Showing posts with label Journalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Journalism. Show all posts

Saturday, 18 June 2011

The dos and don'ts of blogging

There’s no question about it. When it comes to blogging, writer Emily Carlisle really knows her stuff.

So when I clocked that she was running a workshop on social media for writers at this year’s Witney Book Festival I hopped in the car and was round there like a shot.

I learned so much about blogging in the space of 90 minutes that I couldn’t wait to put Emily’s tips into action. The rest of the audience, who included an accountant keen to launch her own blog, authors, marketing consultants and journalists, were equally enthused. “I’m going straight home to get started,” one of them told me in the car park.

The key component of a cracking blog, says Emily, is “great content.” This could range from amusing anecdotes and “a day in the life” posts to reviews, interviews, vlogs, excerpts from a novel in progress, background research and hobbies. Your blog can be specialist, generalist or a mix of the two (or “having your cake and eating it,” as Emily describes it.) But, whatever you choose to write about, it must be a good read.

It’s absolutely crucial to post regular updates. Emily reckons bloggers should post two or three times a week – both to keep readers’ interest and to attract the attention of search engines. Blogs should be “short and snappy” (between 500 and 800 words is perfect), the design should make the blog “pleasant to read,” the text should be broken up by an image or two and posts should feature internal links to relevant previous items.

Other advice from Emily (which I’m following to the letter from now on) includes putting links to your most popular posts high up on your blog, tagging the themes you regularly write about (mine are books, France and teenagers) and resisting the temptation to choose wacky titles. As she wisely points out: “Use clear words. If you’re blogging about the best walks in the Cotswolds, then call it that. It’ll be far more likely to be picked up by search engines.”

When it comes to the conundrum of how to build up a readership, Emily says Twitter, Facebook and word of mouth are excellent ways to tell people what you’re doing. She reiterates, however, that 90 per cent of your tweets should be social and ten per cent “business.” Followers soon get fed up and drift away if all you ever do on Twitter is blow your own trumpet. Other tips are add a link to your blog in your email signature, mention it on your business card and consider joining specialist forums where people can click through to your blog.

If you’d like to find out more about the social media workshops Emily runs, go to She also writes a laugh-out-loud blog on parenting called - or as she describes it: ”If you’ve ever put the children to bed early just so you can open the wine, this is for you.”

PS: I’ve just bought this fabulous poster (pictured above) from Pedlars. It’s called HAVE THE VERY BEST TIME and is part of a series of limited editions from final year Chelsea College of Art students. Mine's by Jowey Roden - - and I love it!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Jenni Murray and the art of the interview

Interviewing is an awful lot harder than it looks. When I hear someone doing it brilliantly – like John Humphrys or Olivia O’Leary – I’m so gripped by what the interviewee is saying that I barely even notice how skilful the interviewer is. When I hear someone doing it badly – sorry to say this, Christine Bleakley, when you’ve just announced your engagement – it is excruciating.

But the newly ennobled Dame Jenni Murray is definitely an interviewer at the top of her game. And last night (June 15) the Woman's Hour presenter gave a studio audience at Broadcasting House an insight into how she does it.

Interviewed by BBC news correspondent Nick Higham (no slouch in the interviewing stakes himself) she revealed that Margaret Thatcher and Catherine Deneuve were two of her most terrifying interviewees, that solid research beforehand is vital and that one of her strengths as an interviewer is, to put it bluntly, that she’s “nosey.” Along the way she said the first thing her husband David asked when he heard she was being made a Dame was “what does that make me?” and that she’d love to interview George Clooney. A night owl, she’s such a fan of ER that on Saturday nights she often watches three episodes back-to-back.

The Art of the Interview is a series of master-classes the BBC College of Journalism is running this year. Names like Libby Purves, Mark Lawson, Jane Garvey and Lyse Doucet have already taken part so watch out for their interviews (and Jenni Murray’s) on the BBC College of Journalism website -

One of the wisest people I’ve talked to about interviewing is award-winning journalist Emma Brockes, a former staff writer for The Guardian who is now based in New York. A highly skilled writer who has interviewed everyone from Liza Minnelli to Madeleine Albright over the years, she spoke to me for a book called “Interviewing for Journalists.”

Rather than preparing a long list of questions, for instance, Emma concentrates on plotting a route through an interview. She works out “key turning points” in advance – moments in the interview where she aims to move “from the publicity guff that celebrities want me to talk to them about... to the juicy stuff.”

But what stuck in my mind long after the interview was her passion for the job. As she explained: “It is the most extraordinary privilege to parachute in, go straight to what you think is the most interesting part of someone’s life and be able to ask the most impertinent questions they may ever have been asked.” I reckon Jenni Murray would agree.

PS: Now the exams are over my son's back on his bike (see above) - and I'm terrified!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

The press pack

Working from home is a double-edged sword. I can start work when I want, wear what I please, chat to my son when he gets in from school and fix coffee with friends without a clock-watching news editor yelling at me for being late back.

All good, but I still hanker after office life – the gossip, the banter, the buzz. The best place I ever worked was the Evening Standard, where I spent five years as a hard news reporter. London’s evening paper was based in Fleet Street back then and it was a different world – a world dominated by clattering typewriters, larger than life characters and eye-wateringly tight deadlines.

The vast newsroom was so noisy that we had to yell at top volume to make ourselves heard above the din. My friend Diane used to sit underneath her desk to do phone interviews because it was the only place she could get a bit of peace and quiet.

Few of us had mobile phones so when we were sent out of the office on a job we had to find a phone box (tricky in the middle of Saddleworth Moor) and dictate our stories straight from our notebooks to the army of copy-takers. “Is there much more of this?” they’d ask crushingly while we were in full, creative flow.

Best of all was the fantastic team of reporters. I’ve never worked with better. Newsmen like the late great John McLeod could calmly turn out the most exquisitely-written copy in ten minutes flat before the first edition deadline at 9.30am. Despite the early starts, John, who made his name covering the Great Train Robbery of 1963, was definitely a night owl. He lived and breathed newspapers and could often be found catching forty winks in the office in the early hours of the morning. His shorthand was immaculate, his knowledge of court reporting second to none and yet he was the most generous man, always happy to help out the younger, less experienced journalists in the press pack.

The move to swanky riverside offices and the advent of new technology transformed newspapers beyond all recognition. But do you know, I wouldn’t have missed Fleet Street for anything.
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