Improving your blogs

I just finished reading through your blogs. Most of you are doing a good job and keeping up with the expectations for how much you should be producing. To repeat, I’m looking for two to three decent-length (300 to 350 words) posts per week, combining topics you are assigned in class with topics related to the beat you have chosen. (Can you go off-beat? Yes.)

Rather than send individual e-mails to everyone this time, I thought I would put together a few observations on how to improve your blogs.

1. A good blog item should be part of the larger conversation that is taking place online. The idea is to find online content that you think is worthy of saying something about. You should link to it, quote from it a bit and comment on it. Every blog item ought to include at least three links to outside content. And by all means get out and do some reporting. Every blog should mix in some reported items. Going to an event? Take notes. Take some pictures.

2. The hardest thing about writing a blog is that you don’t have an editor. Given how much you are all writing, I can’t copy-edit every item I see. That said, in some cases I see a lot of misused or missing apostrophes, run-on sentences, typographical errors, misspelled names and malformed links. These are not long items that you’re writing. You should check everything. Use the “Preview” button to see how your item will look before you publish. Make sure your links take your readers to the right place. Even after you publish, you can go back in and edit.

3. One space, not two, after a sentence. Your fourth-grade teacher was wrong.

4. You are aiming for a writing voice that is somewhat more conversational than the straight-news style you were restricted to in Journalism 2. Some first-person is all right. Some opinion-mongering is all right. But you are still striving to maintain authorial control. The idea is to inform and entertain your readers, not indulge and entertain yourself. I also don’t think any language stronger than an occasional mild profanity is a good idea unless you are quoting someone.

5. Given that all of you have taken Journalism 2 at Northeastern, I’m surprised by your routine violations of AP style. If you were using some sort of consistent style, I wouldn’t be all that concerned that you weren’t following AP. But I see no consistency. I want your items to conform to AP style. You should, of course, have an AP Stylebook, but I know it’s not always easy to find what you need.

The best short guide to AP style I’ve seen is toward the end of the Fedler textbook you used in J1 and J2. It’s short enough that you should be able to memorize the whole thing. You should photocopy it, staple it together, fold it in half and tuck it inside your stylebook.

If you no longer have Fedler, there are some good short guides to AP style online. This one seems promising. Or try this. Bookmark one of them for ready reference. Again, they are short enough that you should at least be able to memorize what they cover, if not necessarily every single rule. That way, to quote Donald Rumsfeld, you will know what you don’t know, and will thus be able to look it up.


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