Take your passion to center stage
Published: October 30, 2007
|With a little work, you can make your voice heard.|
Most of us have a cause or topic that draws our interest more than others. Mainstream media often picks up on this human trait by featuring stories and content that tap into our passions. Consider the amount of ink and space devoted to stories about dog-fighting, cancer survivors, child-rearing and politics. You don't have to be an expert to be an advocate and set up a Web site. But if you hope to attract readers, you must know where to find content from experts, and you must know your topic well enough to stay on top of developments. You also must be passionate enough that you are willing to devote time each day to providing your readers with new, interesting content.
The blog format is probably the most user-friendly and least time-consuming method for setting up a site. Blogs enable daily posting and require very little technical know-how. I must point out, however, that some blog formats don't allow a lot of creative manipulation when it comes to layout. For full creative license, a Web site is best. Make a decision based on your available time and technical skills.
When I began my blog Covering Florida, I intentionally focused on topics relevant to the Sunshine State. I soon found, however, that many national topics could be angled specifically to Florida. For instance, the national recall of a product such as peanut butter is automatically of interest to my readers, as are health-care topics. I wanted to go beyond the hard news aspect of stories, though. I aimed for what some editors call a "Day 2" story.
After learning that a child died in Central Florida from a fatal disease called Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis--caused by an amoeba that thrives in bodies of water when the temperature exceeds 80 degrees--I wanted to provide in-depth information, not just for consumers but also for health-care practitioners and other journalists. I discovered that this was a hard-to-diagnose illness with no broad clinical studies and little information about treatment. Scant records on fatalities existed. Furthermore, the illness isn't reportable to most health agencies. I spent several days following this subject, compiling a number of resource-rich links culled from sites around the globe. I also corresponded with several readers who had lost a loved one because of this illness. Of course, my readership increased, but the nicest moments came when readers and one health-care official thanked me by e-mail.
In writing my blog, I've come to realize the irony in my putting time into work that pays modestly compared to my freelance work. I have also sold articles and interested editors in my writing by way of my blog. In a nutshell, I advocate for the public interest of readers in my state by providing useful and entertaining information.
The formula for establishing an advocacy blog is simple. Set up a site with a catchy name. Declare your mission in clear-cut language--this will help you with search engine positioning and in attracting readers. Compose your own columns. Use quotes from experts, and include links to related Web sites. Bookmark government and corporate sites related to your subject. On these sites, search for the link to the press room or the media room. Normally, those pages will contain news releases and, sometimes, photos or graphics available for your use. Enable a means for readers to either comment directly at your site or list an e-mail address. I set up a separate e-mail account for blog responses; now I'm glad I did. Finally, proof your content carefully. Misspelled words and awkward sentences will distract your readers.
If you work diligently and provide quality content, you will begin to see results. I often see my columns quoted on message boards, recommended by sites such as The Issue, and listed as links by sites such as CNN and Sphere. Search engines also send me a great deal of traffic, both for Florida-related keywords and for topics of national interest. I post at least one column each weekday, and sometimes more if there is breaking news.
There is a great deal of personal and professional satisfaction in maintaining an advocacy site. And if what we write helps someone, that enriches us even more.
Note: Visit my previous column for tips on monetizing your blog: Writing for Web sites that pay (Part 2): Digging for markets
Examples of top advocacy blogs and Web sites
Each of these blogs or sites provides specialized content about a broader subject. Study these sites for ideas and for resources.
Forum for all people, including academics, law students and practitioners, to discuss current scholarship, news and developments in animal law; founders hope to promote the study of animal law and the development of animal law theory.
Politics Anew: The Political Voices of Women
Founder Catherine Morgan organized broad list of women who blog about political topics; posts focus on politics at all levels.
The Tank at National Review
Military expert W. Thomas Smith, Jr. writes this blog at the Web site for the print publication; includes first hand accounts from war zones; focus is moderately conservative and encompasses topics like national security, military matters and political developments.
Blog founded by Markos Moulitsas Zúniga; in a few short years, this site has become one of the most influential in liberal politics. The founder is often quoted in print publications and frequently appears on talk shows.
Women's Health News
Medical librarian Rachel Walden writes, "I think a lot of women are underinformed about their bodies, their health, and the policies affecting their health choices, and I hope to use this blog to provide a source of information about those topics."
Teaching Journalism Online
From Mindy McAdams, journalist, journalism educator and Web developer; wide window into the world of online content creation; excellent resource.
Named for its founder Ron Silliman; probably the most influential and expansive poetry blog on the Web.
Sites offering free blog hosting
I can recommend both of these sites because I'm familiar with them.
--Oct. 30, 2007
Join me next time as I point you to great resources for content for your Web site or blog.