by Alex Guadagno
Rutgers journalism students found out on Wednesday, Feb. 25 that there is much more required for prolific online publishing than plopping down at the keyboard each morning and dishing unbridled witticisms, pajama-clad and coffee-cupped, à la Perez Hilton. This vision, presented by Ed Silverman of Pharmalot.com, may be how Hilton writes his snarky celebrity gossip blog, but this particular fantasy was dismantled for some would-be bloggers when Silverman spoke at a talk hosted by the Rutgers Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists at the New Brunswick campus. "How to Become a Successful Online Publisher” also featured panelist Cameron Barrott of Blogcorp.com.
According to Silverman, the potential to make money in online publishing rests on the blog’s ability to attract a demographic that is interesting to advertisers. It’s not simply a matter of laying out the material and waiting for the advertising revenue to roll in—an enterprising blogger must actively pursue both the audience and the advertiser.
Silverman’s blog, Pharmalot.com, was the “go-to destination for news and discussion concerning the pharmaceutical industry” before he decided to shut it down last month, according to Silverman’s goodbye post. Even though it may seem like a very specific market, Pharmalot boasted of more than 11,000 independent hits per day near the end. Silverman, who covered pharmaceuticals for ten years at the Star Ledger, saw the potential for this type of online presence and established his Pharmalot blog. “A web site represented not only a next step in gathering and disseminating information, but also an opportunity to get ahead of the curve and move on to another stage in my career,” said Silverman.
Silverman suggested that making money in blogging may mean tailoring the content to the desired audience, which can quickly become a balancing act between putting forth the kind of material you want and appeasing the readers—as well as the advertisers who are paying you based only on your ability to get these readers coming back. “It’s a really noisy world,” says Silverman. “And it’s going to get noisier.”
Does this have to mean compromising one’s voice or integrity? “There’s that old-fashioned wall between advertising and editorial. The question is: do you want to reach that wall?” Silverman posed. “The answer is: you have to.”
This may be discouraging to budding bloggers who are drawn to this medium for its apparent separation from the more structured business world of print media. But Silverman, a self-proclaimed “content person,” maintained: “Like it or not, that business consideration is paramount everyday. Maybe not every minute, but every day.” He suggested that other “content people” develop a partnership with someone more adept at business matters, which would free up the journalists’ hands for more creative pursuits.
Cameron Barrott of Blogcorp.com spoke next. Blogcorp advises organizations on setting up successful blogs to meet their business needs. While Silverman focused on the writing and journalistic aspect of the business, Barrott delved into the dirty details of the technical side to blogging. This was at the expense of losing more than half of the student audience when the topic of Web 2.0 was breached, as one moderator jested when students began filing out of the room.
But Barrott’s attitude seems to suggest that taking the sort of risks that may cost you half your audience is part of the niche-carving and name-building process. “You have to fail at something before you can succeed at anything,” said Barrott. When it comes to blogging, “failure is the best teacher.”
And failed he has: Barrott shared with the audience an anecdote about how one disparaging comment he made on a blog followed him around for the past 8 years. But even Barrott, with his live-and-learn-and-then-get-libel-insurance attitude, suggests that advertising is the most direct way to profit in the blogging world. One audience member suggested subscription-based niche marketing, but Barrott insisted that even this is not the best route unless you have a clearly defined group pegged.
Barrott insists that bloggers must make themselves an indispensable part of the audience’s day by providing readers with something that cannot be found elsewhere. He gave the example of Daringfireball.net, a text only blog by John Gruber.
“People read it because they’re afraid not to read it,” agreed Ron Miskoff, who is a former news reporter and currently a lecturer at the Rutgers School of Communication, Information and Library Studies.
The theme of the evening and the message from speakers to students was evident: blog about what you know, carve out a niche, be edgy if you have to, and do whatever it takes to stick out and be heard.