Producing a Blog
By Julie E. Dodd and Judy Robinson, University of Florida faculty members Published February/March 2010 in Quill & Scroll magazine
Producing your own blog
You’re now ready to start your own blog after subscribing to blogs of interest and reading them. In this column, we’ll talk about kinds of blogs you could set up and how to select blogging software to create your blog.
Kinds of blogs
From your reading of blogs, you know bloggers can take a variety of approaches to their blogs. We’re suggesting three categories for you to consider:
Blog that is part of your student media (i.e., newspaper, yearbook, broadcast program)
A blog connected to your student media can be a great way to update information, promote the media outlet, and bring your media to a readership outside the school community. You can use the blog in several ways:
- For your newspaper – Make a short blog post after major campus events, such as games, plays and concerts. For example, you can offer the immediacy of giving sports scores that you can’t with a monthly or even twice-a-month newspaper. You also can include photos that you won’t be able to include in the newspaper. You also can use the blog to promote an in-depth article that will be in the next issue of the paper.
- For your yearbook – The yearbook is in production for the full school year. The blog can be a way to let the school community know what stories are being covered and to make announcements about club and class photo days, etc. The yearbook staff typically has hundreds of photos that won’t be included in the yearbook. The blog can be a good way to use those photos. The blog can be a good way to promote increased interest in the book – and increased sales.
- For your broadcast program – You can use the blog as commercial broadcast sites use their websites – to provide written summaries of stories that are broadcast and update those stories. Depending on your blogging software (see more on that later in this article), you can post short video clips of stories you’ve produced.
The media-connected blog also can be a way for you to recruit students for next year’s staff, provide information about ad rates, talk about improvements to the staff’s technology, and tell the behind-the-scenes story of your coverage. You can set up your blog so that many people on the staff can post to the blog. (See more on that later in this article.)
Your own personal blog
The key to success with a personal blog is selecting a topic that you are reallllly interested in. That means that you need to have a topic you are so interested in that week after week, you can find issues to write about and can continue to be enthusiastic about your writing. You can’t be like some high school newspaper columnists who are eager to have a personal column but then by the fourth column are writing about “there’s nothing to write about.”
Certainly, some personal blogs are like online diaries. You can learn about someone’s daily activities (often way too much about his or her activities). But what we’d encourage you to do is not blog about yourself but some topic of interest.
If you’ve been reading blogs, as we suggested in our previous column (“Aggregate and read other blogs,” December 2009/January 2010), you have been reading blogs on topics that interest you. You’ve probably found some more informative and more engaging than others. You want to think about that as you create your own personal blog.
And remember that part of what separates blogging from keeping a journal is your connectedness to the Internet. Include a blogroll (links to other good blogs) on your topic and include links to information and news stories related to your blog posts.
If you enjoy photography, you’ll be happy to see that the photoblog has become very popular – a blog where the dominant content and perhaps the only content is a photograph.
One style of photoblog calls itself the “365 Project” where bloggers post a photograph every day for a year. If you are interested in trying this kind of blog there is a free blog service listed with http://365project.org/.
Once you have signed up, you can also get ideas for shooting your photos from the forum. Others who are engaged in the challenge of posting a photo a day will be more likely to post comments on your photo. You can: request critiques on your photos, read about tips and tricks for better photos, or get ideas in the weekly themes discussion and competitions. For instance, one week the challenge was to see who could post a photo that best reflected the theme, “Odd one out.”
Starting with a photoblog like 365project.org gives you a ready-made audience and gets you committed to continuing your blog. One of the hardest things to do with a blog is to keep posting.
Or if you want to strike out on your own, you can establish your own photoblog without joining a ready made community and vow to upload a photo a day for a year. Be sure to tag your photo with “Project 365” to enable others to find you as part of the larger project. Be sure to check out the WordPress.com theme called “duotone,” a photoblogging template where the background sets the color to match and enhance your photo.
Choosing your blogging software
You can choose from a number of blogging software options. We are recommending that you start with one of these three. All three are free (unless you elect to purchase additional options) and provide templates that can be customized to give your blog its own look. With all three, you can post to your blog from a mobile device.
Tumblr is a very easy-to-use blogging software and considered “light” blogging software. It is quick to post, easy to edit and very easy to learn. Posting on the go with phones is encouraged. In including blogging assignments in our classes, we’ve encouraged our students to start a blog in Tumblr. You click on an icon and then post text, a photo, embed a video clip or an audio file.
Tumblr is not set up to accept comments. That can be a positive when you are first starting a blog and may be focusing on your own posting and not responding to comments. Having no comments also can be a positive if the blog is connected with your student media. That way you don’t have to be concerned about comments in the context of school policies on student expression. Tumblr does provide information about how you can embed code to allow for comments.
WordPress.com is the best option for a new blog. It provides more options than Tumblr and has many more settings for how it looks, operates and facilitates your posting. WordPress takes more time to learn but offers more, too. WordPress.com is free and will help eliminate spam, track your visitors, let you review and approve comments before they’re posted, and makes it easy to post from your cellphone.
With WordPress.com, you can set it up for more than one person to post to the blog. This would be a blog to use if you are setting up a school media-related blog that has several staff members maintaining the blog.
Be sure not to confuse WordPress.com with WordPress.org. The latter will cost money to host.
Like WordPress, Blogger allows for comments, can be set up to be maintained by more than one person and can be posted to from your cellphone. Blogger is owned by Google, so if you are familiar with Google Analytics you can get a very good view of who reads your blog. Blogger is an excellent host and offers many of the same options as WordPress. WordPress.com and Blogger are ranked as the top two free blogging services for 2010.
In our next column, we’ll talk about analyzing and growing your audience. We will discuss strategies that will announce your blog on the Internet and bring more visitors to your blog.