Student blogging 101

This was originally written in 2007 by Nirmal Mankani. It has been slightly modified and adapted for republication here as part of the BFM 83 County Project. You can download a pdf copy of the original article by clicking here.

Student Blogging 101

This is a quick overview of a personal take on blogging and how to get started. This is by no means the only approach to doing it. A lot of credit has to go to Laura Packard (of the Stabenow campaign) for showing me the ropes, as well as some posts by Chris Bowers of MyDD.

What is a Blog?

From Wikipedia:

“A weblog, which is usually shortened to blog, is a type of website where entries are made (such as in a journal or diary), displayed in a reverse chronological order.

Blogs often provide commentary or news and information on a particular subject, such as food, politics, or local news; some function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic. Most blogs are primarily textual although some focus on photographs (photoblog), videos (vlog), or audio (podcasting), and are part of a wider network of social media.”

Why Blog?

Aside from its cathartic effects, blogs offer several other tangible benefits.

Blogging allows us the opportunity to discuss issues that deserve exposure, but that mainstream media outlets do not have the time or inclination to cover. Communities of blogs can evaluate candidates and policies, pick out the good ones, and find flaws in the bad ones. By being the “watchdogs,” or by talking about niche issues, blogs can highlight problems that would otherwise go not discussed, and often define the context in which they are discussed.

Politicians and journalists like it when a lot of their work is done for them. Blogs provide research, insight, and leads that help to make better policy or come up with better stories. Also, the people that read blogs tend to read a lot and are usually very interested in the issues. These are the people that talk about the issues or news of the day to their friends. By bringing your opinion to these people, you affect a larger group of opinion makers.

Blogs also provide a critical voice to challenge the infrastructure on our side. By discussing what works and what doesn’t work, we can help to improve the Democratic political apparatus.

Finally, blogs serve to motivate and inform our activists. Blogs have the power to energize our base into action, and also help us to become more persuasive and make better arguments.

Local Blogs

In terms of high-level national blogs, “lefty,” or progressive blogs like Daily Kos and MyDD are much more widely read than their conservative counterparts. Unfortunately, the conservatives dominate the local political blog scene. This means that conservative bloggers better understand the factors that play into their local districts and are in a better position to influence races at the local and state levels.

If you have a moment, take a look at this article detailing how local bloggers played a critical role in Tom Dachle’s defeat at the hands of John Thune. In addition to doing opposition research, they were able to effectively work the media to help slant coverage closer to their favor. National blogs do not have the resources or understanding to impact local races in this manner.

Good Blog Posts

Local blogging is also important because people also tend to like to read blogs with local, “specialized,” or somehow otherwise unique content. Not even the “top level” blogs cover every subject. It is more important to discuss the topics that you have a greater degree of familiarity with. This will set your posts apart from what everyone else is already talking about. When a particular issue becomes important at a state or national level, you will become the expert that people turn to.

Blogging also offers people a chance to provide their own commentary and research that is not available in major newspapers or even from political campaigns. In particular, people appreciate reading about how issues relate an individual’s own life. If you are going to be blogging about state and national content, it is important to relate those ideas back to yourself or provide some kind of additional insight beyond what the papers and campaigns provide. Blogging is powerful because there is a degree of decentralization – instead of a top-down structure, you can have a conversation and contribute something back to the public. Conversely, blogging is not about simply repeating a campaign’s message.

I have a few specific topics that I write about now, and that seems to generate more interest. In some cases, I am the only blogger from my area talking about particular local issues or races online. This means that when those issues come to the forefront (or even when people Google about them), my perspective counts. In some cases, I am the only blogger talking about a particular issue or candidate, which means that I end up at the top of Google searches for those topics.

Also, any letters to the editor (such as to the Daily or a local paper), speeches, or other original content authored by you is great material for a blog post.

Finally, blogging is collaborative. Writing good posts alone will not guarantee that anyone will hear your voice. The fun is in communicating with others. This can be through writing comments on other blog posts, posting at a larger blog about similar topics to what you cover, or by posting to a blog as part of a group or community (like the UM Dems blog!) In fact, most of the major sites covering national or state politics are at least partly user driven. Users post “diaries” about a particular topic, rate each others’ diaries, and the best ones are bumped up for everyone to see. Matt at Michigan Liberal regularly posts entries on the front page that come from users and discuss the relevant topics of the moment.

With that in mind, let’s get started and look at some possible topics!

  • Your personal experiences doing College Dems stuff, such as District Invasions, registering voters, social events, rallies, working on ballot initiatives, etc.
  • Issues that pertain to liberal students at U of M specifically, such as “Killer Coke,” student rights, relations between University students and the city of Ann Arbor, and campus politics and activism (although I would shy away from talking about campus elections).
  • Issues that relate to college students specifically. This includes (but is not limited to) higher ed funding, access to vote, jobs for fresh college graduates.
  • Local issues from your own home town.
  • Issues that you have a greater degree of experience with. For example, if you are in the school of Social Work or have taken a lot of Environmental Studies classes, you are in a position to talk about certain kinds of issues with some authority.

Start Your Own Blog

If this sounds like something that you are interested in, I would strongly encourage you to start your own blog.

You can get started on your own, or join the 83 County Project. We can help you with getting started, publicizing your blog, building traffic, etc.

Starting a blog is easy, user-friendly, and free. You can “cross-post” your own posts at Blogging for Michigan, and then link back to your own. With more progressive voices out there blogging, we can send a stronger message, accomplish more, and hopefully help win some elections!

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