The hallmark of the new media revolution is that the balance of power is shifting to individuals — on the web, anyone can can be a publisher, individuals can make their voices heard through comments on nearly every item of content, and search puts individuals rather than media brands in control of content discovery. But a great irony of individual-centric new media is that this empowerment hasn’t generally extended to the individuals who “powered” old media — journalists.

The news that the San Francisco Chronicle is laying of 25% of its newsroom should be a clarion call to journalists. While most newsrooms aren’t in near-term danger of suffering such extreme bloodletting, the Chronicle is still a canary in a coal mine.

But what can journalists do besides bemoan the decline of the newspaper business and fret over the future of journalism?

I have a suggestion for every newspaper journalist — start your own blog. Today.

Why Journalists Should Blog

Starting a blog means:

  • Creating an independent publishing platform — blogging software makes this easy
  • Creating a platform for journalism that isn’t dependent on a corporate entity’s financial fortunes
  • Embracing the power and accepting the responsibility of being a publisher
  • Learning how to use the technologies that are transforming media
  • Putting your career on a growth track by not defining yourself as a print journalist
  • Creating an online resume that shows you can do new media
  • Becoming a node on the new media network — journalism will be networked

Some journalists already blog for their publications, and all journalists SHOULD blog for their publications. But writing a blog on a publication website is in many ways no different from writing a column — it’s just better software. No, journalists need to start their OWN blogs. (CyberJournalist has a list of journalists who blog independently and for their publications.)

How To Start A Blog

Here are five practical tips on how to start a blog and how to be an effective blogger that should remove any practical barriers for any journalist who wants to take the leap into independent publishing:

*1. Use hosted blogging software if you’re not technically inclined
*
I think WordPress.com is by far the best hosted blogging platform. But you can use TypePad, Blogger, or any of a dozen others. The cost ranges from free to minimal, and it’s easy to set up. Just pick one and do it.

*2. Use Feedburner for your RSS feed and your email newsletter
*
Feedburner will turn your RSS feed into a user-friendly landing page that shows people how to subscribe to your feed in MyYahoo or other feed readers. Feedburner also lets you publish your RSS feed as a daily email for people who don’t currently use RSS. Feedburner provides stats on how many people are reading your RSS feed and email newsletter, and provides basic website traffic analytics so that you won’t be flying blind. Best of all, Feedburner’s basic service is free, with very affordable upgrades.

3. Start with link blogging
You don’t have to commit to writing original content to get started blogging. Instead, you can simply publish links to things you read that you think are important, with some brief commentary. Get a Del.icio.us account and start bookmarking what you read. You can set up your “link roll” to automatically publish to your blog every day. Whatever you do, you should link to other sites. The more you link out, the more you get back — this is the fundamental law of the web.

4. Publish whatever your can’t publish through other outlets
Newspapers have finite space. The web has infinite space (which is a double-edged sword). Use your blog to publish what might otherwise have been left on the cutting room floor, or ideas or information that might not otherwise have an outlet.
*
5. Learn from journalists who blog independently
*
Check out the independent journalist bloggers on the CyberJournalist list. Check out Mathew Ingram, Jeremy Wagstaff, and Nicole Stockdale, and Kathleen Chapman and William Hartnett (husband and wife blogging journalists). Learn from journalists who already doing it.
*
UPDATE
*
Here’s an important caveat from John Roberts, which is informed by my tip #4 and which I strongly agree with:

I would add the caveat that it’s important to inform the publications you are working for about this “personal” blog. Whether it’s fair or not, drawing the lines between the personal and professional is harder — and therefore more important — for journalists, especially if you blog on the same topic in both places.

There’s no value for journalists in starting a blog with anything other than full transparency and disclosure, and ideally with the support of their news organizations — this may be a challenging path, but it’s something the news business has to confront.
*
UPDATE #2
*
I expected some challenges to this post, but not necessarily from journalists with independent blogs. Bobbie Johnson, a correspondent at The Guardian, argues that not ever journalist should blog, for a number of reasons, including:

*Journalists have a job to do
*

And while that job might be able to accommodate blogging, it’s not always going to. The primary job of a reporter should be to get stories; anything else is a bonus.

Back when there was only print and healthy newspaper economics, this might have been a tenable position, but I don’t think it is any longer. Journalist have to get stories, engage with their readers, learn new technologies, and find time to blog — life has indeed gotten more complicated, but that’s true for everyone in the media business. Bobby sounds a bit like a newspaper executive still living in a bygone era. I needn’t point out that working at The Guardian, Bobby enjoys the backing of trust rather than the backing of Wall Street investors (despite The Guardian’s laudable efforts to operate as a self-sustaining business).

Bobbie goes on:

There are two constituencies for most journalists: sources and readers. In most situations one is a small group that informs the other – the source gives you a story which you then weigh up and translate, before imparting to a wider audience.

But what does a blog give me if I’m writing for a disconnected, digitally unengaged readership? In this case, the amount of work that I put into a blog isn’t going to deliver significant benefits either for me, or – more importantly – for the audience I’m supposed to be serving. If there’s a better way you can serve your audience or engage with them, blogging is just going to be a pain in the arse.

and

Obviously in the future, as generations grow up with a different level of comfort with online interaction, we’re going to see that model shift

Again, this is longing for a simpler time, where the readers were held at distance, waiting for the story, and the journalist could go off in a cocoon, work sources, write the story, and then deliver it on a silver platter to readers. But what if your readers can become your sources? What if they want to engage with you outside the context of the crafted, edited, printed story?

And the idea that this isn’t happening yet because most people still read the newspaper in print flies in the face of every newspaper circulation trend line.

After concluding his spirited contrarian argument, where he does make some good points, Bobbie asserts:

In fact I think most journalists should take some time to learn about the different ways of interacting with their readers. In the most raw terms, blogs can generate great leads, and in more ephemeral terms they can teach us a lot about our readers.

I couldn’t agree more — that is the spirit of this post.

Bobbie and Ian Bettteridge, another blogging journalist, both complained that I didn’t give enough recognition to journalists who already blog, and Bobby complains about the shortcomings of the CyberJournalist list of blogging journalists.

First, the whole point of my tip #5 was to recognize journalists who already blog and suggest that other journalists who want to blog should learn from those already doing it.

Second — come on, guys, you’re journalists! Instead of whining about the problem, do something about it. Jonathan Dube has gone to a lot of effort to create the list — if you’re not on it, get yourself added, and also send Jonathan the names of other people you know who are missing from the list.