How and why to get started with blogging: The REAL answer

afkatws, via Flickr (CC license)
Don’t just start blogging. Spend some time scoping things out first.

Almost daily, people e-mail me to ask me for advice about their online-media careers. I just got such an inquiry this morning. It started out pretty typically:

“I found your recently. I’m very interested in online writing as a career. Can you tell me something about it? How do you start, etc.”

OK, after I explained that I needed his question to be more specific so I could offer a meaningful answer, he offered a bit more detail: He’s about to graduate with a sociology degree, likes writing, and wants to combine those skills to earn a living. Still an overly generic inquiry — but since it’s a basic question many people have, here’s my honest answer:

Don’t assume in advance that being a writer (in any medium) is your ultimate career goal. Often, media is merely a means to an end — I guess that’s why they call it “media,” since it’s usually “in between” real stuff happening.

In my experience, it’s more useful to pay attention to what’s really going on, what people really want or need, and what you really have to offer, than to assume you already know what you “should” be doing. You can’t really be in business by yourself, since business is about the exchange of value. Who are you going to trade with, and what do they need?

Increasingly, participating in online, conversational, and social media (from blogs and forums to Twitter and Second Life) can help nearly anyone find their niche and their path. Because ultimately, these forms of media are about PEOPLE (especially binding communities) — not technology.

On the practical side, here’s the advice I offered this reader…

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Matthew Murray and The Dark Side of Support Forums forums
Colorado gunman Matthew Murray displayed a disturbing pattern of behavior in these forums. Could this community have acted earlier to prevent tragedy?

Make no mistake: Online support forums, whether grassroots community efforts or run by organizations, generally do a hell of a lot of good. You can find support forums dealing with just about any issue or community. Personally I’ve participated in some support forums, and have generally benefited from them.

But there can be a dark side that managers and members of online support forums shouldn’t overlook: reinforcing negative triggers in mentally unstable people.

In fact, it’s possible that this dynamic this could have played a role in my own state last weekend, when Matthew Murray shot and killed four people in Arvada and Colorado springs, CO — and then finally killed himself after being downed by a church security guard…

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Connecting with “Communities of Difference” Handouts

Here’s what’s been keeping me sooooo busy over the last couple of weeks: My online handouts for a workshop I’m giving tomorrow (glances at clock) uh, today — for the Total Community Coverage in Cyberspace seminar.

My workshop title: Strategies for Connecting with Communities of Difference in a “Me” World.”

Find out more about what’s happening at the seminar via the seminar blog.

Blogging Ethics: WSBD? (What Should Bloggers Do?)

Timothy Lloyd, via Flickr (CC license)
There are lots of ways to make ethical decisions. This probably isn’t the best one.

I’ve pulled together an interesting panel session for Blogworld Expo. It’s called Blogging Ethics: Making Tough Decisions, and it’ll be held Thursday Nov. 8, 10:15-11:45 am at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

(Right now they still have my session listed as “citizen journalism,” but they should have the info updated soon.)

Frankly, I’ve found most media ethics discussions to be dreadfully stodgy and dull. I definitely don’t want this session to be boring. So I’ve invited some bloggers who represent diverse approaches and goals:

  • Christopher, a Vegas resident who blogs (sans last name) at While Las Vegas Sleeps: “Real stories from the most unreal city on earth.” I chose him to explore the ethical issues of personal blogging — especially from a place where the long-standing local communication ethic has been “Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”
  • Toby Bloomberg of Diva Marketing, who’s great at articulating the business, marketing, and PR approach to blogging.
  • Graydancer, a leading blogger and podcaster for the rope bondage, performing arts, and BDSM/kink communities. Talk about people with unique considerations around communication, privacy, and freedom of expression!
  • ADDED OCT. 24: Charlotte-Anne Lucas, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She teaches online journalism, web publishing and design, and digital storytelling. She was an early blogger at and at, where she instituted ethical guidelines, along with strict corrections policies on blogs and online writing in general. She also requires her journalism students to blog.

Here’s what I have in mind for this session…

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Ask, and you shall receive — with help from social media

Discussion on the Facebook group for Tidbits readers.

This Sunday my colleague Barb Iverson and I will give a workshop called “Web Productivity and Tech Tools Workout” at the Society of Professional Journalists conference in Washington, DC.

We’ve mapped out several cool topics to cover. This is the first of a few posts that will serve as “living handouts” for that workshop.

In my work as a journalist, consultant, blogger, trainer, and speaker, I’ve often found that the smartest thing I can do is surround myself with smart and relevant people. Therefore, for me, the main concrete benefit I’ve experienced from participating in social networking sites is the ability to quickly share knowledge with a trusted network of friends and colleagues.

I currently use two popular social networking services: LinkedIn and Facebook. One very useful feature of both services is that they allow you to easily pose questions within your personal network of contacts, or to other selected groups. Yeah, you could do this by personal e-mail, but it would be a major hassle.

Here’s how this can help your work and career (especially if you’re a journalist), and the basics of how to do it…

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Webcast tonight: It’s a conversation, stupid!

Greetings from Los Angeles, where I just flew in because in a couple of hours I’m speaking at a cool event at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism. And you can watch — and participate!

Michelle Nicolosi of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and I are co-chairing a panel at 5pm Pacific. It’s called “It’s a Conversation, Stupid: Blogs, Wikis, Social Networking, UGC meet Journalism.”

UGC…. UGH!!!!! I loathe the term “user generated content.” It smacks of mechanism, hierarchy, and just plain condescension.Unfortunately it’s common among mainstream-media types, and you can bet I’ll have something to say about that! Like: Why don’t we just call it “contributed content?”

…Ahem… Anyway, this is part of an intriguing seminar at the Knight New Digital Media Center. (because “new media” ain’t new anymore) called Journalism in a 24/7 World: Decision-making for the Online Editor. Tonight’s event is offered in partnership with the Online News Association. If you go to this page at 5pm Pacific, you’ll find a live link to the webcast.

You also can submit questions during the event via this form. I’ll ask them on your behalf during the event as time permits. No softballs, folks!

Here’s the official blurb for the event:

“What happens when the audience becomes content producer on the nation’s top news web sites? Do you ‘moderate’ or let ‘er rip? How do journalism values and standards survive a User Generated Content world? Hear how and USA Today executive editor Kinsey Wilson, Yahoo! News editor in chief Neil Budde and vice president and senior producer Mitch Gelman are opening their web sites to their audiences as never before. Get a chance to weigh in from your cell phone and laptop as Newsvine CEO Mike Davidson paints the future of collaborative journalism. Moderators will be Michelle Nicolosi, assistant managing editor for interactive at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Amy Gahran, conversational media consultant and editor of Poynter Institute’s E-Media Tidbits.”

Hope to see some Contentious readers there. Please say hi!

Fixing Old News: How About a Corrections Wiki?
Any news org should be able to do more with corrections than this…
Denver Post 8/30/2007, p. 2B
Or this… What? You can’t see the corrections on that page?
Denver Post 8/30/2007, p. 2B
…Look way down here in the corner

Even the best journalists and editors sometimes make mistakes. Or sometimes new information surfaces that proves old stories — even very old stories — wrong, or at least casts them in a vastly different light. What’s a responsible news organization to do, especially when those old stories become more findable online?

On Aug. 28, co-founder Scott Rosenberg posted a thoughtful response to a Aug. 26 column by New York Times ombudsman Clark Hoyt: When Bad News Follows You.

In a nutshell, the Times recently implemented a search optimization strategy that increased traffic to its site — especially to its voluminous archives. This meant that stories from decades past suddenly appeared quite prominently in current search-engine results. The Times charges non-subscribers to access archived stories.

Hoyt wrote: “People are coming forward at the rate of roughly one a day to complain that they are being embarrassed, are worried about losing or not getting jobs, or may be losing customers because of the sudden prominence of old news articles that contain errors or were never followed up.”

“…Most people who complain want the articles removed from the archive. Until recently, The Times’s response has always been the same: There’s nothing we can do. Removing anything from the historical record would be, in the words of Craig Whitney, the assistant managing editor in charge of maintaining Times standards, ‘like airbrushing Trotsky out of the Kremlin picture.'”

Hoyt’s column offered no options for redress. He didn’t suggest that the Times might start researching more disputed stories or posting more follow-up stories. Nor did he suggest that the Times might directly link archived stories to follow-ups.

Rosenberg asserts that the Times has an obligation to offer redress. Personally, I agree. Plus, I’ve got an idea of how they (or any news org) could do it — and maybe even make some money in the process…

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Community site shuts down; whither goes the content?

Internet Archive
At one time, Zipingo apparently offered a fair amount of content. (Click image to enlarge) Now it’s gone.

This morning, I learned via the Ajax blog that yet another site that relied on content contributed by its user community has shut down. On Aug. 23, Zipingo, a small business review site launched in 2002 by Intuit, shuttered its site. All that remains is this announcement — none of the other site content remains accessible.

But looking on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I saw that, at least as of Mar. 1, 2007, Zipingo offered a fair amount of content: 122,324 total ratings (I’m not sure if “ratings” were actual reviews or something else on this site), 734 of which came in during the prior week. Unfortunately, you can’t look up actual ratings/reviews via the Internet Archive.

So all that content that people took the time to create and contribute has simply vanished, apparently. Seems awfully disrespectful to Zipingo’s user community, such as it was. This is yet another reason why sites like Furl, which allow you to save your own searchable archive of web pages, can be crucial — things get moved, changed, or deleted all the time online, without notice. Even your own stuff. That can suck.

Seems to me that any site that relies on contributed content should have a content exit strategy, whereby if the site tanks people can still access their content. Or at least, contributors will be notified before the site vanishes so they have an opportunity to save a copy of their contributions if they so desire. Just taking people’s content and trashing it is likely to discourage anyone from contributing to a community site.

Also, this experience seems like one more reason why a good “Me Collector” tool or service is needed.