I’ll start this post by apologising to City University’s journalism students, who turned up to a 6pm lecture expecting to find yours truly on a panel with 3 other experienced journalists talking about how to break into journalism.
Instead, I was stuck on the Circle Line thanks to a defective train somewhere between Baker Street and King’s Cross, or possibly beyond. I then proceeded to get so lost whilst walking from Angel Tube station to City University that I had to phone my girlfriend for Google maps directions. I was so madly out of the way that it took a good ten minutes for her to establish my location, never mind talk me onto my objective.
Anyway. I got to City an hour late, missed everything that the other panellists said, spoke for 3 minutes, totally failed to mention anything I wanted to mention, bored everyone, and then went home via the pub. This is what I actually meant to say…
Creating your own opportuniy in journalism in easier than ever. I built the West Londoner’s main website (http://thewestlondoner.wordpress.com) on WordPress as my CMS, with a Twitter account (@thewestlondoner) and a Facebook page (The West Londoner) slaved to it so they auto-posted updates from the main website. I used bit.ly to replace the built-in cross platform functionality of these services because the customisation options are far superior.
That said, anyone can work internet-based services to a basic degree. What I did was establish a personalised, human conversation with my readers. Any idiot can do NCTJ-style writing and pump out meaningless anodyne articles in the vague hope that someone might read them. What works better is actually asking your readers what they want to read about, and then giving it to them. I’m told this is called Market Research. I did a bit of it, and still have 10,000 followers to this day – sod conventional wisdom, I’ve found a formula that works and I’m damn well sticking to it. As I said in my 3 minutes at City – if you can’t find an opportunity, create your own.
Content is king. WL took off primarily because the content was fast, accurate and better than the rest. It helped massively that I’m passionate about reporting news (actual hard news, not celeb tittle-tattle or meaningless vox-pop laden guff) because when the going got hard, with the 14 hour days, I still had the motivation to keep on going. No matter what you write about, be passionate and let that passion shine through in your writing. If your passion happens to be unbiased and accurate local news, bingo, you’ve found a niche that nobody else will cover.
Money is also important. It’s all well and good writing, but if you can’t monetise what you do, you’re heading down a blind alley. I was lucky – after putting up a Paypal button and asking for donations to my post-riot beer fund, I ended up with £2,000. I need to talk to more people but I believe that the ad-supported model could work for a local news site/blog, but it’s something that needs more investigation. Certainly I don’t recommend relying purely on reader donations to keep operating, nice as it is!
Above all – keep your content fresh, relevant and decently targeted, use every means available to push that content out to potential readers, and make your readers aware that you are a human being, not just another keyboard monkey in an article factory somewhere.
What did all this achieve? I now have a big achivement on my CV and a few well placed contacts who, one day, might be able to offer me paid employment in return for generating large social media audiences for their own websites/concerns …… Give it a go yourself; you simply never know what headhunters at big media firms are looking for.
I would say more, but I’m dog tired and want to sleep. Tweet me @gazthejourno if you want to ask me stuff, or leave a comment here.