Friday, June 26, 2009...7:00 am

Blogs are dying. Great news for bloggers… and journalism graduates

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It seems that “the long tail of blogging is dying”. For those who prefer English to techie jargon, the long tail refers to the millions of blogs with few incoming links, compared to a relatively small number of dominant blogs with many thousands of readers and lots of presence in the wider web. 
But this is actually pretty good news for committed bloggers – and for journalism graduates.
According to the Guardian blog post, blog pingbacks to the paper are declining rapidly and many blogs on the author’s RSS feed had not been updated in 60 days. 
Why? Anecdotally, it seems that people prefer the quicker and easier route of Facebook updates and Twitter notes. 

Writing a blog post is a lot harder than posting a status update, putting a funny link on someone’s Wall, or tweeting. 

So why is this good news for bloggers? 
The same reason, actually. The great thing about the web is that it allows anyone to publish globally for very little outlay. But of course the human element can work against this. Not only do you have to actually want to write and post material online regularly, but you have to actually do it.
This is harder than it appears. I’ve run into the blogger’s brick wall, and I’m sure nearly everyone else does. It’s a bit like exercise – easy to start out with good intentions, but much harder to stick to.
Writing is a muscle too, and it needs a regular workout. Luckily, writing is more interesting than going to the gym (OK, I know I’m biased). But even so, there are times you’ll have to force yourself to do it. 
The upside of this is that it puts you in a similar position to the two people in a forest who meet an angry grizzly bear. To escape, you don’t have to outrun the bear – just the other person. 
If, as Technorati found in 2008, just 5% of the blogs it tracked had been updated in the past 120 days, that means 95% of any blogger’s competition is likely to fall by the wayside. Simply to get in the top 5%, all you need to do is not give up
This means that, if you have anything to say at all, and can say it engagingly, you are likely to do reasonably well.
How heartening is this for journalism? The key point of the argument is not that people aren’t consuming the web, just that they aren’t always up to producing it too – at least in a more substantial form. While access to production is wide open, its usage still depends on individual effort. 
Whether this means there will still be money for journalism is another matter. A natural limit like this does temper my argument that the web tends to raise the supply of content to infinity, but the supply of online content is still vast. 
However, it does suggest that perseverance and ability can still help you build an audience – and, with that, influence. 
In fact, this is a pretty good filter for journalism students. I look at the students I teach, and I can spot immediately the ones who seem to have potential. Not by the quality of their polished prose, but simply by whether they bother to update their blogs or other writing more frequently than when tutors tell them to. 
For journalism graduates this goes double. It’s tough in the industry now for employment, and it’s more tough because of the sheer number of journalism graduates coming off the conveyor belt. 
But the 95:5 rule works here, too. The vast majority of the new journalism graduates will give up at the first hurdle of not being handed a job on a plate simply because they are a “qualified journalist”. More will drift away as the pressure grows to find any old work for real money to pay off their student overdraft. 
To boost your own chances, therefore, you simply have to stay in the game.

  • Pick your chosen specialism and cover it
  • Start early (ie before you graduate. Preferably even before you start college)
  • Keep writing. Regularly. (I know it seems like there’s no time – but try doing it when you have a day job)
  • Get better at it 
  • Take the time to learn about blog design – and pick up some tech skills

When you graduate, you should aim to have a two- or three-year blog as part of your portfolio that shows (a) your commitment to journalism and (b) your ability to get your head down and meet deadlines. 
It will also be a very useful grounding in all the stuff about building an audience and driving traffic that will be part of a journalist’s skillset in the coming years.
There’s a certain amount of box-ticking that goes on in media HR departments now that means entry-level staff are required to have some kind of graduate qualification in journalism. I think this is wrong – as do editors of my acquaintance – but, hey, you can’t change everything.
But once you have that piece of paper, your CV and experience count for a hell of a lot more with the editors who will employ you.  They really don’t care whether you got a 2:1 in your degree. Show your mettle and present them with a decent, long-running and interesting blog or web site, and they will be much more likely to give you your break into the industry. 
[HT: Paul Bradshaw – who says he is blogging less these days. Maybe there’s an opening there?]


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