Debate: blogging – is it actually worthwhile?


Paul Bradshaw, who runs the Online Journalism Blog, has suggested that not writing a regular blog could have an adverse affect on your chances of securing a job in the media. With that in mind, The Student and The Chancer go head-to-head about whether blogging is as worthwhile as everybody makes out.

The Student

FOR: The Student

When it comes to keeping a regularly-updated blog, it’s more a case of ‘why wouldn’t you?’.

Let’s start with the financial implications (or indeed the lack of). Blogging is free through popular Content Manager Systems (CMS) WordPress and Blogger, which allow web users to produce a blog without having to shell out. It’s possible to buy hosting and custom-made themes to expand but this is by no means essential – the content is the key.

Next up is the misconception that having a blog is a time-consuming process. In fact, the beauty of blogging is that it’s a wholly flexible medium, which you can dip into whenever you want. You can do a post every day if you have time but equally there’s no problem with leaving it a week or two between posts if you’re busy with work or studies. And a post doesn’t have to take hours to write either – it can be a ten minute ‘this is what I discovered/found interesting today’ or even a video clip that made you laugh.

Then there is the bamboozling technological side of blogging. Some people are put off blogging because they don’t understand CSS code and think they can’t use plug-ins or widgets. This is simply not the case. WordPress, for example, is designed to allow you to alter as little or as much to the design of your site as you want. There are also tons of websites (wordpressadvice.com, theblogcoach.co.uk amongst others) and plenty of video tutorials to help you as you go – you have nothing to fear.

In short, blogging is a lot simpler than people realise and doesn’t take half as much time, knowledge or know how as many think. People may say ‘it’s narcissistic’ or ‘what can it tell people that they don’t already know’. But much of journalism is about writing your OWN take on an event, often about a subject that you will not know much about. That isn’t narcissistic and neither is blogging.

Another excuse is that ‘no-one will read what I write’. A valid point but the web is a big place and it takes time for people to find you. If you write regularly and honestly about a niche topic (one which may not get coverage in national or local media – for example, a lower league football team, a remote part of China or an unknown artist or designer) people will find you. And they will keep coming back.

I personally think that there is no excuse for not having a blog, whether it’s a professional one about your journalism work experience or your thoughts on the retro Super Mario games series, Beanie Babies or British ice hockey. If nothing else, you will be able to show your blog to an editor when you go for an interview and prove your commitment to writing and journalism. For something that doesn’t cost you a penny, that’s not half bad.

The Chancer

AGAINST: The Chancer

Now I am known amongst my friends for certain levels of hypocrisy but it would be impressive for even me to write a blog post arguing wholeheartedly against blogging. No, I believe in blogging, I think it is brilliant. What I do not believe however is that everyone and anyone who wants to be a journalist should be blogging. Whilst a blog can provide a substantial amount of your online presence I feel that it can, depending on the type of person you are, have a detrimental effect on your attempts to make it as a hack.

Did your Mum ever say that phrase to you when you’re giving some cheek: ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything’? Well, this phrase springs to mind when I think about blogging.

If, as the Student suggests, everyone should have a blog then that is a hell of a lot of people bleating on about anything and everything. This makes it more difficult for originality to be a shining light amongst an increasingly murky and foggy back drop of thousands of people talking about the same thing. Take the subject of football. Many of us can talk about football for hours and hours, lines and lines but what is the point if you are just saying the same thing as everyone else?

Indeed myself and the Student have a sports blog and we try our best to be as original as possible, but even we are forced to debate the same topics as everyone else and as such have never achieved the readership which this site has had so far. So I present scenario A) I walk into Mr Guardian‘s office and sit down for a chat and tell him about my sports blog. ‘Sports blog’ he exclaims, ‘bore off, is that as original as you get?’

My point is that having a blog is one thing. Making it a real selling point on your CV, as the Student suggests, is quite different. Any old topic won’t do it anymore and it could soon be the case that ‘if you don’t have anything different to say, don’t say anything.’

My other argument against blogging comes down to our personalities. Now, I have declared my love for blogging already but in terms of my work ethic I shouldn’t be blogging if I want to be a journalist.

And so I don’t, not on my own. I write here and on my other blog but neither of them are solo efforts because I can only work well and productively under pressure. On work experience, in a news room, with the editor barking at me for copy? Brilliant. A dash to get a quote from Joe Bloggs (oh, bloggs, see what I did there?) for a front page article? Lovely stuff. Setting aside a bit of time to update my blog? I’ll do it in a bit. I just can’t do it, I need the pressure and fact that I know other people are relying on me to produce content and provide my opinion.

I need that to make me a productive blogger and I would be useless without it as in scenario B) this time with Mr Mirror , ‘It says here in your CV Mr Clarke that you are a passionate and committed individual yet your blog suggests otherwise… four posts in the past 5 months doesn’t exactly show a commitment to writing or a desire to provide opinion, does it?’ How many of us have started a blog post with the words ‘I know I haven’t posted in while but…’ Not a line that screams hire me is it? Blogging is methodical, it needs commitment and determination and not everyone is wired that way.

I guess my against-the-blog-for-all theory is related to the very pragmatic notion that if everything we do – blogging, Twitter and all this online presence stuff – is geared to getting us a job then let’s make sure it really is a showcase of our talents rather than parade of our flaws.

Some of us may be great investigators, brilliant managers, sublime subs and some of us may indeed end up as well-published writers. But not all of us are made for blogging. As the Student quite rightly says you can show your blog to a prospective employer on interview day. My point is that not all of us can show off blogs which will actually do us any favours when trying to get a job.

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About benwhitelaw
Ben is Communities Editor at The Times

12 Responses to Debate: blogging – is it actually worthwhile?

  1. Martin says:

    Bottom line being, a blog in itself doesn’t cut it. I see sense in both The Student and The Chancer. There is no excuse for not having a blog, but that doesn’t mean the blog will highlight your talents. People should choose carefully and only point out their online presence if there is something positive to show.

    Blogs are crucial, but you do yourself a disservice if you don’t make it your own. Don’t focus on the blog itself, focus on what you make it.

  2. Jen Lipman says:

    “Making it a real selling point on your CV…is quite different”.

    It’s all about what you’re blogging about. Just as with Twitter, it’s not all that interesting to read about what someone had for breakfast, your blog needs to meet the needs of an audience (as is the case with Wannabe Hacks!). In the run-up to the election, I started a hyperlocal politics site looking at the issues in my area, interviewing candidates, reporting on council events, and so forth. In applying for jobs, I found it to be an asset, and I also found myself writing regularly on something I cared about.

    My advice is, don’t make your blog simply a launchpad for your views on X, make it about something you are passionate about and an area that is under-reported. It doesn’t have to be serious (I also blog about bad American TV), but as a journalist you will stand out if you blog in a way that serves something more than just your CV.

    But blogging is definitely worthwhile – it just depends on the blog!

  3. http://redheadfashionista.blogspot.com/2010/10/how-important-are-bloggers.html
    That’s a post I’ve just written about the value of blogs, but most interestingly is the comment responses I’ve got to it. I have actually managed to offend someone with the post, which is why I have to agree with the Chancer in that a blog, because unless it has something interesting to say, and is an excellent demonstration of your writing style (under pressure, under a brief and under a time constraint, another key issue) it is largely just a place for you to ‘upchuck online’ and complain about things. Because they are not controlled, blogs can never demonstrate your journalistic ability, just how good a writer you are.
    But then again, look at the bloggers who got book deals based not on their content (belle du jour) but their ability to write (fashion-related but Kristin Knox of The Clothes Whisperer who wrote a full biography of McQueen, which was massively well-received by critics).

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  5. Michael Pope says:

    Nice one guys. Always good to bring some sanity to the debate.

    I happen to believe that people should only blog if they want to. There is nothing worse than people fretting over not having a blog or having nothing to say. If you don’t want to write don’t do it. Interesting, popular blogs will only develop if there is passion and talent contained within it.

    Not every journalist has a blog, and not every blogger is a journalist. Just enjoy yourself.

  6. My answer – yes and no.

    As Clay Shirky said in Cognitive Surplus, the internet and (to a lesser extent), blogging has given us the opportunity to express ourselves to a wider audience in ways we could have never imagined one hundred years ago. Imagine anyone, without taxes or restraints, being able to write an opinion article on anything! As Steve Jobs said when he introduced Macintosh in 1984, it is a “bicycle for the mind”. Blogging can provide intellectual stimulation through both discussion and writing.

    However in reality, this is not the case. We know how much rubbish there is on Twitter, and this is multiplied by 1000 on the blogosphere. Content is usually unfiltered and unedited and if there is one thing I’ve learnt at City so far is that good journalism takes a team. You don’t get that with blogging, but is that the point?

    Personally, I use my website as a portfolio to link to articles elsewhere. sebpayne.com reads and looks like a blog but everything there has gone through mesh of editorial control. It’s perfect for potential employers to see what I have done in the past.

  7. Oli Franklin says:

    I’m in two minds about this also. On the one hand, blogging is exceedingly good writing practice, particularly for young journalists who are as yet unable to fulfill their passion. The Features editor at GQ once advised me that if I wanted to review things, I should get in the habit of reviewing every book or film or album (take your pick) that I read/saw/listened to, in order to polish up.

    Now, that’s great advice, but it depends very much on your situation. Back when I was a student, I had the relative economic stability and freedom to blog on a topic when I got the chance. Now as an overdraft-laden freelancer, however, I lamentably find myself thinking ‘I could write a blog, or I could do some cuttings research for pitches.’ Invariably, I have to plump for the latter (although saying that, I recently resumed personal blogging on my website).

    Certain blog formats have been hugely successful and launched not only careers but changed the industry –take Facehunter or The Sartorialist and what they’ve done for fashion magazines – but they represent a tiny minority. It very much depends on whether you have a unique take and idea on things. As with any journalism, you need to know your strengths, find your niche, and then capitalise with interesting content.

    I have one huge gripe with The Student’s post though: “But much of journalism is about writing your OWN take on an event, often about a subject that you will not know much about. That isn’t narcissistic and neither is blogging.”

    I have to disagree fundamentally with that quote. If you’re writing on something, it’s your job as a journalist to find out as much as you can in the time you have, and reserve editorial comment for the right forum: the op-ed pages, occasionally features, that kind of thing. Even then, if you aren’t well versed on the subject, you shouldn’t really be putting forward your views in any journalistic capacity.

  8. Oli, I think you’re right – only the columnists who’ve spent years grafting their way up the ladder are actually paid for their opinion.

  9. Ben Edwards says:

    I think blogging for the sake of blogging should be avoided.. nothing wrong with having an online portfolio of work, but the idea that you will only get a job if you have a blog is nonsense – and if it’s not nonsense (and you really do need one), then it’s ridiculous. I struggle to see how a maintaining a blog, spending your day spouting guff on Twitter and book marking things on Delicious makes you a better journalist, or more employable. Having 20,000+ Twitter posts to me doesn’t scream ‘amazing journalist’ it suggests ‘massive time-waster’. I struggle to find time to do basic things like read the paper cover to cover every day, read the Economist every week, read the Press Gazette every month, listen to media podcasts, read journalism/media law text books, practice shorthand, read for pleasure, go to the gym and watch the footy, apart from the footy and the gym I think all those reading/listening activities will make me a better journalist (or at least give me a better understanding of the trade) than blogging or Twittering or sharing book marks on Delicious. Online journalism evangelists will obviously say the opposite – but they would wouldn’t they! But where a blog serves a specific purpose (like wannabehacks) then I think it will make you more employable – it certainly won’t do you any harm. But like Tom says, if your blog is not original then it is just noise – fine for personal use, but not really something to boast to potential employers about.

  10. When blogging you definitly need to have a specific purpose rather than, as people have mentioned, just writing about your own opinion or what you had for breakfast. Your content always has to have some kind of value.

    However having a blog is also like a personal business card. I think there is a lot to be gained from putting yourself out there as a journalist through blogging.

    Some good advice I got from a producer for BBC Worldwide was, if you call yourself a journalist, people will believe you’re a journalist. For those starting out who may have little or no published work (and probably a lack of confidence in what they are doing), a blog is a great way to say ‘hello world, I’m a journalist’.

    Not least it shows prospective employers that you know SEO, analytics and CMS (as well as improving your writing and subbing skills). There is still a lot of value attached to knowing the tech side. I got offered work experience on the back of knowing how to blog and knowing the tech stuff (the magazine were launching a new website) and that then turned into paid employment with them.

    So yes, you might have a blog that is by no means revolutionary in its concept or content, and won’t get you a staff job at a national, but as always, it’s the skills you gain along the way that might get you a lucky break. It’s all another string to a journalists bow.

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