Launch your business in the blogosphere

By Paromita Pain, Joan Cook Fellow 2012

There is something about the word “technology.”  Even the smartest among us shy away. But for all those who attended the first set of the JAWS CAMP 2012 technology trainings, the session led by trainers Janice Rombeck and Ellen Berkovitch had one important message: “Once you decide, it’s easy to start.”

Blogs may not be the flavor of the season with journalists. After all, we write for a living. But blogs are a great way to promote your work and develop new audiences. And the most amazing idea ever? Launch your own media business and actually make money from it.

Becoming an entrepreneur can be a scary thought. Rombeck understands this. A former newspaper reporter and editor and now publisher and editor of NeighborWebSJ, a local online news site, she came into the online business after three decades of print journalism. As she led the participants through the many different alleys blogging can take, the one point she emphasized was that today journalists have many options that make it really simple to create a presence online.  Some are free like the WordPress.Org, while others like charge a small fee but offer lots of simple tools that make websites stand out.

“Wordpress is the future for entrepreneurial journalism,” says Ellen Berkovitch. Award-winning arts journalist and editor Ellen Berkovitch founded AdobeAirstream, the first online arts magazine serving the Rocky Mountain and Southwest, on the Joomla content management system. Once she moved to a customized WordPress template, she rapidly saw the numbers of visitors go up.

The beautifully designed user interface may convince the best of us that these sites would be impossible to create without the help of experienced designers. And these tech- trained folks have their uses. But as Rombeck says, “When you hire a designer it puts a third party into the picture. This may make it difficult, especially if you are dealing with breaking news and have to update constantly.”

Understanding your target audience is the first step to success.  Content is always king. As Berkovitch explained, “You must be up for updating the content constantly.” And this is a key point. You never know how big your audience can get. So “robustness,” as Berkovitch calls it, is a necessary attribute of any content management system you might use. To stay on top of Google news, content on the website cannot be static. People return when fresh content is put up. Berkovitch says, “It’s not a good thing if the last post on your blog was in 2011. Take old posts down if you can’t update them.”

Both trainers agreed that WordPress is easier to use than Joomla. The audience had many questions, especially since many were experienced with online platforms while others were new to the idea. Making a site generate revenue was a vital topic that came up many times, and the trainers had some simple and great suggestions. Sponsored Podcasts worked for Berkovitch, for example.

As easy as WordPress may be, there is still some technology to tackle. Choosing plug-ins a host for your site are central issues.  “When you are buying your domain name, make sure to put it on auto renew,” warned Berkovitch. “Then the host sends you messages when you can renew your contract with no danger of your site been taken down.” Also privacy and ownership of content are issues to explore. On Blogger, Google owns your content. For those with multiple blogs, RSS feeds are great ways to link them together.

Having a great website with great stories isn’t enough. As Rombeck said, “Use Facebook and Twitter to get new audiences.” It may seem like a lot of gritty details, but it’s not as tough as it seems. It’s okay to get overwhelmed and finally learn.

For as Berkovitch said, “It’s time for us journalists to unlearn that we can only do content and that we are not entrepreneurial.”