Up-and-coming Web writer Simon Owens: How does he do it?
ONLINE COLUMN: Web Savvy
Published: November 4, 2008
|After speaking with Simon Owens by phone, I succeeded in getting him to agree to an email interview. Owens recently assisted as a screener selecting blog content for the C-SPAN Presidential Debate Hub. He is a former newspaper journalist and an associate blogger for MediaShift at PBS. Owen currently works as an online analyst for New Media Strategies.|
Q: Compared to the early days of Weblogs, there are millions of blogs out there now. Can you suggest the best directory, or the best tool, for finding blogs that offer worthwhile reading? Do you have a few favorites?
Owens: In the early days of blogging—in the late 1990s—there were so few blogs that you could literally read them all every day. With the millions available now, reading even all the good ones is impossible. I've been an avid user of Google Blog Search in developing good online intelligence and monitoring the key issues in the blogosphere. I also aggregate many of my favorite blogs and Web sites using a feed reader, Google Reader, so that I don't actually have to visit the sites every day to see if they've updated. This enables me to make my Web surfing much more efficient. Usually most people find new blogs through recommendations from other bloggers; I find as the number of blogs I read regularly grows, the more picky I am in adding new blogs to my feed reader, and periodically I'll go through and delete feeds for blogs that haven't been very entertaining.
Q: New Media Strategies—can you share some information about the kind of work you do there? Maybe define, in layperson's terms, what 'actionable intelligence' means.
Owens: New Media Strategies does a mixture of online intelligence and marketing. Depending on the client, we may reach out to blogger contacts in order to push a certain media narrative, and we also do a lot of online monitoring of what is being said about clients in the blogosphere and other social news sites.
Q: You also freelance—how did you establish yourself with Web sites like PBS? What advice would you offer other writers who hope to do the same?
Owens: I actually gained a lot of reputation for original reporting on my site Bloggasm. Up until recently I was a newspaper reporter, and so I would use the skills from my reporting to break stories online. I'm one of the few bloggers who would take the time to actually call up sources and interview them, and because of this original reporting I received a ton of credit from both the blogosphere and the mainstream press. I was contacted by an editor at PBS's Media Shift who was impressed with my online journalism and wanted to know if I was interested in a position at the publication.
Q: There's a lot of discussion among professional writers about ethics. Some writers express concern about a backlash—more regulations because of hacking, etc. How do you feel about that?
Owens: Well, this is an issue that I'm somewhat ambivalent on. As a person who has written for both traditional news outlets and blogs, I can understand both sides of the issue. First of all, in regard to a blogger hacking someone's email, I think that's a legal issue…[I]f the government were to make a law that tackled the issue and created more clear definitions of what's legal and what isn't, I suppose I wouldn't object to it. More prevalent, in my mind, are stories where the SEC gets involved; specifically when a "citizen journalist" on CNN's iReport published a fake story about Steve Jobs' [fictional] heart attack, thereby driving down the stock of Apple. I think this is a key area where there's an uneasy relationship between the online world and the government.
As for blogger ethics, I think on the whole they're less strict than the kind of ethics rules you'll see from traditional journalists. For instance…there is a whole industry in the blogosphere called pay-for-post, in which an ad agency pays you to shill for products in your blog posts. Whether you disclose the fact is optional.
But the great thing about the Web is it's democratic. If a blogger hurts his own credibility, then yes, he technically won't be fired or ordered to stop blogging, but there are thousands of other more credible bloggers just waiting to knock him off his perch. And bloggers have long memories.
Q: Does your blog benefit your freelance business/endeavors?
Owens: Yes, definitely. I'm able to use my blog, my Twitter, my Facebook and my Live Journal account to help promote my writing elsewhere. With the proliferation of online media, journalists are finding that it's no longer just a matter of writing a story—many of us are then taking the time to push it, to develop online audiences. Our blogs are a type of branding that keeps us in the spotlight in between articles.
Q: Any tips for writers hoping to establish a brand on the Web?
Owens: Hee, I could give entire lectures on how to develop online contacts and promote your content. But I think one thing that should be emphasized is that it's incredibly hard to gain readers online, and that if you expect to start a blog one day and have thousands of readers the next, then you're setting yourself up for disappointment. I first started blogging in the beginning of 2003, and for most that time I remained in obscurity. One could argue that I still do.
Visit Simon Owens' Web sites:
New Media Strategies
--Posted Nov. 4, 2008
Our next Web Savvy tackles the issue of ethics-should writers do some soul searching in the interest of protecting our freedoms on the Web?
Florida journalist Kay B. Day has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The author of two books, she has written for The Christian Science Monitor, United Press International, The Florida Times-Union and Sky News. To read Kay's other Web Savvy columns about writing for the Web, click here.