giving the staff positive re-enforcement since it was posted (what was that, 2 weeks ago at least?!) … still haven’t been able to.
I also find it helpful to discuss a topic during my weekly local radio appearance, and then refer back to my blog (or blog about that topic after the fact) … it’s become an extension of my community outreach.
Lastly — I always felt like maybe no one was reading, because there’s typically very few comments … but during a community event several months ago I had several people approach me (out of the blue) to refer to or ask for clarification on something they read in the blog.
Matt DeRienzo of our Connecticut newsrooms:
I don’t blog often or consistently enough.
I use the blog to introduce new staff members, announce promotions, etc., but also to communicate with readers about how we handled controversial aspects of coverage or to address journalism topics.
Examples would include our decision a year or so ago to drop the words “illegal immigrant,” our decision to publish the tweets of underage students who bullied rape victims, and our internal debate over how to moderate story comments.
Andy Hachadorian of the Daily Local News in West Chester, Pa.:
I try to communicate my personal opinions about just about anything. From sports to news to the strangest crap we see on the Web. I tackle local issues, world issues, it doesn’t really matter. I look to poke and provoke people into thinking about stuff. I write about personal things or things I read on other blogs or news sites. I used to write every day but I found that became non-productive. I was just cranking it out for the wrong reason. I have been writing less lately because I have been really jammed up on other stuff but I really make an effort to write a couple times a week. My posts are more like columns and probably longer than they should be.
Paul Baker of the Lebanon Daily News in Pennsylvania:
My blog, “It’s Better Outdoors,” is rarely about my job. (We have a staff-shared transparency blog, , we use for that purpose.) My blog is ostensibly about running on trails with my dogs, but it’s often anecdotes about home ownership; observations on nature; pretty much whatever I feel like mumbling or ranting about.
I usually write the blog late at night, at home after work over a drink. But often I don’t hit the “publish” button until I’ve given it a morning read. As Ernest Hemingway allegedly said: “Write drunk. Edit sober.”
Paul and his colleague at the York Daily Record, Jim McClure, share the responsibility for blogging about newsroom operations with colleagues in the LDN Insider and YDR Insider blogs. Jim also has a blog reflecting his personal interests, York Town Square, about local history.
Monica Drake, community engagement/suburban life editor at the Oakland Press, who started a blogs about mental health issues and suicide awareness after a series of local teen suicides, has a more specialized blog than most top newsroom editors. She provided an excellent tip for editors who blog:
I make time for the blog by working on an entry while waiting for a source to call me back or by just posting a video or photo when I don’t have time to write.
When you’re a writer, you might think that every blog post needs to be a column. But a blog post can be just a link or a video you found interesting, with just a sentence or two to introduce it.
Martin Reynolds, West regional engagement editor for Digital First and senior editor for engagement in the Bay Area News Group:
I am still finding my voice with this medium, quite frankly. Right now, my blog is not very engaging, although I report on what engagement efforts are underway across Bay Area News Group. I need to find a voice that is funny and informative, but I am not there yet. In addition, I need to build more followers of the blog, and likely reverse publish it in print. That’s the next step.
One of the problems is that my blogging has been sporadic and needs to be more consistent. To help fill in the blanks, I reblog content from our recent Oakland Hot Spot blog, which chronicled the experience of a reporter for 30 days living in a high crime area of Oakland. I’ll also turn my more meaty Facebook updates into blog posts.
I enjoy blogging and plan to increase my output in the coming weeks. The key is designating at least two times a week to update the blog and having more fun with it.
However well you manage your time (I’ll have a post on time management next week, if I get around to finishing it), you’ll hit some stretches where you don’t find time to blog — whether that stretch is a few days or a few weeks. But get back to it when you can. Every blog post by the editor matters, sometimes more to the staff than to the community.
Read John Robinson’s blog
John Robinson was one of the first and best blogging editors. While he took more of a community focus while he was an editor, he reflects more on journalism and the news business since he has retired. This week’s post on signs that you’re an ex-newspaper journalist is great reading. It will give you some valuable perspective that we can’t have while working in the newsroom. (I hope it doesn’t push you into your own retirement.)
Read back through his archive, too. He has lots of observations about the news business that will help active editor.
What are some other good blogs by top newsroom leaders? If I’ve missed your blog, please share the link and your blogging advice in the comments.
— Brittany Binowski (@binowski) May 25, 2013
— Nancy March (@merceditor) May 24, 2013
— Stan Huskey (@StanHuskey) May 24, 2013
I cited a blog post by Nancy March of the Mercury in Pottstown, Pa., in a post Wednesday. While she didn’t provide advice on blogging for this post, Nancy has offered to write a guest post for this series, which I expect to be posting next week.
If you’re another Digital First editor (or a leader or former leader in another organization) and would like to propose a guest post as part of the series, email me at sbuttry (at) digitalfirstmedia (dot) com and we’ll discuss. Sue Burzynski Bullard provided such a post on organizational tools.
I’m not interested in a post of general leadership tips. I’d rather have a post on a particular leadership topic. Feel free to suggest a post that might address a topic I’ve already covered, but from a different perspective. I welcome posts that disagree with my advice. I will invite a few editors I respect to write posts.
Earlier posts with advice for editors
Here are topics I am planning on covering in this series (the order is tentative). The posts probably will run daily Monday-Friday for the next few weeks. What other topics should I cover?
- Time management
- Developing new leaders