When it comes to making the most of a story, the tips and tricks I picked up as a journalist are fantastic. I’ve always thought these can help bloggers, particularly those new to the art. If I’m being honest, I just wish I used them more (there are plenty on this short list that I could do with heeding myself!)
1. The follow-up
If you find a great story don’t write about it once. Keep writing about it. Ask yourself when you’re first writing what is next? Nine times out of 10 you’ll find more great posts right there and then. Have a plan for what you’ll do with that subject matter next. How can you make your one piece into 15 more posts?
(Thinking about it, I might follow this post up with a post about the five great follows up to any post. What fun.)
2. Make it snappy. Don’t drone on
OK, we all know that but I used to tell myself (after a sub editor used this particular complaint to me) that I couldn’t afford to waste any more ink. Making sure each word counts is vital in news journalism and it can really help you get your posts down in length and make them better to read. It’s a discipline that initially is easily ignored online, but if you look at the best digital news outlets, it’s something that is even more vital now.
3. Use formulas
It’s so dull to talk about but pretty much any piece in any newspaper or magazine follows a certain forumla or pattern. Why? If you’re churning out content you want to make sure you’re using your brain for the bits that count – being accurate, luring in the reader, making the most of your quotes, finding great stories. Formulas help you do that and – perversely – allow you to make life more interesting for readers. The most famous is the much vaunted ‘inverted triangle’. This basically says: write the most important stuff for the reader up top. It forces you to get out the salient facts first and in order. But there are many more that bloggers use, like the simple list (which, ahem, I’m using here). You’ll find your own formulas but it’s good to have a few different ones up your sleeve – which will help you to vary the experience you give readers and keep their experience fresh.
4. Prefer shorter words
The English language is great: you have a huge number of words to choose from. But writers often like the longer ones because (and I am guilty of this a lot) we like to show how clever we are. But every long word you use has the potential to distract or confuse readers and – even when the meaning is clear – makes the information less like to be digested. Plus, you look like a know-it-all.
I’m not advocating copying people’s work. No way. That’s the worst thing in the world that you can do (apart from all the other things that carry heavier prison sentences). But you can and should pinch ideas from other people. The best (ethical and creative) way to do this is to look beyond the people who are most similar to what you’re doing and see how other journalists and bloggers are getting ahead. Copying of this kind is to be openly rewarded because it can get you ahead of your competitors.
6. Use your calendar
Tie your stories to events that are universally understood. It’s Christmas so talk about Christmas. OK, that’s obvious. But stare at that calendar and think about all the dates that relate to your subject matter. Put them on the calendar and then work them in to your posts. Journalists talk about off-diary and on-diary news, to distinguish stuff you can plan for from erm… the stuff that just happens. The point is that you get to plan out a hell of a lot of content throughout the year.
7. Give yourself a deadline
You have 20 minutes to write this post. Can you do it? The clock is ticking. Ultimately one of the things that sets apart a successful blogger from a… well… blogger is regularity and volume of content. How long do you want to spend writing your blog in a year? And how many posts do you need to keep readers engaged? Do the math(s).
8. Say one thing
Make your post about one thing and one thing only. Stay on message. This will help you with points one and two of this blog post. Hey, I’m not cheating. It all fits together, that’s all.
9. Follow the trend when it matters
Don’t ignore the prevailing wind of the news. Even local newspapers end up writing about national stories when they get up a certain head of steam, which demand the most focus and attention. Make sure you use these stories and find ways to link them to what you’re writing about.
10. Audience, audience, audience, audience
Only do what matters to your readers and always keep them in mind. How do you do this? Bloggers and online journalists have great an enormous amount of data at their disposal to help understand what readers want and don’t want, as well as the joys of A/B testing, but there are some old-fashioned journalism tips that still work. One simple thing is to spend time with readers to understand them better. Local newspaper journalists traditionally had this easy – they often came from the places they wrote about and spent plenty of time with their readers. For bloggers this same connection is created by the online connections you make through comments and social media.
Have you got any more tips and tricks?
I would love to hear them – whether they’re journalism related or not.