Welcome to Jblog School
First of all, congratulations to our friend Jen at A Diatribe from a Law Student for winning our Latest Leaders Identity Contest in the previous post. Her prize was being the first paragraph of this post and thus billions of people knowing to click on her blog. Kudos also to King Yankees for giving it a pretty good run. We’ll have another Latest Leaders before month’s end.
I am going to do something today that I’ve always wanted to do since blogging became a growing movement. I am going to offer journalism help for bloggers.
You may not care, and that’s cool, so read or disregard. But I am frequently asked about credentialing, and I can tell you that no one without a journalism background is going to be credentialed for a Major League clubhouse anytime in the near future, save for an occasional experiment. Do you know libel law? Have you studied up on journalism ethics? Do you know the difference between “off the record” and quoting an anonymous source? Fairness? Reporting 101? Do you have a nose for news? We are generally blogging in this community about content surfaced from those at the source, usually reporters with J-school backgrounds, and reacting.
I am all for the movement of Consumer Creates Content, which I believe is surpassing Company Creates Content across the board in society now and forever blurring the lines of old communication. In some ways, not having a J-school background is a good thing for bloggers. In some ways, that is a bad thing. I went to Indiana University back when it was considered the No. 1 J-school in America and because I have been at this media career since starting at The Miami Herald in 1982 (I’m old!), I can teach you a few things. In other ways I continue to learn from you. The diversity of perspective in the MLBlogs community is powerful. So here goes, and I will invite guest lecturers and gradually add to this and occasionally post about various subjects that offer help to bloggers — my Jblog School. You can enroll here for free.
Who, What, When, Where, Why and How are the most important words to you. If you address all of them within your post, then I am more likely to keep reading you. If you are writing a news story, then it is not optional to exclude one.
Surprise your readers. Write with different formats and styles. Lists, Shakespearean play structure, Jays from A to Z, photo captioning, inverted pyramid (normal news style), essay, etc. I keep going back to writers who surprise me. Frank Deford was always one of my favorites for this reason. I just tried to do that in writing: a bowtie story on the MLB.com homepage every day for five consecutive weeks from the homestretch of the regular season through the Phillies’ parade; 22 holiday shopping articles for the MLB.com and club homepages from the World Series to the day after Christmas; and our countdown series of articles leading up to and through our launch of the MLB Network. When you write all the time, you have to take chances and try new formats, and that starts with being well-read. Sometimes you will stink and sometimes you will shine. It also keeps you fresh as the author.
Never write the word “awesome” unless you mean it. (Pictured, for example.) Edwin Pope (“The Pontiff”) was someone I looked up to while working at The Herald, where he was an institution as columnist and former sports editor. A month into my postgrad internship, I asked The Pontiff for advice on my career. That is the first thing he said. He told me how long he had gone between usages of the word “awesome.” I dare you to try it. It will have more impact.
“Whether or not” should be simply “Whether” — self-editing is important. “Think about whether those extra words are necessary.” As opposed to: “Think about whether or not those extra words are necessary.” I see blog postings all the time that have content that would be heavily edited and perhaps half as long after editors with journalism backgrounds got hold of them.
Time-date-place. In that order. “They play at 8 ET tonight at Safeco.” Not “They play at 8 p.m. ET tonight at Safeco.” Often you will see both “p.m.” and “tonight” in advertising text simply because they want to pound the point home into submission. In journalism, that is redundant. It is conventional to follow the exact order of TDP, not “tonight at 8 ET.” The accepted usage of “ET” as the default time zone in American journalism is one of the greatest true examples of East Coast bias that exists, but it is accepted nonetheless and I also have to use it. Again, it’s AP Style. Few media outlets fight AP Style. TDP, TDP.
Know your audience. Who are you writing for with each post? I write every MLB.com article for one baseball fan, easily envisioned from interviewing one after another at Wrigley or Fenway or Dodger Stadium or Coors Field. As a blogger, there is one big difference. I always was taught and always went out of my way NOT to write for other writers. I always believed you are an idiot if you write for another writer. In blogging, that is mostly your audience, I would guess. In this case, certainly I am writing for other writers. The typical blogger wants other bloggers to comment on her post.
Try using “her” instead of “him” — just so you don’t sound so 1800s. Respect and fight for diversity. Whatever your gender, use the opposite in such generic third-person references. The former Dean of the Indiana School of Journalism, the late Richard Gray, was the first person I ever saw do that. At the time, roughly 1980 in the Heartland, it seemed so strange and forced. I get a sense that it is about 50/50 female/male here at the MLBlogosphere.
T.A.N. A popular writing coach once told me to avoid the dreaded “T.A.N.” at all costs. It stands for The-Adjective-Name. “The 34-year-old Jeter…” should be simply “Jeter, 34,…” College sports broadcasters are the worst at this. “The 280-pound Smith…” Actually this is sort of a dumb topic for Jblog School, but because he hammered it home so often, I feel compelled to mention it here.
Your lede (first graf) is the window to your story. But if you sit there forever and try to think of the perfect lede, you will never finish on your own deadline. Feel free to work on the body first and then come back to the lede. Make it sing. Write the best lede ever.
Have a deadline.
Quote literature. Teach people something. Inspire them.
Sometimes a picture really does say a thousand words. Post a blog entry that is nothing more than a photograph. And remember to always keep a digital camera around, even if it’s just your mobile phone. I took these pics of two seats that washed up next to me shortly after the Miracle on the Hudson plane crash.
Numbers are spelled out through nine and then digits starting with 10. The exception is your typical book, where it is style to spell out all numbers for some reason I do not yet understand.
Read up on the Alien and Sedition Acts and understand journalism’s importance, at least in America if not everywhere. The same checks and balances required for government exist for your favorite sports team. One of our long-term MLBloggers here told me yesterday she was stunned that no one had asked a single probing question after her college’s powerhouse team was stunned by another team this past week. Journalists not only have to be willing to be the one person in a filled room who raises a hand and asks an offensive/uncomfortable question, but actually kind of lives for it.
The average blogger does not need to feel this way, and does not need to aspire to be a journalist at all. But there are many lessons from a journalism education and career that I am certain will be of use to other bloggers, and these are just a handful. The bell has just rung, and not rang. I think. Journalists tend to debate things like this, which is the homework assignment today. Talk about writing with others, including in comments here. Class is dismissed. All MLBloggers are guaranteed A’s anyway.
P.S. – Have you joined us yet on our Official MLBlogs Twitter? We now have more than 40 followers, so we’re growing fast. It is Major League Baseball’s first-ever official presence on Twitter (and the only one in existence as of now). It is your way to promote your MLBlog, by posting tweets in 140 characters or less and including your full URL. Be an MLBloggs Twitterer as well, all part of the biggest baseball blogging community. If you already are on Twitter, then just follow @mlblogs
P.S.S. – Thanks to my MLB.com colleague Cate in Design for spontaneously (our world) whipping up a suite of Jblog School graphics, starting with the chalkboard above!