How To Start a Weblog (For Professional Journalists)
Tuesday, May 7, 2002 by Dave Winer.
This afternoon I had the pleasure of talking with John Markoff's journalism class at Stanford University about the kind of journalism we practice in weblog-land. Eventually the discussion turned to how a professional might start a weblog. I rattled off a list of get-started ideas, and on the drive home thought of a bunch more. Once you get started it's not that hard, but many pros might not know how to do it. So here's a brief how-to with some ideas to get you started.
The hardest step in trying something new is to start. So just do it. ;->
Get some weblogging software, and create a new site. Start by posting something stupid like Hello World or This is my first post. Breaks the ice. Everyone does it.
Don't worry about the URL, some of the most popular weblogs have the nuttiest addresses. It's not the URL that attracts people, it's who you are and what you think that matters.
Some people think every weblog has to look beautiful, but I don't agree. My philosophy is we're all just folks, and come as you are.
Dogma 2000, a manifesto written by an Austrian blogger, sums it up beautifully. "If you have something to say, put in on the Web."
The next step is to link to stories.
When a colleague or competitor writes an article that you find interesting, for any reason, link to it. You don't have to say why you find it interesting. It may seem strange to point to a competitor, but readers like it when you do. People who read weblogs are information junkies, they want all the angles. They may not even click on the link, but it's nice to see it there.
Another time to link is when one of the companies or people you cover does something, even if you don't write an article. By doing this you are creating an archive not just for your readers, but also for yourself. If you wrote one article about a company, there's a chance you'll write another. It'll be good to have a dossier then.
Also, every time you link you're helping the Internet because search engines will adjust the page's rank accordingly. Over time, as you develop a community, more people will point to your blog, and your choice of links will have more weight.
It would be great if each reporter's weblog had the full transcript of interviews for readers who are interested.
Probably in the right margin of the home page, a reverse-chronologic list of all major articles written by the author. No more than 20 or so, linked to a page where they're all listed.
In the left margin, include a list of weblogs you read regularly or think are important. A reader can tell a lot about you by the sites you point to. It's okay when you're starting to have this list be small, but update it when you feel the time is right.
If there's an XML feed that readers can subscribe to, link to it with the white-on-orange XML icon. You'll see an example on my weblog. For extra credit also include an XML Coffee Mug that lets readers subscribe to the XML with two clicks in some desktop news aggregators (including my own product, Radio UserLand).
I have a page linked to Scripting News with a picture of me, a brief history of the weblog with pointers, various mottos of the past, a disclaimer of Netscape 4 support, and other almanac-like homilies. It answers one of the first questions I have when I see a new blog -- who writes this and what is it about?
After speaking with many professional reporters, this is probably the point where you hold back. After all, writing is what you get paid to do. No one is paying you to write for the weblog. But..
You're going to write anyway. Think of it this way. How many things do you observe that have nothing to do with your beat? You can't sell an article about a great movie if you write travel reviews. Every human being observes things just by living, and you're a writer, so write about it.
A great example is Glenn Fleishman's weblog. He's a freelancer who writes about technology, but he also has a lot to say about practically everything else. Weblog writing is writing you do for the sheer pleasure of expressing yourself.
If you're a professional reporter and start a weblog, that's newsworthy.
Please send me a pointer, and I'll help you build flow.
Weblog software is good for professional journalists, not just amateurs.
It's been cast as an Us versus Them thing, and that's incorrect. It's a new style of writing, made possible by the Web, and by the advancement of software.
I can't speak for all amateurs who blog, but I would like to see more pros use the technology.