5 news blogging lessons from my favorite non-news blogs

Young House Love, Baby Name Wizard, Ordinary Time, Regretsy and the Daily Dish are five blogs I read in my spare time. But they also teach me how to do my job better. Here are the news blogging lessons I’ve learned from them.

Do new things with data

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight showed us how interesting data crunching can be if it’s done well. The Baby Name Wizard blog is the FiveThirtyEight of baby names. I don’t even have a baby, but Laura Wattenberg’s insight into how and why people name their kids what they do is fascinating nonetheless. Posts like “The Fastest-Falling Baby Names of 2011,” “Goodbye, Marylou: The new generation of combo names,” “Hunger Games baby names: Another path to the future” and “Why your baby name choice is making you miserable” turn government data into smart sociological insight.

Lesson for news bloggers: Don’t assume stats are boring — there are stories hidden in the data, and the reporters who take the time to go through it will be rewarded with new insights and meatier posts.

Don’t assume people know what you’re talking about

John and Sherry at Young House Love chronicle their impressive ongoing efforts to redo their house. “We’re not experts, just DIY dorks who like to learn as we go and share our adventures and misadventures with the world,” they write on their About page. They explain their projects and provide a lot of pictures. Check out this two-part post about building a headboard for a bed or this post about building a new backyard deck or this one about how they use Photoshop both for the photos on their blog and for testing home design ideas. Posts are usually long and filled with pictures. Oh, and they actually respond to every single comment left on their blog, which means answering hundreds of reader questions.

The payoff for all that work? Intensely loyal readers and massive engagement, with hundreds and even thousands of comments on most posts. Here’s their Blogging FAQs page for more.

Lesson for news bloggers: Be an authority. You don’t have to be an expert, but be honest about what you do and don’t know and help readers get to an answer. Explain concepts, answer readers’ questions and add detail.

Write about something nobody else is willing to talk about

Elizabeth is the mom of ten: seven biological children and three adopted children. She writes about homeschooling, adoption, large families and religion at Ordinary Time. One reason I love her blog is her honesty and willingness to write about the toughest parts of adoption, including attachment issues and how hard it  can be to make yourself like a new adopted child:

People talk about ‘fake it ’till you make it’, meaning that you pretend you have feelings for a child when in actuality they are still developing and over the course of time the need to pretend no longer exists. But it’s one thing to say this and another thing completely to talk about how it really works. It means having to override natural inclinations and  force yourself to do otherwise. It means not quickly stepping into the bathroom when you hear the child approach… even though you want to.

Lesson for news bloggers: Keep digging. Tackle stories that are uncomfortable. And keep readers coming back by writing openly about tough subjects.

Put pictures in context

Regretsy reminds us that media should add something to a post — or, conversely, that a picture’s worth a thousand words if you choose the right picture.

Be good to read drunk

All right, this one’s cheating a little because Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish totally qualifies as a news blog. But I can’t leave my favorite blog out: The Dish recently posted the results of a readership survey. More than 70 percent of The Dish’s readers have bookmarked the site as a regular destination and the average visitor spends 16.2 minutes on the site every day. A third of the readers are under 35. Why do they keep coming back? One reader wrote in an email (no comments on The Dish), “Firstly, it provides intelligent insight on subjects that I know I want to read about (politics, the Catholic Church, beagles, etc). Secondly, it introduces me to unexpected worlds.” From another: “The blog always looks great, is attractive to the eye and fun to navigate; as a reader once said, this is the best blog to check out while drunk (and that’s important to us under-35ers).”

Lesson for news bloggers: Keep posts short when you can, switch up the topics you cover and post regularly and often. If someone has had a few drinks and still feels like checking your blog on their phone in the cab on the way home, that’s a good thing.