Scott Rosenberg’s 10 myths about blogging

Scott Rosenberg – co-founder of Salon.com and author of Say Everything: how blogging began, what its becoming and why it matters – sums up a lot about blogging in this five minute video.

 

This is an example of a simple video bookmark post – my links to Rosenberg’s blog and his book homepage provide pathways to a lot of information, so while the post is short and simple it provides value for the reader. In blog posts try to more with less.

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Exploring themes and appearance

Now that you have begun to fill your blog with a range of different content you can start to explore the way different wordpress themes might present your blog most effectively.

A wordpress theme will take all your content, including post content and headings, images, links, categories – indeed anything you have added to your post – and display it in a new format. Each theme behaves slightly differently and you need to try a few to see what will suit your blog and the style that you wish to convey.

My current theme – Chunk – is a very simple clean theme but I could decide that the elegant formal style of the Chateau theme was more appropriate. You can change your theme under the appearance menu (main right hand control menu of the dashboard). You can test what a theme will look like by clicking the preview button underneath any displayed theme. If you like it click activate and you will see the new theme and a series of option buttons appear at the top of the page.

You need to look carefully at what a theme does to your content. Particularly the type of content that is important to your blog. In academic blogs categories and quotes are particularly important so be careful to analyse what your new theme does to them. Also check to see if it gives you an “Edit post” button directly from your live posts – this isn’t essential but it makes editing and updating posts easier.

Chateau does a good job of highlighting quotes and links, it gives edit access and includes categories in the byline of each article (although these aren’t as clear or prominent as they are in some themes). One of its nice features is the “Leave a comment” button.

One of the first things I would do if I decided to run with this theme would be to replace the header because while grand the image of the French chateau is entrancing it is not very relevant to my subject matter. I would replace it with an image of the University or better still one of students working in one of our journalism labs. Given the style of the theme I would probably stay with a black and white image. You can upload a new header image by clicking on the header option at the top of the theme page or in the right hand menu under appearances. The header page allows you to upload an image and then crop a selection to fit the rectangular space of the theme header.  You can try out a number of different images. So don’t feel like you will be locked into the first one you try.

The “Theme Options” tab is an important one and different themes will provide different controls under this tab. The Chateau theme allows you to change the “accent” colour i.e. the colour for headings and links. It allows you to set up your home page as a set of scrolling posts one after the other or in a grid format with one post more prominently displayed at the top. Many of the theme options in any given theme will relate to these type of controls that will change the number and type of displays on the blog’s home page. In a blog like this having a set of posts with their titles and a brief excerpt in a grid on the home screen might be quite useful because it would allow readers to pick and choose items of interest without scrolling much.

The main thing to remember about themes is that nothing is permanent – so you can always play safely and explore different options with the confidence that you can easily revert to a previous version if that is what you prefer.

So experiment.

The Guardian chimes in on Rich’s death

The Guardian has been late to the party with coverage of Adrianne Rich’s death. Their story today largely summarises and links to other reports but ends with this great quote from Rich:

In 2006, Rich wrote in the Guardian that “poetry has the capacity to remind us of something we are forbidden to see. A forgotten future: a still uncreated site whose moral architecture is founded not on ownership and dispossession, the subjection of women, outcast and tribe, but on the continuous redefining of freedom – that word now held under house arrest by the rhetoric of the ‘free’ market.”

This is an example of a bookmark post, because I have already covered Rich’s death in several posts – simple comparative comment style, analytic style, and simple follow-up style – I just bookmark this new article with a short quote and very little commentary.  

Editing your blog posts

Good clear writing, that follows the standard rules of grammar and uses correct punctuation and spelling, is just as important in blog posts as it is anywhere else. That’s why editing your posts is critical.

We all edit as we write but a final edit is important. I find it easier to do the final edit once the post is published rather than trying to do it in the cramped editing screen in the wordpress dashboard. So after I complete my post I open two browser windows. In the first I have my newly completed, and published blog post, in the other window I open the blog dashboard and go back to the post’s edit screen. As I am reading through the post I can then move between the published post, which provides a cleanly published version that makes picking up mistakes easier, and the edit window in the dashboard where I can immediately make corrections. Once I have finished all the corrections I click update in the dashboard screen and all my changes are saved and a new version of my edited post is published.

Do remember to click “update”, which is on the left hand side of the edit screen, otherwise none of your changes will be saved. It’s also a good idea to check the published post to make sure all of the changes have gone through.

Embedding Twitter in your posts

As I noted you can easily embed twitter in your posts as I did in my post about Adrienne Rich’s death. The wordpress support documentation explains the variations in the short codes you can employ. The basic rule is simple: paste the tweet url on a single separated line and it appears as an embed in your post. But how do you find the url of a tweet?

First go to the twitter timeline of the person whose tweet you want to embed, and you will see a series of tweets but no indication of urls:

To reveal the url of the tweet you have to click on the date in the top left of the tweet. This reveals another set of controls including the “Open” command – click there and further details of the tweet are revealed:

Then click on “Details” and this opens a more specific view of that tweet:

Then click on “Embed this tweet” and when the pop-up window opens you will see the “link” tab which will reveal the url you need to embed the tweet in a wordpress post. This control also gives other codes to embed tweets on other websites. But all you need for wordpress is the link url.

Audio adds an emotional tone

In my last post on the way different new and legacy media responded to Adrienne Rich’s death I mentioned the use of YouTube video but I din’t mention the role of radio reports. One very fine report on Rich’s death came from NPR. NPR is a great example of a web integrated radio network and they initially reported Rich’s death with an AAP story on their website. But note in the screenshot above the link in the bottom left to an audio report on Rich’s death from their regular news and current affairs show: “All Things Considered”

The short report covers much of the same material covered in the print reports but puts in the conversational style of radio. the host Melissa Block and her guest, poet and critic Linda Gregerson discuss Rich’s life and influence. The initial question and response sets the tone:

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST: The writer Adrienne Rich has died after a long illness. She was 82. Rich is best known for her poetry, which mirrored the times in which she wrote. Her work grew increasingly political during the 1960s and ’70s, and she was a touchstone for the feminist movement. Joining me to talk to about Rich’s work is the poet and critic Linda Gregerson. And Linda, I wonder what the experience is for you of reading an Adrienne Rich poem. How would you describe it?

LINDA GREGERSON: Well, I remember when I first encountered Adrienne’s work and it was when I was a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and the fierceness of her intelligence and the power of her anger, her willingness to speak it directly, was really an amazing revelation, I think, for many of us. And this would’ve been in the mid-’70s that I first really got to know her work. And she’s been a stirring and necessary and really life-changing figure for many, many in the world of American poetry, not just women poets.

Block asks her guest for an emotional reaction about her “experience” of reading Rich. This is typically one of the strengths of radio it is where the emotional tone of personalised journalism comes into its own, it puts the facts in a personal conversational framework that is developed between the interviewer and guest and as listeners we often have the sense of listening to a “live” investigation of a subject where two people share discoveries as they talk.

NPR continued to develop their reporting with a more detailed follow-up piece the next day.

This post is a short specific follow-up post to my previous analysis of different styles of media reporting on Rich’s death. I could have included this element in my original post but I felt the post was already getting too long so I decided to do it as a stand alone short follow-up post. Always ask your self the question what should be included in a post and what can stand alone as a short follow-up post. This is particularly important if your post is creeping past the 400 word mark. Try to keep most posts at around 350 – 500 words or shorter.

Did you hear about Adrienne Rich?

I first heard about the death of feminist poet Adrienne Rich on twitter through the feed of cultural aggregation site Flavorwire:

The way that Rich’s death broke tells us some interesting things about the way news circulates in the new online news ecology.

The Flavorpill tweet took me to a brief in their books blog which sourced the news to a brief in the LA Times book blog, Jacket Copy. The purpose of both these posts was as an initial marker of the story. The LA Times report was a short, straight, summary report of her significant achievements with a note about some of the controversial elements such as her refusal of President Clinton’s offer of a major award. It noted that a full appreciation would follow in the La Times obit section. Flavorpill also provided a short summary of her life but significantly they added one other element:

Since the news broke, fans have been tweeting her poem “For the Dead,” which seems as fitting a way to remember this remarkable and iconoclastic writer as any.

Here Flavorfill both noted the reaction in the social media world as well as linked to an online version of one of Rich’s poems. When I first read the reports I tweeted a very simple announcement:

I then used part of her poem “For the dead” to tweet again, a more emotional response to her passing

This tweet was picked up by one of my followers and retweeted to her followers:

Both Flavorwire and Jacket Copy produced short reports to ensure that they quickly posted the significant news of Rich’s death and both publications followed up later with more extensive appreciations. Their follow-up articles reflect their relative purposes and styles. The La Times official obituary is one of the most detailed pieces on the her death and is written in the traditional obituary style which seeks to respectfully sum up a life. Flavorfill is a blog about culture which seeks to link to interesting events and tends on the web, they produced a guide to “The essential Adrienne Rich” which provided short introductions to six of her most significant books.

Interestingly the New York Times arts blog, Culture Beat, also took this approach, they were a bit later than the LA Times blog, but they produced a more detailed set of links to the Times reviews of some of Rich’s significant works. This points to the different ways that blogs are used in tandem with traditional articles by mainstream media organisations. While the LA Times used it’s blog to quickly bookmark a significant event, the New York Time’s used its blog as a window into its archive of stories on Rich’s life and career. Both followed up with long, detailed, traditional obits.

Rich was a beloved figure in the feminist movement and so it is not surprising that many women have blogged about her death and this shows how news circulates in specific ways within subcultures on the web. One of the first blog posts I read showed up in a general google news search I did as soon as I read of her passing:

Like many women of my generation I read Of Woman Born in college. Though having children was the last thing on my mind back in the 1990s, I was oddly relieved to find a feminist writing about motherhood. This was not a hot topic in the feminism of my youth. Motherhood was almost too messy and complicated to deal with. Mostly it just wasn’t brought up. We could take back the night. We could break the glass ceiling but how could we possibly talk about making babies in a positive way? Weren’t we trying to escape this role? Flee our wretched biology? Not be defined by our wombs? Or tits and asses? Our parts?

I will always be grateful to Adrienne Rich for going into that messy topic and making me feel and understand things I needed to feel and understand about my body and my . “Not biology,” she once wrote, “but ignorance of ourselves, has been the key to our powerlessness.”

This post by “Ceridwen” (a blogger I had never read before) is on a blog devoted to Pregnancy and brings a personal reflective tone to the appreciations of Rich’s life and influence. Ceridwen is not constrained by the conventions of traditional news reporting and simply ends her post with a series of some of her favourite Rich quotes.

The women’s blogging community BlogHer also quickly covered Rich’s death with a post from their executive editor Julie Ros Godar. Godar’s post links to the LA Times initial blog report and therefore does not repeat much basic information about Rich. This is for two reasons, Godar might assume that her community of women readers might already know the basic Rich story and if not she assume’s they can follow the link.  This embodies Jeff Jarvis’s basic motto of web writing “Do what you do bets and link to the rest”. What Godar does supply, that is missing in other reports, are links to YouTube videos of Rich reading her own poems and this shows blogging’s propensity to use multimedia content. The voice of a poet is incredibly important and this is an excellent use of the YouTube archive and I am surprised more sites did not do this.

 

Note how in this post I have tackled a very specific subject: the way different media – particular social media and blogs – covered Rich’s death and the way this influenced the circulation of this news. This is a very different and much more analytic post to my initial example (note here how I link back to my own previous post) which merely linked to a few different reports. The only significant comment of my own in the initial report was noting the way the non-US Irish Times report was more forthright in naming Rich’s “socialist” politics. Both these styles are OK in the mix of posts on an academic blog but this more analytic post is a more significant contribution because it has an originally developed argument.  It is also a good example of using multiple different media in a post from embedded tweets to video. See this post on how to embed tweets into your posts.