Photo by Sherri Davidson Ross

On Thursday, Jan. 10, See Jane Write hosted Blogging and the Future of Community Journalism. This panel discussion featured: 

  • Staci Brown Brooks, Community News Director for the Birmingham Hub of  Alabama Media Group
  • Emily Lowrey, founder of Magic City Post, a web publication that offers a daily posts on the Birmingham metro area and shows off the best the region has to offer.
  • Andre Natta, founder of The Terminal, a critically acclaimed web publication about Birmingham.
  • Erin Shaw Street, travel editor for Southern Living magazine and editorial content manager for the magazine’s social media including its blog, The Daily South 

The panel discussion was moderated by Edward T. Bowser, community engagement specialist for the Birmingham Hub of Alabama Media Group, author of the blog Soul In Stereo, and husband to yours truly. 

On a rainy weeknight we packed out the conference room of Innovation Depot with about 40 people in attendance. And that night our hashtag, #sjwbhm, was the number 2 Twitter trending topic for Birmingham.

From left: Emily Lowrey, Staci Brown Brooks, Erin Shaw Street,
Andre Natta and Edward T. Bowser
The night began with a discussion about what bloggers must do to be respected as journalists. 

Build up your source list and quote experts in your posts to help establish credibility,  Lowrey said. And this goes for all bloggers, even those not covering hard news. If you’re a fashion blogger in Birmingham, she said, you need to know the people behind Birmingham Fashion Week.

If you are a blogger hoping to be taken seriously as a journalist there are three words you should live by, Brooks said: accuracy, ethics, and truth. Natta said he would also add to that list transparency. 

Don’t feel you need a journalism degree to be a serious blogger. Natta does not have a journalism degree and neither did his hero – the late, great Ed Bradley. Journalism is less about a degree and more about doing the right thing for your community, Natta said. 

Can bloggers and journalists work together? Absolutely.

Erin Shaw Street and Andre Natta
“There’s room for everyone,” Brooks said. Street offered this great tip: in this digital age many “old school” journalists want to learn from bloggers. Find a reporter that can show you how to be a good journalist while you teach him or her how to be a good blogger. 

When it comes to how best to promote your blog, the advice given really boiled down to this – talk to people! That could mean networking face-to-face at events or on Twitter. Participating in Twitter chats, for example, can be quite beneficial. 

Natta says people looking promote their blogs also need to get involved in groups like See Jane Write (two points for Andre!). 

Natta got the word out about The Terminal in part through MySpace (remember that site?) where he wished followers happy birthday and sent out links to posts that hadn’t previously received much attention. He also promoted the website with events and with merchandise such as T-shirts. 

And speaking of social media, for those of you still holding out on Twitter, you need to get with it. Lowrey said that if you’re interested in working for Magic City Post they won’t even consider you if you don’t have a Twitter account. Publications want to know that you’re bringing an audience with you, she said.

That said, be sure your tweets and your Facebook account properly represent you as a professional, Brooks added.

For those of you still struggling to find your niche, just be sure to blog about your passions. You must be excited about your topics to have a successful blog. “Blogging should be fun!” Street reminded us. 

If you’re covering a topic or a community that you feel isn’t getting adequate attention from mainstream media take advantage of this opportunity. Look for those gaps. Figure out what’s missing and fill the holes. “Learn as much as you can,” Natta said. “You may become a source for the mainstream media on this topic.”

And don’t worry about blogging in a niche that feels a bit crowded.

“A little competition can be healthy,” Brooks said. And remember, Street added, your voice and your perspective will set you apart from the rest. 

One audience member wanted to know how often one should blog.

As often as you can, our panelists said. Readers want fresh content. But be realistic about how often you can post. Set a realistic schedule and stick with it.  

Whether you’re a blogger, a journalist, or both, it’s all about “strategic agility,” Street said, as several people in the room quickly jotted down and tweeted out this term. She summed it up this way — be prolific, be able to hustle, be able to adapt.  

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Resources for Bloggers and Journalists: