From buy-out to boss: A case study in post-newspaper blogging

When I decided to accept a buyout from the Orlando Sentinel after 20 years as the senior restaurant critic, I had a particular path in mind moving forward. There were a couple of companies I thought would fall over themselves to hire me; there was the occasional magazine article I would write for $1/word paychecks; and I figured I would start a blog just to keep my eye on the beat and to have a constant creative outlet. And, I’d heard that if you place Google Ads on your blog, every time someone clicks on an ad on your site, Google sends you a few pennies. I thought if I could just make enough money from the blog to pay for the restaurant meals I would write about on it, I’d be happy.

None of the companies I applied to showed the least bit of interest in hiring me. And I found that while several local magazines wanted me to write for them, their pay-per-word rates made Google Ads look generous.

So I started focusing on the blog, or flog as I call it (food plus blog equals flog). The irony is that if I had started concentrating on the flog as soon as I left my position at the paper in July — or, better still, before that — it just might be making money by now. Enough to keep me in the lifestyle to which I’ve become accustomed? Probably not. But I think it eventually can be a supplementary source of income. But it isn’t going to be easy, and it isn’t likely to be fast – much too late for that.

But learn from my mistakes. If blogging is something you’re thinking about doing when your number is called for downsizing at your publication – and if you don’t think that’s going to happen, would you please turn the lights off when you leave? – I have some suggestions to help you get started even before you claim your first unemployment check.

Anyone can blog. You can be up and blogging in a matter of minutes. Blogging platforms, such as Typepad and WordPress, offer a variety of templates to choose among, and various pricing structures as well, some even free. If you pay a premium (which is still fairly reasonable), most platforms allow you to customize your blog if you have coding skills or are willing to hire someone who does. But either way, once you’ve signed up for a service you simply type in a headline, write your post and click on “publish.” Your thoughts are instantly on the Internet for millions of people around the world to read. (Whether they will, and how to entice them to do so, is a topic for another time.)

This may be a no-brainer, but think about the topic you want to blog. Preferably it’s your current beat, one that you’ve been covering for a long time, a topic in which you have become known as a respected authority. What can you offer to the readers that they can’t get elsewhere? Don’t let competition dissuade you, but try to find the niche that isn’t being filled.

Consider how you can continue to cover your beat without the backing of your publisher. If travel was necessary, can you continue to do that on your own? What other expenses might you incur? In my case, I was reimbursed for all the dinners I wrote about (as well as for more than a few that I ate and decided were not ready or worthy of a review). Now I have to eat the expense as well as the meal. It’s a necessary investment that I hope will pay off eventually. And, besides, I’ve gotta eat. But God I miss that expense account!

Now think about the resources you use to cover your beat. Who are your contacts? Where do you get your press releases? Start making a list of these people. Are those names only in your workplace e-mail server? Find out how to make an electronic copy of that list and save it to a flash drive or e-mail it to a personal account. If your employer shows up at your desk tomorrow with a buyout package and an escort to the front door, I guarantee your laptop isn’t going with you. You’ll want to contact your sources to let them know where you are and where to keep sending press releases.

And what about the people who follow you, whether you’re a columnist or a reporter? Do you get e-mails from readers? Start saving them because you’re going to need them later. I was given the luxury of writing a farewell column to my readers. I knew my editors would never allow me to write, “You can continue to read my reviews at www.scottjosephorlando.com.” But I didn’t think they’d have a problem with my saying, “I’ll miss our weekly chats, and if you’d like to keep in touch, drop me a line at my personal e-mail address, [email protected]

Everyone who wrote got dropped into a contact file, and from those addresses I compiled a bulk mailing list to announce the launch of my flog. I had 200 instant readers. I would have had more if I had thought about doing that six months before I left.

Two-hundred readers isn’t a lot, certainly not enough to attract advertisers. And if I want them to keep coming back, as well as draw in new readers, I have to constantly update and post. At the paper I had two weekly columns; now I try to post something at least once every weekday. In some ways a blog is more work, but it’s also somehow less stressful and more satisfying. Actually, it can be a lot of fun, especially when you scoop your former employer!

Blogging is not for everyone. You have to be self-motivated, and you have to be writer, editor, copy editor and, to a small degree, layout artist (those photos don’t get on the website by themselves). Take a look around at other blogs, make note of the things you like and the things you’d do differently. You can start by visiting my site, which uses a Typepad platform that has been tweaked by a website designer I hired.

Take a look, and while you’re there, would it kill you to click around for a while? Then drop a line and tell me what you think.

About Scott Joseph

Scott Joseph has been reviewing restaurants in Central Florida and beyond for more than 20 years. In that time he established himself as the most trusted, reliable and comprehensive source of restaurant information in the region.

During his career at the Orlando Sentinel, Joseph wrote thousands of reviews. He now maintains a food blog at http://www.scottjosephorlando.com/

Comments

  1. 131.107.0.101 says:

    Thanks for the blogging tips. It’s interesting hearing them first hand, from someone who’s in “startup” mode with their blog. I recently starting blogging as well and I particularly agree with your points about needing to post regularly and with passion. It is definitely time consuming! I look forward to reading your “Flog.”

    Thanks,
    Mike, a.k.a. The Grumpy Groom (http://www.grumpygroom.com)

  2. 76.192.128.12 says:

    Nice intro, but you need to ask yourself where your audience is coming from. You’d need at least 10,000 visits a day to make a blog viable. I talked about this in a blog post I did awhile back.

    http://www.tommangan.net/index.php/2009/01/09/the-romenesko-effect-and-what-it-means-for-the-future-of-news/

  3. I disagree with the 10,000 visits-a-day floor for viability. The number depends upon your niche. If you have an audience that’s engaged in buying big-ticket items or services, you can get by on far fewer visitors than that. If your audience is not particularly affluent, or not actively buying things, you might need more,

    This is one more area in which the journalists of today and tomorrow really need to be good with math.

    Plus, viable in Orlando (with no state income tax and relatively low housing prices) is something very different than viable in Los Angeles (with city and state income taxes and very high housing costs). Online, you can work from anywhere where you can connect with your sources and cover your beat. So choosing the lowest-cost locale helps to get you to viability much more quickly.

    That’s not a variable for local blogs, such as Scott’s. But it is for many niche-topic Web publications. Maybe you can’t locate anywhere, but you often do have a range of local choices when running a topical website.

  4. I agree with Robert, you don’t need 10,000 visits a day to be viable. In fact, 10,000 visits is a misnomer, pageviews are much more important. I’ve been blogging for a decade, and there are a variety of things that influence your earning ability. Niche (mine is weddings, go figure), the quality of content, how long you’ve been online — I’m finding the time online is a big factor. I blogged for about 5 years on blogger and found myself making some good money, but then I switched to a new domain name and now have to build my traffic back up.

    Blogging is not instant money. :) Good luck anyway!

  5. 157.166.167.129 says:

    I also reccomend using every business card collected for the past five years and add those emails to the list. And everytime you collect another card throw it in the mix as well.
    I would also suggest using eye catching words in the tags for each post so if someone is doing a web search for information related to your blog ..the content and your blog comes up…
    and while your at it visit my blog at http://www.bumper2bumpertv.com

  6. Darleen brings up an excellent point: Even if you start on Blogger… put the blog on your own domain! Pay for a domain and rent the space on a server somewhere, then configure Blogger to push your posts to that domain.

    This way, you can avoid taking the traffic hit when you need to switch publishing platforms, or when your site grows to a certain level. It’s also waaay easier to sell ads on an non-blog-service domain.

  7. 169.197.2.6 says:
  8. Blogging is an excellent opportunity to have fun and much more personal relationship with readers than posting to newspapers and online article sites. Blog readers know that the author is going to read their comments so they they put more thought into what they say. But I can’t understand people who blog about their personal everyday life.

    Making a living out of blogging is possible if you find some affiliate programs with related products to your posts. Adsense as they only income can make you rich only if you write for some specific niche and attract many visitors.

    ———————————–
    Useful articles and reviews.

  9. Charlotte-Anne Lucas says:

    Thank you Scott for the good, sensible and calm advice that can help so many folks out there.
    I’m moving my blog off of a free WordPress platform (that I used when I was teaching) onto a Drupal 6 install on my own domain.
    I promise to follow up with some tips that hopefully will be as clear as yours!
    Cheers!

  10. 24.242.71.58 says:

    Thanks for all the comments. My blog is a work in progress and I learn something new about the business almost every day.
    As for the question about copy editors, I suggest a visit to copyblogger.com. Everybody has a niche.
    Scott Joseph

  11. 76.192.128.12 says:

    I stand by my 10,000 estimate for journalists because we are, by inclination, more driven by news than commerce, and more able to find newsy, timely information.

    Robert is correct that if you build a niche site around the purchase of some consumer product and live in a very cheap locale, it’s more viable with a smaller audience.

    As one dogged tech journalist I know told me: “I didn’t get into this business to write product reviews.” Neither did the rest of us. I’ve had a hiking site for four years that I could’ve devoted 100 percent to gear, travel and outdoor adventures that might generate click revenue. I just can’t get interested in it. I’d rather write about walking in the woods. Result: teeny tiny audience that generates $50 a month.

    If you want to do something besides hawk products or services, good luck on drawing click-based revenues.

  12. Darleen brings up an excellent point: Even if you start on Blogger… put the blog on your own domain! Pay for a domain and rent the space on a server somewhere, then configure Blogger to push your posts to that domain.

    This way, you can avoid taking the traffic hit when you need to switch publishing platforms, or when your site grows to a certain level. It’s also waaay easier to sell ads on an non-blog-service domain.

    ——————-
    PR Agency