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10 things journalists do that can really help first-time bloggers

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infographic
Blog like a hack
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.

 

5. Steal

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.
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How many female film characters does it take to change a light bulb?

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Woman looks up on light bulb
Woman looks up on light bulb – by verkeorg on Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

No, it’s not a joke. Or at least it might be, in the sense that women don’t get to change light bulbs in films. In fact women don’t really get to do much at all, other than wait tables, cry when their men die and generally look pretty. Most of the time they’re not even in films. There are so few of them it’s as if they’re an endangered species. An endangered species that gets raped, murdered or brutally attacked in exchange for a few lines of script.

Don’t believe me?

Let’s take the 10 most popular films on IMDB:-

1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Set in an all-male prison. Case closed.

(Female credited characters 3, male credited characters 51)

2. The Godfather (1972)

There are some women, but it’s about the male-dominated mafia – an institution so patriarchal it makes some of those weird all-male golf clubs look positively balanced in their outlook.

(Female characters 8, male characters 26)

3. The Godfather: Part II (1974)

It’s better than part one but just as male.

(Female 16, male 55)

4. The Dark Knight (2008)

Man dressed as bat fights man dressed as clown. It’s as stupid as it is male.

(Female 14, male 83)

5. Pulp Fiction (1994)

There are women in this film and they do talk, but not that much. One (a gangster’s girlfriend) does get to dance and overdose on heroin, so it’s not all bad… sort of.

(Female 16, male 31)

6. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

It’s about a good man, a bad man and an ugly man. At least it tries to cover up the paucity of ladies in it by giving characters names like ‘Angel Eyes’ and ‘Blondie’.

(Female 1, male 20)

7. Schindler’s List (1993)

Probably the least male of all the films, but then it’s the only one that is about real-world events. No cheap shots to be made here.

(Female 38, male 88)

8. 12 Angry Men (1957)

120% male.

(Female 0, male 12)

9. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

The vast majority of the characters may not be human but they are still male, which is a little weird in itself (do fantasy characters really need definite gender?) There are some really pretty elves, though.

(Female, 7, male 45)

10. Fight Club (1999)

It’s all about men fighting each other in really manly ways. In fact, it’s about one man fighting himself in a really manly way. It couldn’t be more male if he was drinking Stella and scratching his crotch all the time.

(Female, 9, male 44)

While women make up 51 per cent of the population of the UK, they’re just 20 per cent of the population of these films. And a lot of the time in films they’re just ‘woman on plane’, ‘waitress number two’ and ‘light-bulb changer number six’. OK, that last one was made up.

Now take your favourite 10 films and ask yourself how many of the main characters are women. Then ask yourself how many people in your own life are women. Compare.

I’m sort of guessing that unless you’re a monk or a really awkward teenager at an all-boys’ boarding school, the gender balance in your life bears little or no comparison to this. While the stars of our movies live in overwhelmingly male environments, in which women don’t get a look in, in the real world women do things, have opinions, buy drinks, drive cars. Shit, they even change light bulbs. On their own. Without getting shot or their tops falling off.

***

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PCCs – and the new battle ground for local government

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Over at Public-i, we’re interested in the developments leading up to the arrival of Police and Crime Commissioners later in the year.

I thought it might be worth doing the occassional post on this – that offers a little commentary on the PCCs. This is because, as the debate between prospective PCC candidates grows, we’re coming across some really interesting developments that seem worth sharing (with more than a tweet). These aren’t all directly pertinent to Public-i, but they are what people are talking about – which is why I’m publishing them on my own blog rather than at Public-i.

Anyway, today I came across this post from Richard Hibbs – which he has posted on Sam Chapman’s Top Of The Cops blog, dedicated to all things PCC.

Richard’s post is a number of things – with some well-aimed digs at the Local Government Association’s attempts to become the professional association for PCCs and a swipe at Association of Chief Police Officers’ attitude to the new office, too.

What stands out to me is the point he makes about the power of the PCC’s voice. Here he’s making a point about the LGA’s proposed creation of a Police Executive board – which he says aims, among other things, to give PCCs a strong voice.

“… PCCs will be at least 100 times as important as local councillors in constitutional terms (due to the size of the constituencies and their democratic mandate) and will therefore have a pretty loud voice which will carry all the way to Westminster anyway without amplification. Plus they’ll be able to say no to the Home Office if, in consultation with the Chief Constable, they don’t wish to “have regard to” aspects of the Strategic Policing Requirement they simply don’t believe in (whatever ACPO thinks!).”

Richard is, of course, right. PCCs will be heard by central government without any help – there will be just 41 of them across England and Wales and the power they will have to influence national and local politics (quite aside from their statutory powers) will be of huge interest to a government, not least because of the damage they could do to its reputation on law and order with the public.

And, in turn, that’s going to have an impact on what local government looks like, which I think is only slowly dawning on us…

Two things occur to me about this:-

  1. The ruptures that are caused by the development of the PCCs for local government will take a long time to be resolved. And the influence the PCCs wield will have profound effects on how we see the rest of local government.
  2. PCCs – with their big mandates – are likely to be agressive players. The creation of a directly elected official of this kind is new to England and Wales (mayors aren’t an equivalent) and Richard’s assertions might hint at future battles between councillors and PCCs – with its arena, obviously, the Police and Crime Panels where some will sit to scrutinise PCCs.

That might not sound like a big deal (cue headline: new politicians make life difficult for other politicians) but Richard’s bullishness, which may be justified, is an indication of a battleground opening up in local politics.

The government has a lot invested in PCCs and – as I think has been suggested elsewhere – may wish to extend powers to them if they are a success. This can only be made more likely, I guess, by the general rejection of city mayors earlier this month.