Last week, I attended BlogWorld & New Media Expo, a three-day conference and tradeshow for bloggers, podcasters, Web content creators and social media innovators. While I wasn’t able to attend all 130+ sessions, I did listen in on some very good ones and have been recapping them here.
In this session, Dave Copeland, who calls himself a “recovering print reporter,” discussed the ins and outs of reporting for bloggers.
Copeland is an award-winning journalist and author who also teaches college-level writing and journalism classes, with an emphasis on social media and writing for online audiences. His 2007 book, “Blood & Volume: Inside New York’s Israeli Mafia,” marked the first time a journalist gained inside access to the brutal crime syndicate.
Here are a few highlights of his presentation:
Monetizing blogs is fine, but it always has to come back to offering content people want to read. This is where reporting skills come into play.
Copeland said every blogger should have basic reporter skills, like the ability to interview and to come up with a unique angle. “The more you report, the easier it is,” he said.
Copeland also stressed the importance of fact-checking, and cited as an example the story about employers asking job candidates for their Facebook passwords. While the story was shared by various news outlets and in social media, it only took a few phone calls for Copeland to poke holes in the theory and discover it really wasn’t a far-sweeping trend.
Another example: the “Abraham Lincoln invented Facebook” hoax. Really. Read about it here.
“We have a certain amount of responsibility when we put this stuff out into the world,” said Copeland.”
Also, go to multiple sources, and go as high as you can go to get quotes. Do your own research; don’t rely on a reblog of a reblog of a reblog. Go to the original article/documents and find out what the real story is.
The 3-2-1 Formula
Copeland shared his formula for blog entries, which he calls “The 3-2-1 Formula.” Every blog post should have:
- 3 sources
- 2 links
- 1 visual element.
"Once you have these six things, you can start to know what the story is,” explained.
Sources: Your sources should not be from other blogs, said Copeland, who suggested several ways to find sources:
- Free query services like ProfNet, where you can fill out a form detailing the kind of expertise you’re looking for and get responses from PR representatives and experts.
- Corporate websites and PR departments. Call the company. “You’d be surprised at how easy it is to get the person you need on the phone,” said Copeland. “If you’re upfront with the PR person, and if they’re a good PR person, they’ll help you.” Also, more and more people are starting to understand the power of niche blogs. If a company declines to be interviewed, you can at least let your readers know they declined.
- Social media crowdsourcing. The more you interact with people, the more ideas you’ll get. Once you have the idea, the story almost writes itself.
- “Man on the street” interviews. One tool that helps you do that is Rawporter, a service that helps reporters find raw news videos and photos.
- Public meetings, gatherings and events. Talk to people and ask them questions. Reporting just comes down to curiosity.
- Dive bars. It’s hard to get people to say things they’re not supposed to. Get them drunk and they’ll say anything, said Copeland half-jokingly. He added that when people sit side by side, they open up more because they don’t have to make eye contact.
Links: Use two links that help readers understand the story better. Don't use a link just for the sake of a link.
Visual elements: Don't just use clip art to get a visual element in the article. Again, use a graphic that helps tell the story.
It’s harder to lie to or mislead someone in person than on the phone or by email, said Copeland. Whenever possible, try to do in-person interviews. You tend to get better responses, and sources tend to go off on tangents, which can lead you to a better story.
People do not like uncomfortable silences, he added. If you want more information, just wait a beat. Eventually, the source will continue talking.
Of course, it’s not always possible to do an in-person interview. If you do an email interview, make sure to get a phone number to call with any follow-up questions.
Copeland said he asks two questions at the end of every interview: “Do you have any suggestions on how I can illustrate this story?” and “Who else should I be speaking with? Can you give me the names of 2-3 people I should also try to interview?” Experts know the people in their field you should be talking to.
You can also try to get more than one story from each interview. If you are working on another article, ask if the expert is also able to comment for that one. And be open to alternate stories -- don’t be so set on what your story is that you miss other opportunities.
Whether you're a reporter, blogger, author or other content creator, ProfNet can help you with your search for expert sources. You can send a ProfNet query to tens of thousands of experts and PR agents, or search the more than 50,000 profiles on ProfNet Connect by keyword, institution type and geographic location. Both are free!