What should I teach for Blogging Best Practices?

For the next three of four Monday evenings, I’m teaching Blogging Best Practices as a part of the continuing education series produced by the J-School and Baruch College. The total class time is six hours. Here’s its description:

Anyone can create a blog, but what does it mean to blog well? This course will teach you how to set up and design your blog, how to get traffic, how to handle conversations, and how to make money.

Useful, right? The short of it: I have plenty of fodder for what I can teach, everything from the ethic of the link to basic HTML/CSS for formatting, but what I should teach is the more important question.

What’s one thing about blogging you’ve learned and can teach? Or, what’s one thing you still want to learn? Topics, teaching strategies and exercise ideas greatly appreciated.


Stijn Debrouwere April 8, 2011 Reply

Frequency of posting is another important topic, and the answer varies according to the audience you’re targetting.

Techies — not important since they’ll be following you using RSS
A young, wired audience — not unimportant, but not too important either, since new stuff can be easily shared via Twitter
Any other audience — posting at fixed times (e.g. every Sunday, every two days) or continuously is key

With regards to people just starting out with a personal blog, it might also make sense to talk a tiny bit about content strategy: do you think you’ll be able to keep it up; can you come up with 50 posts that you’d want to write right now; are you going for wacky and all over the place vs. professional/focused; do you think you can muster to write some posts to keep in the freezer to handle the occassional drop in enthusiasm?

Chris Amico April 8, 2011 Reply

The concept of Stock and Flow is a good thing to get an early grasp on.

Daniel Bachhuber April 8, 2011 Reply

Totally, and I think Robin articulated it perfectly.

Jay Rosen April 8, 2011 Reply

First, here’s a link for you: might be useful


I think the one best blogging practice I would teach, if I were to teach one, has to do with “spheres” of blogging, and being conversational within a sphere. Meaning: your blog has to be about something, a niche, topic, or slice of life. And there are other people blogging about that topic. You need to “map” that sphere, find those other sites, put standing links to them up at your site, monitor what they are saying, aggregate the best of it in a simple daily link post, like this one…


…. comment at those sites, write posts about the big issues and recurrent problems, the memes and themes that you see coming up again and again, and, in general, embed yourself into that sphere. You’ll know you’re succeeding when they start linking back to you.

Daniel Bachhuber April 8, 2011 Reply

Thanks, Jay. Wonderful tip.

Matt April 8, 2011 Reply

This has become my framework for teaching about blogging, because every other concept I can think of fits into it:

Step 1. Master the conversation. All great journalism begins with careful listening. Understand who’s speaking most loudly within your domain and what they’re saying. Identify the quiet, brilliant voices who merit close attention. Consider the flows of information – which stories and subjects consistently strike a chord, which repeatedly fizzle out, what questions people are asking.
Subtopics: Mastering Twitter, tuning your inputs (RSS, news alerts, regular sources), art of the headline, analytics

Step 2. Nurture the conversation. A one-to-one conversation between a reporter and source will always be valuable. But more and more, the most valuable conversation to create is among a true, varied, robust community of stakeholders on a topic. Help this conversation along by – when necessary – offering a forum where folks can gather, organizing the threads of dialogue into a useful discussion framework, asking questions of the crowd, curating the best of what’s shared, etc.
Subtopics: Community management, package-repackage-repeat, stock and flow, post production

Step 3. Extend the conversation. Once you have a handle on where the conversation is, go where it isn’t. Find the stories that haven’t been reported, the stakeholders whose voices are being drowned out. Chase what we don’t know.
Subtopics: Content planning, art of the quest

Also, do a session on ethics.

Cody Brown April 8, 2011 Reply

Stock and flow is the most major lesson I’d try and hammer in once they found a niche. The post by robin Sloan about this is great. It helps you know where to put attention and how to develop a slow hunch in public

Andrew Spittle April 8, 2011 Reply

Similar to the concept of Stock and Flow Chris and Cody mentioned above, the biggest thing I’ve learned is to mix up what I post. Especially for personal blogs it helps to keep things oscillating between stock and flow.

If you get too hung up on crafting stellar long form writing you can sometimes scare yourself into not writing anything. By posting images, links, and short updates you can keep the blogging part of your mind working.

Suzi Steffen April 9, 2011 Reply

Two things:

1. As Jay said, think about being specific. Long ago, when I decided to become what was much derided as “a blogger,” I joined LiveJournal, at that time the most convenient platform, focused on one area (young adult books), linked to other YA reviewers/authors/publishers (had a blogroll but also linked to their reviews in my reviews) and eventually made friends with a woman in Eugene who worked for the paper where I eventually got a job through knowing when the job came open and, of course, being qualified.

2. Now that I teach journalism students about blogging, I’m a fanatic about wanting a. images — preferably ones they shot themselves, or cc-licensed otherwise, and we do talk about CC licensing— b. tags (I’m seriously intense about grading for competent tags, and I think our neighborhood blogs rise in the Google rankings because of that) and c. links within posts.

We don’t have a blogroll because the class changes every 10 weeks. We’ve also started beat blog posts, on the same site, wherein each student creates a “best sites” post about a topic that interests them, interviews a blogger who covers that topic and posts about top Twitter users on that topic — and that’s been super useful for journalism students who feel doubtful about “bloggers,” as they find out other people who know a lot about their beats and can talk to them about finding jobs writing about those beats.

We do get responses from people in the city for the neighborhood blogs and people they cover on the beat for the beat blogs, and I like that; it also shows the students that they have to be responsible about what they’re covering because EVERYONE can see it, and some people actually do.

Now that I’ve said all of this, I’m not sure it helps you at all. But in any case, that’s my experience teaching with blogs, at least in Reporting 1/#J361.

Very cool that you’re teaching this class!


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