Assignment 1: Semester Long Blog
It’s easy to write poorly, but it’s hard to write poorly every day . . . It’s hard to write every day.
Rebecca Blood, blogging pioneer
Assignment Overview: Students will start and maintain a personal blog over the course of the semester, writing at least 20 posts. In working towards this total, students will be given a variety of prompts to inspire and direct their blogging. Students are required to have at least one blog post for each prompt. Individual prompts may be used multiple times. We will regularly spend time in class talking about your blogs and workshopping the writing.
- Students will learn how to start a blog using WordPress.
- Students will be able to identify the principles of personal publishing
- Students will author at least 20 blog posts that will help them to develop good blog-writing practices
Task #1: Analyzing Blogs
Go to WordPress.com and explore.
Look through the “Freshly Pressed” section and identify 3 or 4 blogs that you think are particularly effective. We will look through these in class. Be prepared to discuss the following questions:
- What makes each blog effective?
- What makes each blog accessible?
- What features characterize a good blog?
- What is the role of personal voice in a good blog?
- Who is the audience for a blog?
- What other strategies did authors employ in your favorite blogs?
Using the guidelines we generated in class, decide what the purpose of your blog will be. Note: You might also look at “The Ten Steps to Better Blogging” list from Writing for Digital Media.
Due: Wednesday, Sept 12
Task #2: Creating a Blog
Go to WordPress.com and click on the “Get Started Here” button.
Signup for your own WordPress account; signup for the free version.
Select a Theme for your blog and begin to modify it. Be sure the theme you pick has both a blogging page and a portfolio page.
Write a short post that introduces who you are and why you are writing. Tag the post with at least 3 tags
Due: Friday, Sept 14
Format: Live blog and 1 published post.
Task #3: Creating a Social Network
Step up an RSS aggregator that subscribes to one another’s blogs and the course blog. Get in the habit of checking one another’s blogs every day or two and be plentiful with your comments.
Due: Wednesday, Sept 19
Task #4: Blog!
The following are prompts you can use to help inspire the 20-30 posts you will author this semester. Aim to blog around 2x a week on the same days so your audience will know when to except new content. In class, we will create a schedule in which one of your posts will be workshopped each week before you post it. By the end of the semester, you must have responded to prompt 1 at least 3 times, and prompts 2-3 at least once. You are also free to blog on topics of your own choosing as regularly as you like.
Prompt 1: Public Writing and Rhetorical Analysis
Three times during the semester, you will select and post a piece of public writing you feel will elicit a worthwhile rhetorical discussion. This includes, but is not limited to, blogs, Facebook statuses and comments, YouTube videos and comments, personal and professional websites, Twitter updates, online news articles, etc. This featured post will be the topic of discussion for one week, and your job will be to help facilitate this discussion.
Each week, when you are not facilitating the discussion, respond to the featured post by analyzing it according to a suggested set of prompts we will generate together.
In facilitating discussion and responding to the featured post, engage with your classmates about the issues that arise from the discussion, both on the blog and in class.
Prompt 2: Live Blogging
Live blogging is blogging while an event is taking place. You can cover a newsworthy event, a trip, a conference, a meeting, etc. The only constraint is that the event needs to be happening while you blog about it. Live blogging provides the reader with a sense of “being there” and should feature visceral details of the event. A good live blog provides immediacy, vicariousness, texture, reflection, a sense of what happened and what you thought about it. You will provide your readers with multiple brief posts to give them an account of that event.
To live blog your event, follow the steps below taken from Writing for Digital Media:
- Write a short post that introduces the event and identifies who you are and why you are writing.
- Key in your notes as unfinished sentence fragments, then go back when you have time and flesh out the narrative.
- If you are covering a speech or panel discussion, provide the transcript if possible. It’s tedious, but the transcript provides a great resource for those who could not attend.
- Write a short blurb about a part of the event you couldn’t get to and link to someone who did. This leverages the wisdom of the crowds.
- Once the event is over, post a retrospective, a more comprehensive commentary on what you saw and heard. Put the event, or your take on the event, in context.
- Post your blurbs quickly just to get them online, then go back and clean up your copy. Live blog readers understand the nature of posting quickly.
- Know that the biggest challenge is paying attention to the event while writing at the same time. You can take advantage of this challenge by focusing your writing and your attention, placing you in the middle of the stream of events washing over you. What you live blog today can become the basis for a more analytical piece tomorrow.
- Know up front that you will probably someone near you. Clacking away on a keyboard can be obnoxious. Planning where you can sit will help.
- Consider using Twitter to help you write your initial short posts.
Example of Live Blogging 1: USA Today’s entertainment reporter, César Sorino, attended Star Wars Celebration III in Indianapolis April 21-24, 2005 and blogged about it: http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/2005-04-20-star-wars-blog_x.htm
Example of Live Blogging 2: ESPN’s live blogging of Roger Clemen’s testimony before Congress on steroid use in baseball: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/blog/index?entryID=3243182&name=congressional_hearings
Prompt 3: Self-Reflection
Post thoughtful entries that reflect upon the work we are doing in class. For example, you may address challenges you’ve encountered, and how you’ve overcome or managed them, with an assignment; questions about course readings or films; technical questions regarding design choices for your blog, requests for feedback about the layout, colors, fonts, etc.
Due: All posts must be completed by the last Friday of class.
Format: Digital blog posts
The Top Ten Steps to Better Blogging
Drawn from Writing for Digital by Brian Carroll
Step: Write every day. In arguing for frequent, regular blogging, Rebecca Blood wrote that “it’s easy to write poorly, but it’s hard to write poorly every day . . . It’s hard to write every day” (Blood, The Weblog Handbook 28). Write frequently and regularly, and your writing will surely grow stronger from the practice.
Step 2: Schedule your blogging time. Like the formation of any new habit, blogging requires planning. Determine when in the day or night you can consistently blog, and then stick to that time.
Step 3: Be authentic. A jazz music deejay in Greensboro, NC, daily signed off his broadcast with the call to, “Be yourself so you won’t be by yourself.” The best blogs have an authentically human voice that is distinctive, even idiosyncratic. Don’t worry about pleasing everyone from the start. Instead, start blogging by writing for an audience of one (yourself), which will help you cultivate this authenticity, transparency and voice.
Step 4: Carve out a niche. The best bloggers focus on specific interests—the narrower the topic, the better—leveraging their own expertise and experience in the area. Larry Lessig, for example, is a Stanford law professor specializing in intellectual property law. His widely read blog, Lessig 2.0, at www.lessig.org/blog, focuses on IP law and the open source movement, though he comments on other subjects, such as pop music and technology. Readers can count on his blog to keep up with the major news and events in intellectual property law as it relates to digital media and digital content.
Step 5: Be curious and take lots of notes. Not every thought is blog-worthy, so keep a notebook or temporary file of your musings, thoughts, ideas, links and articles of interest—anything that might inform your blogging. When you keep your daily appointment to write, you can relax knowing you have a file or folder of goodies to get you going rather than having to stare at an empty template post box and write from scratch a pithy and provocative post.
Step 6: Engage. When you get comments, react to them. Encourage them. Affirm your readers and continue the conversations your posts have begun. This is about community-building. Participate on other people’s blogs, include their blogs on your blogroll, and link to others’ posts when appropriate. The blogosphere operates on the principle of reciprocity, so make sure you are creating plenty of social capital by being interested and engaged with the ideas of others in your blog circle or community.
Step 7: Learn the software. You don’t need to become an expert or a coder, but you can devote an “upgrade day” every few weeks or so to learning more about the software you’re using to power your blog. Look into features like RSS feeds, spam filters, YouTube video hosting and photo hosting to upgrade your blog. On upgrade day, you could also spend some time tagging or retagging posts to better organize your content and make it easier for others and for you yourself to find specific posts. This is a good time to check for broken links, too.
Step 8: Promote yourself. Don’t be shy. Market your blog. Simple steps to reach more readers include registering your blog with Technorati, which indexes and provides blog searches; registering with the major search engines, including Google; and setting up RSS feeds on your site to have your content delivered to anyone who wants to subscribe.
Step 9: Break up the text. Your writing may be Pulitzer-worthy, but your readers will still need some visual relief. Make sure you follow basic design and layout principles. Boldface, lists, photos, graphics, cartoons, breakout diagrams and illustrations can elaborate your post and break up what otherwise might be an overwhelming storm of words.
Step 10: Be ethical. Hold to a code of ethics. Be responsible for your own words. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say in person. Ignore ugly comments and those wishing harm. Planning ahead for ethical challenges by adopting a code of ethics will allow you to have a set of carefully deliberate priorities, goals and values to turn to in times of crisis, when decisions about content need to be made quickly and resolutely.