Introduction to Political Blogging 101

This is a document prepared by Julielyn Gibbons (aka Liberal Lucy) in April 2007. I am republishing it in its entirety here. It is available for download as a pdf by clicking here. (The pdf has much better formatting and is easier to read).


Introduction to Political Blogging 101

Editor’s Notes 2
Intro to Blogging 3
Why Blogging? 3
Starting a Blog 4
The Basic Three 5
Before You Blog – Think 6
Promoting Your Blog 8
Important Blogging Terms/Jargon 9
Resources 11

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Editor’s Notes

Welcome to political blogging! You’ve just entered a very exciting, fast-paced community that is on the cusp of merging technology and democracy. Thank you for being motivated enough to go this far into making our government work for all of Michigan. In the last year and a half that I’ve been involved in political blogging here in Michigan, the doors that have been opened, the people I’ve met, and the impact I’ve had as a part of this community is incredible and priceless. I wish the same for you.

This guide would not be possible if it had not been for all of the incredible liberal/progressive bloggers across the great state of Michigan. In particular, I’d like to thank Christine Barry, Nirmal, Zack, and Laura for their insights and suggestions into the making of this guide.

I would not be here, blogging and serving as the Michigan Liberal Outreach Director ( (jokingly known as the Cruise Director to the other bloggers) if it had not been for several key bloggers who have been incredible mentors, and now friends, for me as I first dived into the world of blogging. A very special, humble thanks to WizardKitten, Christine Barry, Hy Dudgeon, Cordelia Lear, Nirmal, Zack, the ever-elusive Disembodied Head of Dick DeVos, Laura, and of course, Michigan Liberal’s founder and a fine friend – Matt Ferguson. I can only wish as wonderful and caring mentors for you on your journey.

Blogging is changing the way people view the world and participate in politics. Now is your opportunity to be a part of that change, and I wish you all the luck, joy, and success that I and others have found in it!

Sincerely,

~Julielyn / Liberal Lucy

April 2007

Blogging 101

Political Blogging in Michigan

A blog is: Blog is short for web log. A web log is an online journal (or newsletter) that is frequently updated and intended for general public consumption.

Bloggers: Those who maintain a blog.

What’s it about? Blogging can be done on any subject matter.

Political Blogging: A political blog is a common type of blog that comments on politics. Political blogs often have a clearly stated political bias.

Michigan Liberal Blogs: A group of blogs authored by various people all over Michigan from all different walks of life, different ages and ethnicities, and different beliefs.

Why we are here: Michigan liberal bloggers believe in the power of actively participating in the democracy process to help Michigan become a better state. We do this through educating and informing the public about various political events, activities and legislative happenings throughout Michigan.

Most bloggers believe that there is much that mainstream media misses because of a hidden political bias on the part of the journalist or publisher, or a just a lack of journalists to cover all the political news across the state.

Check out Political Blogs on Wikipedia for further information.

Why Blogs?

Check out Christine Barry’s 5 Reasons Blogs are Effective Political Tools (http://christinebarry.com/2006/11/10/5-reasons-blogs-are-useful-political-tools/)

I’ve got a couple posts over at my blog, Liberal, Loud and Proud. You can check out why Bloggers Are a Campaign’s Best Friend (http://liberalloudandproud.blogspot.com/2006/11/bloggers-campaigns-best-friend.html) and You Should Be Blogging Part 1, we’ll consider this document Part 2. (http://liberalloudandproud.blogspot.com/2006/12/you-should-be-blogging-part-1.html)

Starting a Blog

Blogging can either be done through pre-existing software such as Blogger, WordPress, and Type Pad.

If you use one of these servers for your blog, the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) or web address of the blog will look like:

http://yourbloghere.blogspot.com — Blogger (http://www.blogger.com) Free
http://yourbloghere.wordpress.com — WordPress (http://www.wordpress.com) Free
http://yourbloghere.typepad.com —Typepad (http://www.typepad.com) Monthly charge

If you want a unique web address, such as http://www.mybloghere.com, you will have to pay a hosting fee (starting as little as $15 a year). dotearth.com or dotster.com can both facilitate this for you.

You can also check out Nirmal’s post on this subject for more information – (http://www.capitalviewpoint.com/hosting_your_own_blog_138)

Regardless of which software program you go with, there will be easy-to-follow directions on setting up your blog, not to mention other websites that can provide helpful information.

The Basic Three
You’ll need a couple essential pieces of information as you set up your blog.

1) A subject. Assuming you’re going with a liberal/progressive political blog, pick a focus area. Will your blog focus on a particular topic area (economy, health care, environment, etc) or a particular geographic region (city, county, region, etc)? Some blogs are just about progressive politics in general, coverage varying from local, to statewide and national topics.

2) Your blog’s name. Give this careful thought – this is the name that people will remember and will stand as a reflection of what your blog is all about.

3) Your nom de plume/pseudonym – The name you write under. At the time I chose Liberal Lucy, I was working in a position where I had to remain publicly non-partisan, and therefore, had to work to keep my blogging and my politics separated. I also have a unique first name, as opposed to a traditional first name like Jane or Robert, so I probably would not have gone with my first name.

The more you start to blog, the more people will come across you and your blog. Those who disagree with you may attempt to find you and “out” you as a blogger, and these days thanks to Google and other search engines, anything and anyone can be searched for. You can control a certain degree what information you allow to be public about yourself, but not everything.

After having these three basic steps completed, but before you publicize your blog to your friends, family and the world at large, start writing! Consider having at least a couple posts up before you announce the arrival of the newest blog on the block.

I also highly recommend checking out Christine Barry’s 5 Roles of Liberal Bloggers (http://christinebarry.com/2006/07/20/5-roles-of-liberal-bloggers/) to help you with your focus. While you’re there, say hello to Christine. After your blog is up, go back and say hi again, and introduce your new blog!

Before You Blog – Think

In this Information Age, it’s very likely that almost everything you publish on the internet can one day be traced back to you. While it’s too soon to say, the implications could be far-reaching. The caveat that I always use when I blog is simple and I encourage you to keep it in mind.

I never publish anything that I wouldn’t say without a microphone in front of my face.

We all have an issue or two that always gets us really fired up and thinking lots of bad thoughts. Writing can be therapeutic, but that doesn’t always mean you should publish that therapeutic writing. Use your judgment. Maybe you wrote something very powerful but also quite snarky, and even after you’ve written it, you’re still all hopped up. My advice? Save it as a draft (most free blogging software offers this option) so that you can keep it, but it doesn’t actually get published on your blog. Come back to it the next day. Perhaps after you’ve cooled down you’ll feel differently, or not. Always better to err on the side of caution. *I recommend reading the EFF’s Legal Guide for Bloggers before you get started. (http://www.eff.org/bloggers/lg/)

You’ll also want to go ahead and set up the layout of your blog.

What non-blog information will you link too?
Different liberal organizations?
Your local elected officials?
Local organizations? (Democratic clubs, service organizations, etc)
Local media?
What other blogs will you link too?
Will you have any fun graphics on your blog?

And be sure to set some rules for yourself as a blogger.

How much information are you willing to put out there about yourself?
Will you allow your readers to comment on your posts? (you should)
Will you abide by a ‘Code of Ethics’? If so, will your CoE be published so that your readers can view it?
Will you allow your readers to contact you via email? If so, you may want to create an email address especially for this purpose.
If you perform investigative blogging, what rules will you use regarding your sources? (For more on investigative blogging, see http://christinebarry.com/2006/02/05/lessons-in-investigative-blogging/)

Planning and crafting your content

Consider how much time you have to blog. Your traffic will die off if you do not update (post) on a regular basis. If you only have time to write on the weekends, you can write several articles in one day and then post them later. You won’t be able to blog the day’s news that way, but you will be able to keep your blog updated with new content..
Do you have enough ideas to keep writing? One tool you can use is an ‘editorial calendar’. This allows you to plan your work in advance. You can download a sample calendar in Excel spreadsheet format at http://www.christinebarry.com/downloads/Bloggers_Editorial_Calendar.xls
If you use Google, they also provide an excellent calendar, and you can track several calendars on one page (i.e. your personal calendar can overlap your editoral calendar).
Remember that good information can get lost in bad writing. If you use a lot of jargon, slang, profanity, and other language that someone outside of your social circle might not use, then you may be turning away a lot of readers. Only writers of the highest talent can get away with using language like this, and usually only in works of fiction. Keep your audience in mind when you write.
Use a spell checker on your posts, and check for clarity and grammatical errors before you publish. Readers can tell the difference between typos and laziness. It does you no good to blog if your readers do not take you seriously.

Crafting your post for maximum readership

Remember that not everyone who goes to your blog will read your posts. They will skim for headlines that interest them, and if they find none, they will usually leave. Here are some tips to convert visitors to readers:

Use pictures in your post. Generally speaking, it doesn’t even matter what the picture is. People like pictures. You can download free pictures from http://www.sxc.hu/
Use catchy, interesting post titles that are relevant to the content of the post.
Most readers will not read a long post. Break your long posts up into a series … parts 1,2,3, etc.
If you must write long posts, use bold subtitles for each section. This gives the ‘skimmers’ the option of reading just the paragraphs that interest them the most.

Promoting Your Blog

Before your blog goes live, be sure to provide links to some of your favorite blogs/websites that are similar to yours. While it might seem counterproductive to building traffic to your blog, it actually helps. When you add the link, be sure to email and/or comment on those other blogs, and politely ask them to link to you. They don’t have too, but it’s considered polite etiquette. Regular commenting on other blogs is an excellent way to introduce your blog to new readers. Again, don’t do a drive-by comment just to promote your blog. Post a worthwhile comment that has something relevant about the post you’re commenting on and usually there will be a field to put the URL of your blog. If this field exists, then the link to your blog will be a hyperlink within the name under which you’re commenting.

If you don’t already have one, set up an account at Michigan Liberal and add your new blog URL to your profile and signature. Then make it a habit to comment on the content there. Michigan Liberal has many regular readers and will notice your comments and visit your blog. You may also wish to cross-post some of your blog posts as diaries on Michigan Liberal. Michigan Liberal welcomes cross-posted content, as long as it is original.

For your first time out, why not email your friends and family with the blog’s URL. You don’t want to be THAT guy/gal who sends annoying email constantly, so just email once, and ask them to keep checking back.

First things first, check out Christine Barry’s 5 Ways to Promote Your Liberal Blog. (http://christinebarry.com/2006/08/17/5-ways-to-promote-your-liberal-blog/).

Visit Technorati and Claim Your Blog. (Visit their website to read more about what Technorati does). Technorati will help boost your blog’s traffic. The more you write and link to other websites, blogs, etc, the more readers will know about your blog. (http://www.technorati.com/)

Blogger has a great page on blog promotion. (http://help.blogger.com/bin/answer.py?answer=42377)

Make your mark on the Social Networks. Set up an account with myspace.com and add as many friends to your account as possible. Then you can use the MySpace bulletin feature to announce new blog posts to your friends. Facebook is also an excellent option. (facebook.com) See Nirmal’s excellent post on facebook, here: http://www.capitalviewpoint.com/promoting_your_blog_on_facebook_137

From FeedBurner – provide an RSS feed, or provide email subscriptions. You select your options, FeedBurner provides the html script to copy into your blog’s layout and away you go! (http://www.feedburner.com)
For even more in-depth promotion, Rich has a great piece over at Honest Errors. (http://honesterrors.blogspot.com/2007/02/reaching-readers-beyond-other-bloggers.html)
Laura has an excellent series over at Michigan Liberal on Building the Michigan Blogosphere. (http://www.michiganliberal.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=4835)

Be sure to submit your blog link to our friends at Absolute Michigan (http://www.absolutemichigan.com). Submit the form and they’ll put it up for free. All they do is ask that you provide a link to their website at the same time.

Important Blogging Terms/Jargon

HTML – Hyper Text Markup Language. Simply put, it is the language of the internet. Using blogger software, you won’t have to know much html, because your software will do it for you, but it is helpful to know some basic html. You can learn more about html at (http://www.htmlgoodies.com/primers/html/article.php/3478141)

FTP – File Transfer Protocol. The easiest and most secure way of transferring files over the internet. When downloading a file from the Internet you’re actually transferring the file to your computer from another computer over the Internet. For more FTP info, visit (http://www.ftpplanet.com/ftpresources/basics.htm)

RSS – Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary (either one). You can subscribe to an RSS feed and read content through a feed (or news) aggregator, an online service (such as My Yahoo!), through an e-mail client plug-in, or many other ways. See (http://www.ftpplanet.com/blog_guide/blogs_rss_xml.htm) for more information.

URL – Uniform Resource Locator – otherwise known as the address of website or blog. Such as http://www.yourbloghere.com or http://yourbloghere.com For blogging purposes, a URL will always start with (http:// )

Blogroll – A list of other blogs that you link to. Usually found on one of the side columns of a blog.

Blogwire – A great feature from LeftyBlogs (http://www.leftyblogs.com) It’s just like a newswire, but it keeps track of liberal/progressive/democratic blogs from around the country. This is a great feature to incorporate as an add-on to your blog, and after your blog has been up and running for at least 2 months you can apply to be added to your state’s blogwire.

Sitemeter – Site Meter is a free, fast, and easy way to add a web counter to your web page. Not only does it display the number of visitors to your web site, it also keeps statistics on the number of visits each hour and each day. You can upgrade (for a small charge) for a more detailed traffic counter. Visit (http://www.sitemeter.com)
Feedburner – This is an excellent tool to help you promote your blog to a wider audience. “FeedBurner is the leading provider of media distribution and audience engagement services for blogs and RSS feeds. Our Web-based tools help bloggers, podcasters and commercial publishers promote, deliver and profit from their content on the Web. FeedBurner also offers the largest feed and blog advertising network that brings together an unprecedented caliber of content aggregated from the world’s most recognized media companies” (From their website) Visit (http://www.feedburner.com)
IMHO/IMO – Acronyms for In My Humble Opinion/ In My Opinion
LOL – Acronym for Laughing Out Loud – an indication that you found something funny, generally used only in comments on blogs (not within blog posts) or used while instant messaging.

LMAO – Acronym for Laughing My Ass Off – used when something is very funny. Generally used only in comments on blogs (not within blog posts) or used while instant messaging.

Emoticons – emotions expressed through punctuation marks such as smiley faces, surprised, angry, wink, etc. Examples include: :-) ;) :-D

(n/t) – No Text. Typically only used for comments to a post, if you are making a one line comment (in the subject line) and have nothing below (n/t) let’s readers know that your comment is only one line.

MichLib – Michigan Liberal (http://www.michiganliberal.com)

dKos – a nickname for DailyKos, one of the most prominent national liberal/progressive blogs (http://www.dailykos.com)

Kossacks – the nickname given to the community of readers and posters at Daily Kos

Domain- similar to a URL, this is the name that identifies your website on the Internet. For example, for the website Michigan Liberal is found at the domain michiganliberal.com.

Resources

Dave Pollard’s Blogs and Blogging – Great advice, information, and many additional resources. (http://blogs.salon.com/0002007/stories/2003/05/13/blogsBloggingTableOfContents.html#01)

The EFF’s Legal Guide for Bloggers – A Must-Read before you start blogging. (http://www.eff.org/bloggers/lg/)

LeftyBlogs – Add the blogwire to your blog and keep current on of Michigan’s liberal blogs! (http://www.leftyblogs.com)

Christine Barry.com – One of Michigan’s premier bloggers, Christine is an excellent resource for everything blogging. Be sure to check out her information about Investigative Blogging, 5 Roles of Liberal Bloggers, promoting your liberal blog, and many other useful tidbits! (http://www.christinebarry.com)

The Sunlight Foundation’s Watchdogging 101 – The best ways to track elected officials. (http://www.sunlightfoundation.com/watchdogging101)

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