Student journalist bloggers - The good, the scheduled and the risky - Part 1: The good

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 8 June 2010

So far this year I've posted two series of blog entries looking at issues around young and student journalists. In February I looked at "Tomorrow's newsmakers today", studying the digital versions of student union newspapers, and in April I published a set of posts based on a Q&A interview with three young journalists who recently made the transition from student to professional. Today I want to start a third series of posts on this theme - looking at the blogs of current journalism students.

First things first, all the blogs I'm going to mention over the next couple of blog posts did one thing right straight away - they got found. I set up Google Alerts for a blog search for the phrases "I am studying journalism" and "I am a journalism student", as well as the broader phrase "journalism student", and followed the leads there to find these blogs.

This is, of course, entirely unscientific, and my sample was based on people who used those phrases and got indexed by Google during the period I was looking. I've been collecting the links and drafting this over a period of a few months, and I don't want to make points specifically about individual bloggers here, but instead use the examples to look at some of the trends and issues that I think they illustrate.

First of all I wanted to look at what seems to make a good journalism student blog:

Demonstrating specific publishing domain knowledge

Sarah Herrera blogs at Swatch and serif and is a senior journalism student at the University of Missouri, mostly working in magazine design and layout.

What I liked particularly about her blog was the way that she categorised her posts quite clearly into critiques, responses and "You can't miss". It had a very magazine feature feel to that, and rather than just using blog categories or tags, she really emphasised this by including these categories up front in her post titles.

She is also posting up some of her work as she develops designs.

Using your blog to demonstrate specific domain expertise is a great way of attracting the attention of people who might hire you in the future, and of building up a valuable public portfolio of work, especially when trying to break into a difficult area of the publishing industry.

Picking a great niche topic

If you can pick the right topic, like Mike Kielty with his Footsteps of Boz blog, you can even get news coverage in return for your efforts.

Daniel Seth Levine is also mining a limited set of source material with lasting popular appeal - The Beatles catalogue. Every little thing is making its way through every song released by The Beatles - so far over 100 entries strong and currently working through 'Revolver': "Good Day Sunshine".

What I liked about this type of blog was that they gave the person a defined set of content to write about, encouraged writing regular blog posts, and did something to provide entertaining content with a wider appeal than a blog about the mechanics of studying journalism. Journalists are seldom paid to write about their own industry, instead they need to assimilate information about another area, and deliver it in an informative and entertaining package.

Getting a natural blogging and social media voice

One of the hardest things for traditional media journalists has been to adopt a 'natural blogging voice'. I think that this is an issue that will gradually disappear as new young journalists who have already taken blogging to heart enter the profession.

Liam Corcoran, for example, has a very spiky voice on 'And ever onwards to prudery', where he has blogged about music and local politics, and the site comes complete with a blistering quote about the depravity of journalism from Hunter S. Thompson - "Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits". It comes across as a very natural use of online media.

Another example is Jilliane Hamilton She blogs links to where she has been published elsewhere, observations on how modern media is working and interviews. I'm making a presumption here, but Jillianne's blog reads very much like she is a blogger who is studying journalism, rather than a journalism student who feels they ought to blog.

Showing commercial potential

Last year, at a UCLAN workshop looking at the digital skills needed by the 'journalist of the future', one of the exercises was to imagine how a young journalist might look and work in 2012. We ended up with a profile of someone who specialised in a niche area, and who had made a career after starting blogging.

Looking for examples like that, I came across Violet Nocturne, who seemed to have the potential to do this with her blog. Her subject is cosmetic and beauty product reviews, but it seems very focussed around the colours and styles worn by girls (and boys) into the type of music she lists in her profile - Death Cab For Cutie, The Horrors etc etc. It is a niche audience, but it seems to me like the kind of niche that could sustain an income.

If a blog like this gets more established, then it becomes an obvious conduit for cosmetic manufacturers to reach that demographic through advertising, and to potentially send the blogger product samples, offer competition prizes and/or sponsor content. In this particular case, the pressure of study brought the blog to a premature end, but it seemed like the potential was there.

It's been a while

In the course of my research for this series of posts I saw plenty of blog posts that had the same basic message as this one from Stephanie Bolton:

"It’s been a good while since I’ve blogged/had a good moan, for which I apologise. The reason? University work, and lots of it. Yes, I know, that old chestnut again. But it’s true!"

Jillianne Hamilton and Violent Nocturne, both of whom I mentioned above, also tailed off their blogging activities. I've found the turnover of active blogs to be very high. I first started researching this series in December 2009, with a view to publishing at the end of January, but didn't quite finish it. When I came to review what I'd written for publication around March, I found that many of the blogs I had highlighted as examples of good practice had stopped being updated. The same happened again at the end of May, and so I've had to basically re-research and re-write from scratch.

I'm not surprised.

Keeping up a blog is hard work, and I'm unconvinced that when I was at Uni, I would have wanted to spend lots of hours blogging about what I was learning at Uni - in the early 90s I certainly didn't keep an offline diary about 'studying history'.

Next...

In tomorrow's post in this series, I'll be looking at some blogs which have found an excellent way around the problem of keeping up their writing, by picking topics that run to a schedule.

2 Comments

Very interesting breakdown of what makes a good blog. I'm a graduate currently working to save for a postgraduate course in Journalism, and while I blog fairly often I sometimes worry that my site's image and direction are not 'niche' or focused enough.

I hope to give the blog a re-vamp and a new angle as I go back to student life in September as it will probably be easier fitting it around the lifestyle than my current 9-5.

Thanks a lot for the mention of my Beatles blog. When I created it, I did not see it as a journalism project, but really as something to keep myself constantly writing and I figured it should be about something that I love. I guess now it is something that I should include on a resume.

Keep up to date on my new blog