Take Your Blog to the Next Level: Think Like a Journalist

My first encounter with a Chicago TV anchor wasn’t what I expected. He bemoaned the long hours and lack of personal life journalists faced.

He sternly warned the group of stone-faced juniors and seniors against getting into the profession unless they were willing to deal with the long work hours, stiff competition and, even worse, inadequate pay. It quite literally turned into a lecture.

Apparently, he wasn’t convincing enough. About five years later, I joined the ranks of newspaper reporters by putting in inhumane hours, working against insane deadlines and eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner from whatever I found in vending machines. There were countless days of showing up to cover my Statehouse beat at 8 a.m. and finally leaving well after midnight. I figured I wasn’t as bad as some of my peers, including one who occasionally slept under his desk instead of wasting precious minutes driving home.

Yes, the hours were incredibly bad and the pay didn’t measure up, but I look back on those days as among the highlights of my career. Why? Because, at the end of each day, there was something overwhelmingly gratifying about educating and informing the public of important news. For most of us, it was never about a paycheck or decent hours. We willingly subjected ourselves to a crappy lifestyle to get the news out every day.

Borrow some of those habits

While I wouldn’t suggest crawling under a desk as a substitute for your bed or working 14- to 16-hour days, there are some lessons to be learned from the journalist mindset … especially if you’re serious about moving your blog to the next level.

Here are 7 tips to get you started.

1. Adopt the right attitude.

If you started blogging to get immediate gratification, you will burn out long before you see any kind of return on your investment. Get the right mindset for the long haul. Keep your focus on why you should be doing it: getting quality information in front of your users.

2. Pick a ‘beat.’

OK, maybe it’s not a beat in the strictest sense of the word, as in a newsroom beat, but focus on one or two areas of your business. Choose something you care about, again, so you will have the stamina to write about it on a regular basis. If you’re in the B2B industry, hone in on topics like improving customer service. If you’re looking for a B2C angle, deliver in-depth content about the range of products or services in your industry, including updates and innovations.

3. Regularly research or investigate your ‘beat.’

Regularly research the Internet for news relevant to the topics you selected. Sign up for a few RSS feeds of popular sites to stay abreast of what’s going on in your industry. Offer your opinion on the most popular or unusual topics you find.

4. Spy on your competition.

There’s an immediate cure for mediocrity. It’s called competition. In the newspaper world, it was a sad day to see the competing newspaper in your city shut down. (Unfortunately, it’s happening all too often). We knew competition made us better at our jobs. On a daily basis, we would check out the competition to see who reported the news better. Do the same. Check out the blogs of your top competing websites … the ones who are doing a better job than you. Constantly brainstorm ideas on how you can top whatever they’re doing.

5. Get out of the office.

More than likely, you’re already putting in long hours maintaining your business or keeping up with your day-to-day duties in your department. However, you won’t find out much about the latest in your industry by staying behind closed doors. Invest the time and funds to attend workshops and conferences in your industry. If you don’t have the time, send someone else. At a minimum, regularly attend webinars for information you can share with your visitors — as well as develop the professional skills of you and your staff.

6. Quote a few leading experts.

Journalists are always quoting someone … whether it’s a politician or some random person who happened to witness a newsworthy event. Why? Content is more interesting when you include what other people have to say. If you’re attending a conference, take the time to network with speakers and other attendees. You’re more than likely to pick up a few gems for your next blog. Also, read the latest books in your industry. Use some of the ideas as a launching point for your next blog.

7. Expect to work hard.

For many people, professional writing seems glamorous … creative. At least that’s how I envisioned it until I actually started working in the field. Sure, there are aspects of it that reach the “glamorous” level. But those moments are rare. The same goes for producing any kind of content on a regular basis. It’s hard work. But it’s absolutely worth it. Blogging, for example, is an incredible opportunity to boost your SEO rankings through a regular stream of fresh content. It’s public relations and marketing rolled into one nice seamless package. But more importantly, it provides an opportunity to communicate with your targeted market.

If you still need some inspiration for getting into the mindset of a journalist, pick up a DVD of The Paper. This 1994 film, which features a much younger Michael Keaton as a neurotic newspaper editor, offers one of the few cinematic glimpses of what it’s really like to be a journalist. Adopting just a couple of those habits could boost you to the next level in your blogging career.

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