This is a guest post by Anita Bruzzese
I have a lot of fun reading blogs and often learn a lot. But as a trained journalist, sometimes I see things in a bloggerâ€™s copy that bugs me a bit, and sometimes I read stuff that makes me cringe. Some of it just confuses me, and some of it appalls me. So, when Chris asked me to write a guest post on what bloggers can learn from journalists, I decided to make a list:
What Bloggers Can Learn From Journalists
- It takes time to gain trust. If you post something that has an â€œagenda,â€ be upfront about it. Being deceptive, unethical or manipulative may get you short-term results, but the long-term impact to you and your efforts will be detrimental. Most big stories by journalists have come only after they spent months or even years getting a source to trust them.
- You are what you write. Whether itâ€™s 300 words or 60,000 words, you have to make sure itâ€™s accurate. A Pew Centre survey on bloggers found that while 34 percent of bloggers consider their writing to be a form of journalism, only 56 percent â€œsometimes or oftenâ€ spent extra time trying to verify facts. Always double-check the spelling of a name, the name of an organization, dates, etc. If you want to be taken seriously by those outside the blogosphere, youâ€™re going to have to verify your facts 100 percent of the time.
- Use attribution. Journalists are trained to always provide a source for their material. This helps put the information in context, and tells the reader youâ€™re not just making up stuff. It shows that you have a dedication to getting it right.
- Step away from the computer. Itâ€™s easy these days to think that all questions and answers begin and end on the Web, but donâ€™t insulate yourself that way. Talk to people on the street. Listen to conversations in checkout lines or while waiting for a movie.Â Learn how to ask questions of people outside your circle of friends and acquaintances â€“ thatâ€™s what will net you a golden nugget of information that no one else has. Anyone can regurgitate what they get from Google. Itâ€™s the effort to get original information and look beyond the obvious that grabs attention and respect.
- Look for the news peg. Journalists have always known theyâ€™ve got a limited amount of peopleâ€™s time, so they need to make sure no one says â€œso whatâ€ when reading a story. If you tie your information to a current event, it makes the story more relevant for them. For example, if you have a â€œgreenâ€ company, then Earth Day is a perfect time to use it as your â€œpegâ€ to attract attention.
- Be consistent. Journalists use the Associated Press Stylebook, a rulebook we use to make sure our â€œstyleâ€ is consistent. (For example, we write out numbers less than 10, and use numerals if itâ€™s 10 or more.) You donâ€™t have to use this stylebook, but you should understand it is distracting when your writing style is all over the place.
- Precision is key. If you carefully consider each word and each sentence, then youâ€™ve put yourself in another realm as a writer. Precision helps you gain respect and legitimacy because is shows youâ€™re taking your writing and reporting seriously, even if youâ€™re writing humor. At the very least, consult a dictionary, thesaurus and grammar book. All the Web site flash and dazzle in the world wonâ€™t cover up poor writing riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes. Trust me: If thereâ€™s one typo, one spelling error, someone is going to call you stupid.
- Just get on with it. You may hate me when I tell you this: Iâ€™ve never had writerâ€™s block. Iâ€™ve been writing for a long time, and Iâ€™ve never once sat down at a keyboard and had a blank brain. Hereâ€™s the key: Just blurt out loud the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your subject. This is a technique taught to all first-year journalism students, and it has never failed me. The point is not to labor over your lead. Once you get something down, you can get on with the rest of the story. If you â€œoverwriteâ€ your lead, readers will quickly lose interest and move onto something else. And one more point: Deliver what you promise. Donâ€™t sensationalize your lead and then fail to back it up with the information in the story.
- Rewrite. One of the most important parts of any good story is the rewrite. When I wrote my second book, I spent three months writing it and three months editing it. I put on five different hats when I read the copy: 1) as writer I made sure the copy flowed easily; 2) as a reporter, I made sure the copy included solid facts and sources; 3) as a copyeditor, I made sure I used proper grammar, correct spelling and looked for ways to tighten the copy so that it was concise; 4) as a workplace/career journalist, I made sure I was giving people information they wouldnâ€™t find elsewhere; and 5) as a reader, I made sure that even if I knew nothing about the subject, it was still clear. (By the way, donâ€™t try and put on all these hats at once. Youâ€™ll lose focus and get confused.)
- Understand youâ€™re creating history. That may sound dramatic, but itâ€™s true. Your writing will last forever. Donâ€™t abuse the privilege of being able to record the events and feelings of our day. With every word you write, youâ€™re leaving a record for future generations, and thatâ€™s not an assignment anyone should take lightly.
Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett News Service and USAToday.com. She is the author of two books, including â€œ45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy,â€ named one of the top 10 most notable books by the New York Post. Her website is www.45things.com, and she can be reached at [email protected]