Class: Blogging Best Practices, 4/25/11

Last night was the second of three Blogging Best Practices classes I’m teaching for the J-School. You can read my recap of the first class as a primer. Eight of the nine registered students showed up, and one of the Entrepreneurial Journalism students joined us. Overall, I’d give execution a “good.” We covered a fair bit of material but, as survey responses attest, the students are ready to move from theoretical to practical. We also ran out of time in a serious way. Recapping thoughts on the session, then class notes at the end.

Our readings conversation went well, people were mostly engaged, but it went for a lot longer than I planned. Assigned readings can easily diverge into related topics.

After, when we covered WordPress and other publishing tools, the class progressed into more lecture than conversation. Conversation means the students are generally more engaged whereas lecture means we cover more of the material I think they need to know. Some people took the time to log in to their websites prior to the class while others didn’t take the time at all. There’s an intriguing tension between how much reading I can assign out of class and what students expect to learn within class. What’s the most effective use of physical space?

Covered most of the WordPress admin, but missed activating widgets and configuring settings. Didn’t cover the different types of blogging at all, or the best practices listed at the end of the class notes. That may be a blog post this week.

Things students found useful:

  • “I found it very useful to go into WordPress and that our account was already set up so we could play around with it and follow Daniel.”
  • “Deconstructing HTML, CSS and other jargon that might seem off- putting to non-techies like me.”
  • “Blog updating best practices, such as that on average, it’s a good idea, initially, to post three, 700 word posts per week.”
  • “The walk through on WordPress plus the conceptual explanation of HTML and CSS”
  • “Learned about several new blogs and web tools of interest, and some new tricks in the WordPress backend.”

What students want covered next time:

  • “Would prefer longer classes so topics can be more fleshed out and not so rushed, especially less on theory and more hands-on, in- depth, especially with the tech aspects of using WordPress.”
  • “After blogging for a month first, how to find and negotiate with a graphic designer to create a header.”
  • “Developing WordPress skills”
  • “Might be good to do an exercise(s) in blog-building… I am preoccupied about getting started… I seem to be running in place and not getting anywhere. Not sure how to get my idea or concept off the ground. It can be overwhelming and a bit scary. Hands on would be terrific and quell my concerns.”
  • “Maybe we could spend some more time on the site if we have time? And possibly go over Google Analytics”

One point I pushed: blogging is publishing on the web. We heavily detoured into bloggers vs. journalists, and I wanted to emphasis that the debate is only relevant for a certain subset of people. Blogging is publishing on the web, and there are billions of people doing it in almost as many styles.

Another point I pushed: Start with free. There are plenty of places to experiment with publishing on the web, and you should get a sense of those spaces before you make significant financial investments. You first investment, a few months after you’ve been publishing, should be your personal domain ($10-$15/year).

Strong call for an assignment between now and next class in lieu of more theoretical readings. I’m thinking one or two things:

  • Write a blog post about a given topic
  • Write a blog post about an imaginary website you’re going to create and identify all of the things you need to consider
  • Make changes to your website and write a blog post about the changes you made and why you made them

Class notes are also in PDF form.

Readings (10 minutes)

Five Keys to Authenticity (Ryan Sholin)

Be Human:
Be Honest: Credibility is crucial and will help you compete in a crowded space
Be Aware: Expertise in a niche will set you apart; be ahead of the curve, don’t be late to the online party in terms of joining the conversation. Offer a unique insight, and part of that is paying attention to what others are saying and identify where missing gaps are (and try to fill them). A negotiation between publishing quickly and getting your fact straight. (Do you have the bandwith and stamina, or publish less frequent but well-thought-out posts). Do what you do best and link to the rest (Jeff Jarvis). Focus on your original analysis, reporting etc.
Be Everywhere: Try an RSS feed (really simple syndication) to stay on top of latest news in your beat. RSS is a protocol for syndicating content across the WEB, an XML-based protocol (much like newspapers use to submit to newswires). More B2C where consumers can subscribe to info from publishes. Also try Google Reader, which allows you to subscribe to RSS feeds from as many sites as you want. Google reader will manage and index all the latest news for you, so you don’t have visit each source. You curate your sources of info.
Show Your Work:

The art of the link roundup (Matt Thompson)

Examples:

The People Formerly Known as the Audience (Jay Rosen)

Recommendation: http://pressthink.org/2011/03/the-psychology-of-bloggers-vs-journalists-my-talk-at-south-by-southwest/

Term review (10 minutes)

RSS

  • Stands for: Really Simple Syndication
  • Definition: a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works—such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video—in a standardized format.
  • Tools: Google Reader, Instapaper. You can do an rss feed from search.twitter.com, and set up RSS feed from that search. (copy link location, go to google reader, and subscribe)

HTML

  • Stands for:  Hyper Text Mark-up Language
  • Definition:  A mark-up language with its origins in print; allows you to mark up content and give structure to content on the Web. The real world metaphor, if a building was content, with HTML or CSS, all the materials would be a pile sans structure or form.

CSS

  • Stands for: Cascading Style Sheet(s)
  • Definition:  site’s stylebook or design element

CMS

  • Stands for: content management system
  • Definition: your data is stored in a different place

PHP programming language

Question: When starting out, how often should you update your blog ?
Answer (DB): On average, shoot for 700 words three times a week. Plan to spend about two hours on each entry. If your goal is to ultimately attract advertisers, then more content = more traffic = more advertising.

Blogging platforms: WordPress and other tools (10 minutes)

Advantages to WordPress

  • Open source – Run the software on your own server. 10% of sites are on WP (NYT blogs are wordpress; neiman lab; jschool; hacks & hackers; chris dixon.org etc)
  • User friendly
  • Strong community: many people contribute themes and plug-ins (Themes allow you to change the styling, changing a theme is as easy as clicking a button.
  • Personalization with themes (design of your blog) – another
  • One investment you may make in month 3 or 4 is a premium theme, such as Woo Themes (although they offer FREE themes, you can also buy a membership, and have access to all Woo Themes’ premium websites.) Elegant Themes is another good source of premium themes. (CR)
  • Regularly updated with new features
  • Extend functionality with plugins

Question: What is a masthead?
Answer (DB): Your blog’s “header.” Masthead is more of a print term. The digital version is called a “header.”

If you want a blog video, use a service like Vimeo or Youtube. Vimeo has a free version, but the pro version ($60 a year) is better. DB prefers Vimeo to Youtube.

Wysiwyg = What you see is what you get.

Disadvantages to WordPress

  • If you’re self-hosting, you’re responsible for making sure your site is up. With great power comes great responsibility.
  • Amount of design flexibility often depends on the theme.

What you should think about when you’re looking at tools

  • Custom domain (e.g. danielbachhuber.com)
  • Ease of use
  • Writing interface
  • Data portability
  • Publishing from mobile if you need
  • Extensibility
  • Support
  • Performance/reliability

WordPress hosts to consider

Other tools you might consider

  • Tumblr
  • Posterous
  • Movable Type

Orientation to WordPress core concepts and the admin (40 minutes)

Creating a post or a page

Why you should double-check your slug: http://www.niemanlab.org/2011/04/how-url-spoofing-can-put-libelous-words-into-news-orgs-mouths/

Themes

WordPress.org themes
WooThemes free themes

Plugins

Plugins for Publishers, April 2011 edition

Users

Settings

Types of blogging (40 minutes)

Personal

  • Why:
    • Personal, permanent space on the internet
    • Share content with friends and family
    • Influence others within your industry
  • Examples:
  • Characteristics:

One-person publication

Multi-person “new media” publication

Multi-person “old media” publication

  • Why:
  • Examples:
  • Characteristics:

Corporate blogs

  • Why:
  • Examples:
    • Mint.com – good example of a company blog; they produce original content to drive traffic, not just promotional (promotional content is only about 10 percent of what they publish. Build trust to convince readers to try your product.
    • Signal vs. Noise by 37signals –
  • Characteristics:
  • Question for next week: In Corporate blogs, can we address characteristics for fields that are not so “corporate” such as fashion blog for an e-commerce site?

Team blogs

  • Why:
  • Examples:
  • Characteristics:

Legal, copyright and community best practices (10 minutes)

Daniel’s best practices

  1. Link as you would want to be linked
  2. Be nice
  3. Use formatting properly
  4. Do use the standard font from your website
  5. Don’t copy and paste from Microsoft Word without using the special tool

From Interactive 2’s syllabus:

Photo policy: Do not “lift” or “borrow” images from other web sites for use on your web site or blog without credit or “courtesy of” text. Permission must be provided by creator of the content for any image to be used, unless it is being used for “fair use,” purposes such as to comment on the image or because the image itself is part of the news you are reporting. Since such permission is often difficult to obtain, especially on deadline, and “fair use” difficulty to define, we strongly recommend that instead you use only those images you have created yourself, or which you have obtained via the AP Photo Bank, or other photo service for which the school has obtained licensing, or which are explicitly labelled as “creative commons” and available for your use. IMPORTANT: This matters, not just as a plagiarism issue, but as a legal copyright issue that could create problems for you in the school or beyond, in the workplace. Apply the old journalism adage: “If in doubt, leave it out!”

Top 15 Blogging Best Practices (Laura Lee Walker)
1. Use a catchy title. Make the title unique, consider using questions and lists.
2. Use interesting visuals. Include an image or video in your blog. This will get people’s attention and help them better understand the content of your blog.
3. Include links. Links add depth and credibility to your articles and allow you to show a little ‘link love’.
4. Use bullets, italics, and bold font. This makes for an easier read. Using bold font allows the reader to quickly scan your post.
5. Let your personality come through. This is what makes your blog unique.
7. Reference your articles. If you use other people’s work, include a reference or link to their article.
10. Be bold. This might take the form of being outrageous or controversial.
12. Respond to comments as soon as possible. Treat your reader like a friend. If your friend calls you and leaves a message, do you wait days to respond?
13. Make your blog post easy to share. This may include adding widgets such as Tweet, Reddit, Delicious, Stumble Upon, etc.
14. Post frequently. This helps keep your blog fresh and entices search engines to index you more often.

Finding free images to use (Tech@CUNYJ)

Topics for next week

How to install themes from woothemes to wordpress?

Maybe go through google analytics

Where to put metatags and descriptions for SEO and alt text for photos?

In Corporate blogs, can we address characteristics for fields that are not so “corporate” such as fashion blog for an e-commerce site?

Please post a couple educational tools on the web for developing the basics of HTML

Also, please post, if you know any, a link or two that walks you through wordpress, i.e. an easy-to-use manual or instructions

Author: Daniel Bachhuber

Proud father x2. Principal, Hand Built. Maintainer, WP-CLI.

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