Guidelines for newspaper bloggers

By JD Lasica — New Media Musings

This wise set of precepts compiled by John Robinson, editor of the Greensboro, N.C., News & Record. didn’t get as much mileage in the blogosphere as they deserved when Robinson blogged them two weeks ago. (Thanks to Terry Heaton for the pointer.)

So, here are the guidelines the News & Record have laid out for its journalist-bloggers, with emphasis added where other publications ought to take heed:

Standards and practices

1. Be honest and tell the truth, for all the reasons that your mother and editor told you. It’s what we do, and besides, it means you don’t have to worry about….

2. Libel. Don’t do it. You know what’s permissible and what’s not. Don’t get close to the line because….

3. Our blogs aren’t edited. Editing slows down the process, and editors have enough to do. Blogs also must have the writer’s voice. Editing squeezes the life out of them. We trust you. That said….

4. You represent the newspaper, not yourself. We’re still responsible for the blog’s content so get it right. Blogs must be factual and fair. The newspaper’s standards apply. When in doubt, ask. This is not an opportunity for you to mouth off about whatever occurs to you. Do not embarrass us, and that includes….

5. Spelling and grammar. If you are a chronic misspeller, get a dictionary or have someone read behind you. Your posts must adhere to proper English grammar, spelling and style. Still, you should….

6. Develop your own voice. It will help de-mystify you to readers. Using first-person is OK. Using non-offensive slang is OK. Referring to a friend or family member is OK. You’ll need them because you must….

7. Develop a thick skin. Don’t get defensive or aggressive, even if that’s your natural style. You may get called names and abused personally. If you can’t ignore that then you can’t handle a blog. If you can, then, first off….

8. Ignore the trolls. That’s the etiquette of the blogosphere. They will haunt you. Ignore them and they may go away. Respond to them and you’ll have them forever. Often other commenters will take care of them. Speaking of other commenters….

9. Make fun of no one except yourself. Be gracious and listen to commenters. You may learn something. If not, say nothing, although saying thanks is OK. (I am occasionally weak on this point.) Serious commenters will also correct stuff you say. That’s good. Correct the post. You should get a decent number of comments if you….

10. Post several times a week. You want to keep the blog fresh so people will come back. If you don’t have time or don’t think you can keep it up, reconsider. It’s not all that hard to find something to write about every day. Your post doesn’t have to be long — in fact, it shouldn’t be. You can find lots of material elsewhere on the web so be sure to….

11. Link out. Link to other web sites. Link to other blogs. Link to your competitors. Link everywhere. It drives traffic. It builds credibility. And it establishes your site as a place to go for good info. We don’t have all the info; other papers have some we don’t have. With the blog you can “steal” it — without fear of jail time — because you can link to it, talk about it and get credit for supplying the info. Everything will help because….

12. You’re writing for a specialized audience. The newspaper audience is general; people visiting your blog are interested in your topic. Understand that and tell them everything you know.

13. Play nice with the local bloggers. They aren’t your competitors or enemies, although it will seem that way at times. Engage with them. Show them respect. Write about them on the blog. Participate. The love you take is equal to the love you make.

14. Read other bloggers around town and around the nation. There are a lot of good ones who are right on the money about your topic.

15. Add value. Extend the purpose of your journalism. While you’re at it, take the opportunity to explain your process. As Mark Binker says, the more your readers understand what you do, the more credible you become.

16. Have fun. If it’s not fun, don’t do it.

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