This 613U mini-course is intended to help you hone your skills as a citizen journalist. Get a quick introduction to the topic by watching the video. Next, checkout our list of suggested resources to learn more about techniques or tools. Share any questions or comments in the forum section, or better yet pass along other ideas or resources of your own. We hope you get inspired to try something new.
The written word is obviously the first and most important tool in any bloggers toolkit. Since we all spend years in classes learning how to craft words into paragraphs, the ability to pull together a solid piece of text is pretty widespread. But sometimes text is not the best way to share the stories, information or emotions you want to get across. Publishing online means bloggers are not limited to writing. They can use a much wider breadth of format. The only thing holding you back is the effort to learn a new skill or two.
Here are a few easy places to start.
If geography is a central part of your story, why not use a map either as an add-on to the text or as the primary way to layout the post? Maps can add an interactive element to an article, engaging readers by allowing them to explore the post by clinking on those points that interest them the most. It also visualizes the spacial relationship between the places or people you are describing. Maps work particularly well for blog posts that list points of interest. An example from Apt613 is the The Great Ottawa Beer Guide from 2012, which laid out the city’s microbreweries, brew pubs, quality dépanneurs, and watering holes. Maps also work well to describe routes, such as the best bike paths in Ottawa.
Some resources to try:
- Google Map’s support page for making maps
- Wikihow article on custom maps, with tips on adding routes and shapes
Photo Posts and Slideshows
Sometimes you don’t need any words at all. If you’re hitting up an event or just have some photos with a common theme to share, you can create a great post simply by laying out the photos and adding a brief caption. Photo-centred posts are great for shows, events, or store openings – basically anything with a strong visual element. If you are a photographer or visual artist, pitching a photo post can be a good way to get some exposure, for example this post on Ottawa Graffiti. A great local blog, Ottawa Past & Present, explores the city’s history by juxtaposing photos of the same place in different points of time. The dirty little secret is that these photo posts can be much easier to pull together than writing, and are often just as popular.
To learn more, check out the 613u course on photography.
Quizzes and Polls
Most blog posts share information with the reader. Quizzes and polls flip that logic on its head by trying to find out what information the reader already has, adding a more interactive element. Instead of telling people about local musicians or important points in history, engage their curiosity by asking them what they already know. For example, Apt613 used to run a Weekly News Quiz on the main events of the past week. Polls are another great way to get readers’ attention and generate interesting data and commentary for future posts. Apt613’s Sex Survey ran for three years, generating several articles on what was really going on in the bedrooms of the city. Polls get readers to do the research for you. Everybody loves to weigh in with opinions on pressing local issues, such as who really makes the best shawarma? Or which piece of public art is the city’s silliest?
There are many sites that allow you to create quizzes and polls that can be embedded in a blog post. Here are a few:
Pro tip: Be sure to add comment fields so that you can get interesting and colourful answers from readers.
If you are already interviewing someone for an article, why not record it? With a few tips and techniques you can record quality audio fairly easily off your smartphone. Posting an audio recording can be less time intensive than transcribing an interview, and it allows you to share your interviewees words directly. Or why not assemble and record a panel of experts on pressing topics such as where is the best gelato in Ottawa? Music shows or public talks are also good candidates for recordings, provided that you get permission to record and publish first.
To learn more, check out the 613u course on audio production.