I’m currently securing student bloggers for next year, and found it telling that two of them expressed an interest in blogging because they plan to go into journalism and think learning to blog would help in this field.
I took a step back and realized they were on target. While blogging doesn’t replace existing skills such as news judgment, finding/evaluating sources and basic newswriting ability, what we once called papers have migrated online and journalists increasingly double as bloggers. What a change from a few years ago when many news organizations discouraged their writers from keeping a blog!
Now journalists have learned how to incorporate blogs into their storytelling. One of my favorite writers, Sean Kirst, complements his excellent Syracuse Post-Standard columns with short blog entries. On the other end of the spectrum you’ll find folks like Seattle Times baseball writer Geoff Baker, who live-blogs games (using excepts for his game stories) and also pens (types?) longer statistical-based pieces that would bore the average reader if they appeared in print but excite his stathead-heavy online fan base. Blogging is still a fairly new tool in the journalistic toolbox, so reporters use it in countless ways.
But the skills of a good blogger mirror what it takes to become a good journalist. You need to write well and concisely, and blogging can help you practice. You need to find good stories and tell them in a compelling fashion. You need to gain a sense of your audience. Unlike traditional journalism, blogging creates a nearly instantaneous feedback loop, where others can offer views on your story that sometimes can help you explore or consider additional aspects. When I worked in journalism, the only time I learned what readers thought about our product came when they called and complained (too often) or when they dropped a note of praise (too rarely). And while commenters (especially the trolls under the bridge at newspaper sites) don’t always offer an accurate view of what readers think, feedback can help underscore the importance of an issue to a community and the different points of view worth considering.
So should journalism students consider blogging? Absolutely! Not only will it make them more marketable in a world where more reporters are expected to blog as part of their overall arsenal, but I believe the practice can make them better writers. Whatever the state of the newspaper industry, anything that creates a better crop of young journalists benefits us all.