Finding Success with Online Journalism

Blog, bloggie, bloggiest.

Try saying that five times fast.  Good thing this isn’t required to become a successful blogger.But then, what is a successful blogger anyway, and what does it take to become one?  It really depends on the individual and what he or she wants out of online journaling.  Perhaps the goal is to achieve readership, or to make money.  These days, there are even prestigious awards for the bloggiest of bloggies.For experienced bloggers like Rachel McGregor, she says ‘yes’ to all of the above.  McGregor, a senior literature major at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, combines her passions for writing and web design in her blog Thatnight.net.Entries from her site go back as far as August 2005, but McGregor’s been blogging for eight years now. “Basically, I’ve always loved writing, and it was just the ‘new medium’ that was becoming popular. The term ‘blog’ didn’t really come about until 1999, but people were still using the internet as a public diary before then,” says McGregor.This past month, McGregor was nominated for a “Bloggie” in the category of Best Kept Secret at the South by Southwest Interactive Convention in Austin, Texas.  In an interview with WTAE-TV, McGregor says that in the blogging world it’s like their Oscars or Acadamy Awards.  

The awards are a non-profit competition which recognizes the best of the best, according to the Bloggie site (2008.bloggies.com).  The winners are chosen through an online vote by the readers.  Her site attracts about 1000 readers a day after receiving a boost from the Bloggie nomination.  Not bad for trafficking 10 to 20 readers a day in its first couple of years.  “My advice for someone starting a blog is to write for at least a year without discouragement from a lack of readership. People respond best to those who are dedicated to updating their blogs, but are still obviously living their lives outside of the internet.” Blogging success can also be measured by the money it rakes in.  McGregor averages $100 a month for allowing ads to be posted on her site.  She says that she cannot choose which ads are run, but she is a part of “BlogHer” ad network which posts predominantly female-targeted ads like Dove and Weight Watchers.  A blogger also has say in what type of ads are run, like pop-ups or animations.  “They rotate pretty much constantly without me really having to touch anything,” says McGregor. “If I have a problem with any of the ads, it’s my prerogative to say something and have them replaced.” McGregor explains that she receives a bigger paycheck for bigger name ads, getting a few cents per click.  Sometimes she even receives money for visitors to the site, even if they don’t click on the ad.  “I try to promote a lot more now. Luckily, the company I run my ads with doesn’t censor anything I write, or tell me I can’t write certain things.” Though few and far between, some bloggers have really hit it big.  The author of dooce.com, Heather B. Armstong, actually supports her family through advertising on her blog.  Dooce brings in so much that Armstrong and her husband were able to quit their jobs, says McGregor. Armstrong’s writing, scattered with clever quips, reveals the humor and enlightenment from everyday events.  She writes a lot about her husband and daughter, a book she’s written, and any other thing – usually something quirky – that crosses her mind.  In one entry she writes about running into her former bosses from the company she was fired from, and they congratulated her on her blogging success: “They were amazed that after all these years I was still taking the most mundane stories and making them sound like an Olympic event.” Armstrong, one of McGregor’s “blogging idols,” not only presented three Bloggies at the Austin convention, but she won four of them herself.  “I should have thanked my seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Krause,” writes Armstrong, “who was the first person to encourage me to write and once told me, ‘You are really good at rhyming words.’ Which translates to: you are an awkward, insecure 12-year-old girl with no boobs, so let’s find something to cheer you up. Can you dance? Sing? What about the trumpet, can you play the trumpet? I know! You’re better than anyone else at finding something that rhymes with coconut! And I was. I WAS.” Aside from attracting readers, raising money, and receiving national recognition, Dooce and Thatnight both also succeed in expression and presentation.McGregor’s site is welcoming and exciting to say the least, and the stories of her daily life are written with a refreshing sense of humor and the ability to know when to stop; there was no boring, pointless rambling apparent
to this journalist.
 
Many of Rachel’s entries are supplemented with photos and links to YouTube videos.  This convergence of media types presents McGregor’s stories more completely and makes her site more enticing, and seemed a strong runner in her Best Kept Secret category at the Bloggies. Unfortunately, though, Thatnight lost to a journal called ‘So Very Alone,’ written by a middle-aged, self proclaimed “normal” guy.  His entries of recent are primarily about his dates with a girl he calls ‘B.’  He offers pieces of wisdom such as “If you’re always alone, you’re never humiliated.” McGregor says that she has not taken the time to explore ‘So Very Alone’ thoroughly but notes that it has developed a cult following even though the writer has admitted to fictionalizing much of what he puts in the blog.  “People who write about the darker aspects of their lives tend to find an audience that relates more easily and loyally.”However, in her blog post titled “Personal Blogger’s Resource,” one of her suggestions is to “space out the emo.  Your depression is human, but there has to be a little more to your life than that…People are awkward.  Readers won’t return if they think they know what you’ve already written.”This is one tip among ten in her guide that cover content, style and grammar, and received rave reviews from her readers.  “I like the tips! This is a must read for all bloggers!” writes one commenter.  (Find the guide at http://thatnight.net/uncategorized/personal-bloggers-resource/ .) McGregor’s tips helped out Dan Tallarico, mass communications major at Bloomsburg, with his blog http://thatnight.net/woozle/, which is hosted by McGregor’s site and archives back to October 2007.  One of the tips he and McGregor call a “huge deal” for catching the attention of potential readers is frequency of posting.  Both of them post about three or four times a week. Tallarico says that he began blogging because he enjoys writing and it was an easy and interesting way to get his ideas out there.  He tends to write a lot about running for the university track and cross country team and about his friends, and he tells his stories with creative witticisms.  Early this month he announced the onset of a should-be-major-month-long holiday: “It’s March Mustache time.  MARCH MUSTACHE time.  Quit reading and start growing.” While he does say that he should probably be focusing on increasing readership, Tallarico mainly writes for himself.  “There are sites that tell you how popular you are but I’ve never been too concerned with it.  Maybe if someone stumbled upon my work and smiles it’s a good thing, but it’s mostly for me.  So one day I’ll look back and wonder why I thought the way I did.”So a Bloggie may not be the utmost goal for every blogger out there.  But then again, when McGregor began online journaling at 14, that wasn’t her plan either.– Cannon

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