Do You Want To Break the News in Thanet?
The blog author of Thanet Observer recently asked
Where might one obtain "A Mole"? It seems every other blogger has one, and I feel quite left out.
This is a good question. Why do some blogs in Thanet appear to have their finger on the pulse with secret informants, TV and YouTube interviews and citations in the newspapers. What makes some bloggers more attractive when it comes time to leak that all important photograph of a councillor with his pants down?
I could have called this post "Get Your Mole Here" but I wanted to communicate fully what it is I'm going to be talking about. We are talking about the ability to break the news first. To be one of the "go to" blogs for what is fresh and happening in the area.
I will attempt to be as in depth as is possible as we look at how you can rise to fame as a source of news in Thanet. How you, like Michael Child, Tony Flaig and many others can make Thanet's leaders shiver with fear.
The Chicken and the Egg
When considering who to share his burning secret that Cllr What-not has his hands in the cookie jar Bob Nobody has to pick maybe just one or two blogs out of about 130 to 140 on to which to pass his tasty tid-bit. How can you be sure that you are the chosen one?
Hint: People like to share secrets with people that other people like to share secrets with.
If you are the kind of blogger that has the exclusives then people with the exclusives to offer will be drawn to you. So it's a classic question - which came first the chicken or the egg. The answer is that the blog post came first.
The people who are out there breaking news are doing a number of very important things:
1. Showing that they know how to break the story once they have it
2. Connecting with people and finding the stories to break
3. Publishing consistently and building an audience
To break a story first break a story
The truth is that for all bloggers in Thanet most stories did not just fall into their laps. These bloggers got out there and found the stories that needed to be told.
Let me give a few examples.
Getting a bookstart in life is, as far as I know, the only Thanet blog post about the Book Start scheme in all the Thanet Blogs. How did that happen?
It happened because I was at a location that enabled me to chat to Tash who runs the children's library at the Sure Start Millmead Children’s Centre Partnership Limited (try saying that all in one go). I took the time to find out about the library and to ask her some questions. the result was that I had something I could write up and a reason for Tash to want to visit my blog (to find out what I had said, and, as it turns out, correct me on one point).
Constitution for Governance of Thanet District Council was an article that got written because of a discussion I had in the comments of another post. Some one who knew more than me pointed me to a document I had known nothing about.
I obtained a copy. Read it and thought - no one is going to want to read this, it needs to be in plain English. As a result I wrote the article.
Of news worthiness in and of itself I ran a poll as part of that article and I asked "Has Sandy Ezekiel brought his office or authority into disrepute" and 91.4% indicated that they strongly believed this was the case. Think about that over 90 of Thanet Star readers think Sandy Ezekiel is a disgrace to Thanet. One article that leads to another and another...
What I'd like for you to be able to take away from this is that these articles did not write themselves. They resulted from communication with other people.
Reach out and touch someone
Look at our current Prime Minister in this video. Yes, he needs to work on his camera style (Look at the camera, Gorden! Ask the Queen to give you a few pointers) but the fact is he and many other have recognised that the way the world works now is through communication.
This first video (announcing the UK Politics channel on youtube) shows that communication is just as important if you are up front as if you are back in the long tail.
I'm a parent representative on the Board of a community mutual. As a side effect of this I get to meet councillors and other people and I get to ask questions in person and in private (ish) over a cup of tea and a biscuit. It's nice and relaxed and having done a good few hours work the mood is for talking. Perfect for making friends with people and finding out what's going on in the world.
That's not why I do what do but it is a nice bonus.
Let's look at Thanet Observer and Big News Margate as an example. Tony from Big News has been seen in a number of different palces and has had some fairly impressive exclusives. The politically neutral fellow from Thanet Observer has not.
The difference is expressed in how easy each one makes it to connect with the author. Tony pushes his email address out at the top of the side bar but for T.O. the address is not found until the blogger.com profile page.
What Tony has been doing is making himself personally available and it has paid off.
Another thing that Tony, Mrs Tarra Plumbing, ECR, myself and a few others do is we join up. Not only do we take the time to pass comments where we feel we have something to say on other people's blogs but we have connections to bloggers, friends, family and others in various social networking sites.
For an example Ian Delaney in October suggested to Justin Williams (two fairly heavy hitters in the UK journalistic scene) that Thanet Star might be
a model for future local papers? but that did not happen in blogs but "behind the scenes". The sad part of this story is that I missed a free invite to chat with lots of journalists in London at an exclusive and probably very expensive gathering on the future of newspapers.
Had I been more connected at that time...
Being connected means that when the exclusive early sniff at a story comes up you are part of the first wave that get a look. You might be killing some time when a message comes through that yet another Jimmy Godden building is on fire or a bomb has gone off. Unless you were lucky to have been there when it happened (or far enough away to only see it) you'd not know anything until the first wave break the story and even then if you are looking the wrong way...
This is why I put out my business telephone number. My Business skype like and make sure I have a working contact form. It is also why the email address can be seen at the top of the page as part of my advert.
Catch the wave
You will not always get to be the first wave with a story but the first wave can only spit out a few facts from on the ground. As part of the second wave you can link out to the first wave stories, aggregate facts, look up things and add commentary. This is a vital service and people will want to read what you have to say.
The watch word here is add value.
Be Ready For The Big One
Sooner or later if you've been doing all that one of your readers will fall foul of the evil side of the council, will uncover a plot to take over the world or discover that half the Council Cabinet are secretly cross dressers. They will have seen the good job you do with other stories and will trust you with their lead.
Be ready to act on it. Otherwise what was the point of all that other quality blogging?
As you are the first wave you might want to paint the broad strokes but give other bloggers sources of further information by way of links in your story (if possible) so that the commentary and further blogging can begin (along with the linking to you and saying your name a lot).
Rick didn't even break his own story. When he discovered the Sericol leak he passed the details to another blogger but the effect was the same for Rick. In fact you could argue that Rick got more from sharing the discovery than publishing it himself.
Have a plan of action if the story is not one you are willing to handle. For example pass it to us and allow us to share it with other bloggers for you. (more on that shortly).
Blogs, followers, moles, leaks, exclusives and TV appearances are not created from thin air. It is the quality of your blog and the value it adds to the story that matters. By blogging well you will soon find that you have access to stories no one else does because you are judged by your blog.
One thing that might help you get some good juicy stories to get started with is Matt's Secret Lists - they are a growing set of newsletters that include "Thanet Blogger's Secret" where Thanet news, press releases and other first sniffs are shared out to the lists members and "Matt's Magic Source for Bloggers" which contains similar juicy advice such as you are almost finished reading.