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What’s the difference between a blogger and a journalist?

blackburn institute

On August 27 I had the honor of returning to my alma mater, the University of Alabama, to serve on a panel at the Blackburn Institute, one of the nation’s most unique and dynamic leadership development programs for college students.

The panel I was on was called “How to Find the ‘Truth’ in the Shifting Media Landscape” and was all about how to discern fact from opinion in a world full of blogs. podcasts, alt-weeklies and more.

Despite my experience as both a full-time and newspaper reporter and a freelance magazine writer, I was there mostly to represent the world of blogging.

During the panel discussion an audience member asked, “These days how do you determine if someone should be called a blogger or a reporter?”


How to Succeed at Freelancing

Freelancing tips FB graphic2

The Alabama Media Professionals will host a a round-table discussion on freelancing tomorrow, March 12 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Homewood Public Library.  If you plan to attend please note that lunch orders will be taken up to (today) Wednesday at 5 p.m. at 205-680-6890 or

Girls Night Out


Also on Thursday, join fashion blogger Alexis Barton for a special Girls Night Out event at Belk. Hosted at the Summit location, the garden party-themed soirée will feature light bites, wine, and music from Scratch DJ.There also will be discounts (20% off with limited exclusions) and giveaways! The event is from 5 to 8:30 p.m. at Belk (the Summit location). Alexis Barton of Same Day Different Chic, who was also a keynote speaker at last year’s See Jane Write Bloganista Mini-Con, will be on hand to give fashion tips.

Post, Gram, Pin: A Social Media Workshop

post gram pin

And speaking of fashion, don’t forget to sign up for the next See Jane Write event Post, Gram, Pin: A Social Media Workshop, set for Saturday, March 21 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Fashion blogger Bertha Hidalgo of Chic in Academia will share how she grew her Instagram following to over 13,500 fans and how she’s used her Instagram influence to grow her brand and land speaking gigs.

Heather Brown

Heather Brown of My Life Well Loved will share how she developed a Facebook following of over 13,000 fans and how she uses Pinterest to drive traffic to her blog.

I will share how I’ve used social media to grow See Jane Write and land freelance writing gigs.

Get your tickets here.

If you have upcoming events you’d like featured in Jane About Town, send info to


How I Landed My Own Column (Without Writing a Pitch)

Photo by Sherri Ross Walters

Just as I do at the end of every year, this past December I wrote down a list of goals for 2014. This time, though, I did things a bit differently. This time I wrote my goals as declarations not aspirations. So instead of writing “I want to land my own column in a local print publication,” I wrote “I will land my own column in a local print publication.” And by January 31 I had done exactly that.

I am now a columnist for B-Metro magazine. My first piece ran in this month’s issue and addresses the issue of whether or not there is a feminist aesthetic. In other words, can you tell a person is a feminist by looking at her?

My column, called Write Like a Girl, will tackle everyday feminism and women’s issues each month. You can read my debut piece “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” here.

When I wrote down my declaration last year I also determined that once I did snag this column opportunity I would write a post about how I did it. In the post I would examine the anatomy of the perfect pitch. But I didn’t write the perfect pitch. In fact, I didn’t write any pitch. I was actually offered this opportunity before I had the chance to ask for it.

Nonetheless, I do have a few tips to offer.


Meet the Press: Andre Natta of The Terminal

Andre Natta

Andre Natta moved to Birmingham in 2004 to work for Main Street Birmingham, a predecessor of the economic development organization now known as REV Birmingham. A year later Natta started a personal blog he called Dre’s Ramblings, but soon realized that his blog wasn’t simply an online journal telling the stories of his life; it was telling the stories of Birmingham. Looking to sites like Gothamist in New York City, Gapers Block in Chicago, and Pegasus News in Dallas-Fort Worth, in 2007 Natta launched The Terminal, an online hub of information about the city of Birmingham.

Natta has garnered a number of awards and opportunities thanks to his work with The Terminal. The site was the first non-mainstream media site to place for four consecutive years in the Birmingham News’ readers’ poll Birmingham’s Best. The Terminal was also included in a list of 100 promising community news sites found by Michele McLellan during her fellowship of the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

“I’ve personally had opportunities to be a participant in the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Hardly Strictly Young symposium, and present at the Online News Association conference when it was in Boston, and the first two years of the Block by Block Community News Summit in Chicago (attending all three years) in addition to conferences in Memphis and Chattanooga, Tenn.,” Natta says. “The fun part about presenting is the chance to learn from everyone else who’s in attendance.”

Natta’s work with The Terminal also led to The Digital City, a monthly column on technology in Birmingham that Natta has written for B-Metro Magazine since its launch in 2009.

In May of this year Natta started contributing to the Poynter Institute’s Regret the Error blog, which reports on media errors and corrections and accuracy and verification trends in journalism.

“Craig Silverman, the blog’s creator, has been focusing on his role as director of content at a startup called Spundge for more than a year now and was looking for someone to help hunt down the corrections and post to the blog,” explains Natta, who met Silverman at Hardly Strictly Young.
Silverman asked Natta to take on the job and Natta was more than happy to help.

“It’s been a beneficial learning experience for me,” Natta says. “I get to spend about two hours a day reviewing corrections and clarifications posted by news organizations across the country and around the world. It’s broadened what comes to mind when thinking about potential focus areas for the site. It’s also helped me improve my writing skills while getting critical feedback. I’m hopeful it will continue in some form and potentially lead to more writing opportunities.”

Natta recently relaunched The Terminal, making various changes to the site.

“The first significant change was to narrow the focus of the publication to be specifically about the city of Birmingham and its built environment,” Natta says. “It sounds limiting but it’s actually quite freeing and seeks to help visitors and readers understand why something is happening and how different things happening in different parts of the city affect each other. It also gives us a lens to look through when crafting pieces and projects for the site that makes it easier.”

The Terminal will also include more videos and written pieces will be longer. “I’ve realized I want to make sure we say what needs to be said instead of worrying about space limitations,” Natta says. “It is digital, after all.”

These days Natta also is busy working on a new project.

“I’m in the early stages of developing a project that would make the site more of a hub than ever before – one that serves not just The Terminal, but all of our local media outlets while serving as a resource for educational purposes,” Natta explains. He’s busy working on a site plan for 2014 and hopes to hire a sales associate soon. These efforts, Natta says, will help The Terminal “evolve into a different type of media organization – one more research driven than people believe possible.”

It’s about people, not pageviews

When Natta started The Terminal in 2006 he spread the word about his site in a number of ways.
“We leveraged word of mouth early on, using Myspace as a major communications tool,” Natta says. “There were also monthly mixers, partnerships with local cultural institutions, and a lot of sitting in coffee houses and bars just talking with people. Word of mouth was the most useful tool to grow The Terminal – that and an incredible group of contributors early on.”

Natta doesn’t deny that social media networks continue to be an effective way of reaching people, but he believes it’s important to step away from the computer too.

“At the end of the day, most of these social networks and websites are just digital spaces where we tend to act as we would offline,” he says. “We wanted to serve as a way people could connect on issues, regardless of opinion, and so I focused on figuring out how to connect with folks where they were most comfortable. I can’t measure the impact of a piece by pageviews alone; I’ve learned more about folks reading the site offline in conversation than I ever would just sitting behind a screen and not living a life.”

Natta offered advice for others hoping to launch sites like The Terminal in their towns.

“Look for those who don’t currently have a voice, or a specific void that needs to be filled,” Natta says. “You can’t be all things to all people, so I’d make sure you weren’t trying to overextend. You do want to test the limits of your comfort zone though, otherwise you won’t know what’s possible.”
Natta added that it’s also important to be willing to learning new things and open to criticism.
“I’d also reach out to those already operating sites, even if they’re in the same city,” Natta says. “Sometimes you’ll be surprised that all you needed to do was ask.”

Hi final piece of advice is simple, though something too many of us forget to do: “Most important,” he says, “have fun and be you doing it. If you can’t be you, what’s the point?”

You can meet Andre Natta and other editors of Birmingham-based publications at tonight’s See Jane Write Meet the Press Media Mixer presented by Hamer Law Group. This is an invitation-only event. Invitations will be extended to See Jane Write members and sponsors. Click here for more information on joining See Jane Write. If you’re interested in being a See Jane Write sponsor email

A version of this story was originally published at See Jane Write Magazine.

Meet the Press: Edward Bowser of The Birmingham News/

Edward Bowser

As some of probably know, Edward Bowser is my husband. He’s also the behind-the-scenes copy editor for See Jane Write Magazine and is paid only in hugs and kisses. But those things have nothing to do with why I’m writing about him today.

With nearly 10 years of experience in the newspaper industry, Edward (sorry I can’t refer to my husband by his last name) has plenty of wise words to offer on the world of journalism. He started his career as a copy editor at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. , where he worked for eight years. Edward then worked in advertising for a few years. It was during that time that he discovered the power of social media while serving as the agency’s community manager. Last year Edward returned to his first love – newspapers. Today Edward is a community engagement specialist for The Birmingham News and

Edward will join other editors at our Meet the Press Media Mixer presented by Hamer Law Group, set to be held Thursday, Aug. 22. 

What exactly is a community engagement specialist? 

Edward: My role of community engagement specialist can be broken down into three main components: 1) I’m a part of the Birmingham News’ editorial board, where I weigh in on key issues around our city and nation. I also focus a lot on issues that specifically affect the young professional community. 2) I help manage the’s social media channels, using Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus to share our writers’ stories and stimulate positive conversation. 3) I work as a community ambassador, organizing and attending that help bridge the gap between the newsroom and community.

It combines my three major passions – editorializing, social media and community service – into one role. I enjoy every minute of it.

What are the keys to writing good opinion pieces?
The No. 1 rule for writing a good op-ed is to have an informed opinion. Everyone has an opinion, but backing up your statements with hard facts and engaging writing will make an impression on readers. Your op-ed also needs to be clearly focused. Stick to one topic and ride it all the way through. Meandering muddles your point.

Do your research, stand firm on your position and write in a clear and engaging manner. Whether or not your readers agree with your position, those tips will help them broaden their thinking.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write opinion pieces for an online publication but they’re afraid to receive negative comments?

When it comes to opinion writing, negative comments come with the territory. And in this era of online anonymity, that has only increased. But if you’re truly passionate about your topic, you can’t let naysayers rattle you.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s important that you do your research and support your line of thinking with solid facts. That way, when the haters come a-calling (and they will), you’ll have a solid foundation to stand on. When critics attempt to pick apart my work in the comments section, I literally copy and paste paragraphs from my own column to refute their claims. They almost always back down (likely because they didn’t even finish reading the column before they started complaining). Believe in what you write and stand by it.

Remember, you don’t write op-eds to get cheers. You write them to offer a fresh perspective on an important topic.

What is your response to people who think journalism and newspapers are dying? 

Journalism was born from the human desire to know more about the world around us. That curiosity and thirst for knowledge will never die. However, technology is evolving at a rapid pace and the world of media is rapidly attempting to catch up. Sure, the way we consume media is changing, and along with that change, we’ll stumble a bit to find our footing. But as long as we’re guided by the basic principles of journalism – accuracy, the pursuit of truth, and serving as a moral compass – good journalism will survive no matter what device delivers our news.

You can meet Edward Bowser and and other editors of Birmingham-based publications at the See Jane Write Meet the Press Media Mixer presented by Hamer Law Group. This is an invitation-only event. Invitations will be extended to See Jane Write members and sponsors. Click here for more information on joining See Jane Write. If you’re interested in being a See Jane Write sponsor email

A version of this story was originally published at See Jane Write Magazine.

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