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Joining the Local Blogging Community

November, 2016

It’s no secret that the way we get our news is changing. Audiences today can get their news from just about everywhere, from newspapers, from their Twitter feeds and even from weekly newsletters that get delivered right to their inboxes. Journalist and media-observer Karen Unland has been watching this trend develop over the last few years, but rather than seeing it as a detriment to her profession, she sees the changing media landscape as providing a unique opportunity. If you’ve ever dreamed of starting up your own blog or podcast, there has never been a better time to start.

Karen runs “Seen and Heard in Edmonton,” a blog and podcast that focuses on the emerging presence of blogs and podcasts in Alberta’s Capital Region. Since she started, Karen has catalogued local blogs and podcasts that are dedicated to topics as diverse as as food & lifestyle, sports, arts & culture, politics, science, economics and even the weather. No matter how specific or obscure your area of expertise is, it seems you will be able to find an audience online who will listen to what you have to say. But how do you get started? Getting a computer and a microphone is a good place to begin, but we sat down with Karen to find out where to go next.

“The impetus that you need to get yourself started is passion,” says Karen. Journalists receive specific training that enable them to chase and report on just about any story, no matter how big or small. Bloggers and podcasters don’t always have this advantage. “Local bloggers have done some incredible things without much training,” notes Karen. “There are political blogs that are starting to have an impact on public opinion. There are Oilers blogs that have changed the way that people talk about hockey. But these people are successful because they’re passionate about their chosen topic, and they pour a lot of their time and energy into analyzing it.” Pick your topic, and devote all of the energy you can to researching it. In a world without deadlines, where you are the writer, researcher, editor and producer of your own work, passion will help you in keeping your content up to date.

Maintaining your own news platform is no small task, and for the most part, you won’t be getting paid. For those who see blogging and podcasting as purely a passion project, this isn’t a problem. But those who really want to dig in and start producing quality stories will have to start thinking about monetization, unless they want to have the equivalent of two full-time jobs. This is a problem that Karen has been giving a lot of thought to. “There isn’t yet a sustainable model for generating income off of independent blogs or podcasts. Advertisers aren’t usually interested in supporting a small-time independent project, and selling subscriptions doesn’t really cut it either. When you hide your content behind a paywall it creates a contradiction. You’re saying that your words have a monetary value attached to them, but at the same time, you can’t really call your stories vital or important, or you’d make them available for free.”

Crowdfunding (getting your audience to donate to your project), has met with some success, but Karen doesn’t think this will necessarily last. “Crowdfunding is a stronger tool for validation than it is a long-term funding strategy. People like to pledge their support, but they won’t pay for something they don’t have to.” Karen suggests an interactive model of funding. You could sell memberships of a sort, but rather than unlocking content, these memberships would give readers and listeners access to pitch meetings. Essentially, the audience would pay for the privilege to vote on which stories you research and produce.

So make sure that your microphones and keyboards are in proper working order, find that topic that you could speak passionately about for hours at a time and, finally, find a way to make it sustainable. For extra inspiration, make sure to check out Karen’s own blog and podcast to see what your friends and neighbours have already managed to accomplish in this emerging media landscape.

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