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Showbiz & Fashion: A Top Blogger’s Tips

Scarlett Dixon during an interview with New Look at London Fashion Week

Scarlett  Dixon during an interview with New Look at London Fashion Week

Scarlett Dixon turned her personal blog into a widely read, award-nominated fashion and showbiz website. She shares the secrets behind Scarlett London’s success…

When I initially started Scarlett London I was a 17 year old aspiring showbiz journalist eager to get my writing online and my opinions heard. I was frustrated by the lack of internships and work experience available for those under 18 and I desperately wanted to create something that I could showcase on my personal statement for university.

I knew I wanted to apply for multimedia journalism at Bournemouth University and did my utmost to make sure I would stand out from other candidates. Never for a moment did I imagine that setting up a blog would go any further than myself and perhaps my mum reading my articles. In fact, I didn’t even really know what a blog was when I started.

Think About Why You Are Doing It

If you set up a blog to gain fame and stardom, the chances are you will be disappointed. Very few of the 170 million bloggers out there make a living from it and if you set up a blog purely to make profit, you’re probably looking at the wrong career path. You need to be realistic and accept that you won’t build a readership overnight (unless you’re Harper Beckham of course).

Even if you don’t monetise your blog, you will at least gain lots of useful experience by maintaining it over time – particularly if you are looking to make it in journalism. There are so many transferable skills I have learnt from working day and night on my blog.

Of course, that isn’t to say you can’t make any money from blogging – I am lucky that I am able to supplement my degree with my earnings. It’s probably nothing on the scale you’d imagine, but if writing is what you love doing then the opportunity to earn a little bit of money from blogging can be immensely rewarding.

Making Mistakes

I think the main apprehension people have when they set up a blog is that it seems so difficult and complicated. I must receive an email on a weekly basis from someone asking advice on how to go about setting one up.

I think it’s flattering that people consider me an expert, but I’m still very much on a learning curve. Although you can enrol yourself on a course or ask for advice, the best way to set up a blog and have it working the way you want it to is to just go for it and play around with things yourself.

Take my path, for example. WordPress and Blogger are the most popular platforms, but I chose blog.com when I started Scarlett London. At the time, it seemed like a simple platform which offered cheap domain costs. This was great, until the company went bust and my site was rarely active.

It took me months and a huge sum of money to move away from it – but I couldn’t bear to lose what I had built, so it was more than worth it. I think making mistakes is an important part of blogging – you’ll also learn what works best for you as you develop your blog.

Use Social Media – Properly!

Used in the correct way, social media can really ‘make’ your blog. You can connect with other writers, bloggers and readers in real time and attract their attention to your work by posting interesting articles, questions and facts.

However, used in the wrong way it can have disastrous results. I’ve seen some users literally bombard people with pleas to read their latest post – and although it may work initially, you’re probably not going to engage loyal readers that way.

Interacting with people, hosting giveaways and interviewing bigger bloggers (who may retweet your interview with them) are more subtle, yet effective ways of using social media.

And if you find yourself unhealthily glued to the screen (which can happen when you start blogging as you expect things to happen instantly), then using a tool like HootSuite to monitor, track and schedule your tweets in advance can free up time for other things.

Your Blogging Identity

I would say it is really important to just be yourself and let your personality shine through. What makes blogs different from journalist’s articles in magazines or newspapers is that you are essentially able to update your opinion regularly, in real time.

This means you have a wider scope to explore and you are able to really let your own experiences dictate each piece of writing. The uniqueness of a blog no longer comes from what it is about, but WHO is writing it. So make sure your readers are able to get to know what you’re like.

Early on in my blogging career I remember noticing my page views start to increase considerably after I wrote about how pretentious I thought the first series of E4′s Made In Chelsea was.

Before I knew it, the cast and crew themselves started firing their comments back at me. They eventually invited me down to filming so that I could interview the cast and have a little behind the scenes access. This was a great experience that came from me using my blog to voice my opinions and be myself.

Hard Work

I think what many people don’t realise (both readers and PR) is that my blog isn’t currently a full time job – yet it demands my attention 24/7.

Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love what I do and I’d never give it up, but I do find striking the right balance very difficult. Trying to meet assignment deadlines and make sure there is engaging content on the site can be tough.

You have to remember, however, that this is all part of the learning curve and will help you develop as a blogger. Successful journalists need to be good at meeting deadlines and multi-tasking whilst still creating exciting, well researched and accurate pieces – so by maintaining a blog you’ll be developing relevant skills that can transfer to a full-time career as well.

The Perks

Blogging has presented me with so many fantastic opportunities that, prior to starting, I could have only dreamed of.

I have met so many wonderful people, made incredible friends (some of my best friends are bloggers) and (without sounding too cheeky) the freebies I get are amazing. I love being able to treat my mum with a little weekend break abroad, or my friend to a fancy dinner in London.

Probably one of the best experiences was a first class trip to Paris (with my blogging friend Em Sheldon) where we were able to stay in a gorgeous, luxury hotel – so upmarket in fact that it also happened to be hosting Justin Bieber at the same time (we only found out once home though – we’d certainly been a little confused by the queues of screaming girls outside the foyer each morning!)

As you can see, blogging is hard work but can be a hugely rewarding process. If there are any aspiring writers out there who would like a platform to showcase their writing, please get in touch with me – as we always have intern vacancies available and we’re always looking for talented writers. You don’t have to have any prior experience, just a willingness to learn and a passion for the written word!

Scarlett Dixon is a Bournemouth University multimedia journalism student and is the founder of Scarlett London. You can also follow her on Twitter, @Scarlett_London

To Blog Or Not To Blog?

blog screenshot

Does your blog’s homepage look something like this?

If you’ve ever set up a blog without knowing what to write about, you’re not alone. Student Alexander Woolley shares the pitfalls of personal blogging…

Lots of money can be made out of advertising revenue on popular blogs and today they commonly employ several people full time. During the 1990s blogs were the preserve of masturbating teenagers; today they’re business.

I was recently asked by someone whether I keep a personal blog. I sheepishly replied that I don’t, and gave some excuses about not having enough time.

I felt I was being judged. I felt inadequate, as if I’d been caught trying to avoid handing in homework. I felt all the more pathetic because, actually, I have a blog.

In fact, I have several blogs. But in each instance when I’ve ‘founded’ a blog (i.e. handed over personal details to some American corporation), I’ve failed to upload any articles.

The furthest I’ve got is to put up a pretty picture for the background – the digital equivalent of re-ordering notes with nicely-coloured dividers in the days before an exam. The more I think about keeping a blog, the more impossible the task seems to be.

Yet I am constantly advised that it would be in my best interests to have one. Why? I’m usually given some generalities about “getting my name out there” or “getting my writing seen”. “Just start a blog, and all the world will be reading it,” I am told.

I would really like to believe that. I’d love to genuinely think that if I begin a blog in earnest, everyone will want to read it. But I am sceptical. The only personal blogs I have ever read are those of friends who would be offended if I didn’t read them.

It isn’t just my cynicism in the ability to build a readership that makes me hesitant. There are other reasons for my reluctance to start blogging. For one, I am terrified of self-editing.

I don’t worry about being able to spell or form coherent sentences (that’s what spell check is for, right?), but I do worry about having no one who can look at an article as a whole and say, “Alex, why did you even bother writing that?  Hell, why did you even get up today?”

There are only so many times you can ask friends to be your editor without employing them; plus, it gets awkward when they say things like that to you.

And then what if you produce something dull and tedious – or, even worse, something unintentionally offensive? Perhaps you’ll get a few facts wrong. Maybe you’ll lose a follower or two. But what if you write about something that others out there are more clued up on than you? And what if it’s a really sensitive issue?

What if, through ignorance, or through misunderstanding, you write something that comes over as nasty and bigoted? Then you get attacked on Twitter for your unfounded or uneducated opinions.

Even if you take down the blog post, those tweets will be public for all to see – and all for the sake of some blog post that you hadn’t researched thoroughly enough before you wrote it.

Okay, so that may seem like an extreme situation – but there are still other issues with writing a blog. Even if I plucked up the courage to edit my own work, I would then have to find something to write about.

Blogs only work if they are regularly updated. That means I would need to find a topic I’d want to write about around fifty-two times a year (roughly once a week). That’s a huge number of articles. There are lots of things I’m interested in, but I really struggle to think of a subject that I could produce fifty-two interesting, original articles on.

I suppose I could revert to the 90s and blog about my everyday existence. I wouldn’t struggle to come up with fifty two articles about that. But I cannot imagine anyone else cares about the details of my life to such an extent that they’d want to read fifty two blog posts about it – I’m not even sure I’d want to read that.

Have you had trouble getting your blog up and running? Or do you feel the importance of having one is something that is exaggerated? Share your thoughts via Twitter @Journograds 

Local Journalism ‘Great Training Ground’

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Oliver Rahman brushes up on karaoke skills during his year in Japan

Graduate Oliver Rahman is currently training at News Associates, one of the UK’s biggest NCTJ schools. He tells us what he makes of the course so far, and describes the merits of regional journalism…

I studied Japanese and Italian in Manchester, and spent much of my time in Japan blogging, writing for a local magazine and perfecting my karaoke talents.

My summer in Italy was spent smoking and learning new Italian swear words. I was in Perugia, where the Amanda Knox trial (Foxy Knoxy, as she was known) was taking place.

For any wannabe journo, the sight of a real press mob is pretty damn exciting. Particularly if it involves Italian TV reporters, who are always entertainingly flamboyant.

After graduation I organized a stint at my local paper, the Wells Journal. I loved it. Stories about lead thefts from church roofs or milk fixing scandals are a lot of fun.

Some trainees would hesitate to admit that they love local journalism, but I think that the regional press can be a great training ground.

After a few months working in London for a TV company, I decided to pack it in and just get onto an NCTJ with News Associates in Wimbledon.

I’d been to one of their open days in Manchester two years ago and it had left a lasting impression. It consisted of a workshop simulating a live news room.

You get given basic facts (a fictional explosion in Birmingham), and as press releases/news clips with new facts keep appearing, you have to rejig your copy and try to fit in all the new info before the deadline.

Wannabe journos get a chance to interview sources by phone, and at the end file their copy like pros. Really good fun, if a bit stressful. And as it’s free, I’d definitely recommend it.

News Associates’ entrance exam is divided into a general knowledge section, a writing test (something to do with exploding hotdogs), and a few basic data questions.

Then there was an interview in which Richard Parsons, course director, sat me down and asked me a few questions about my portfolio. I remember little about it except for some serious mustache stroking that gave away his status as a true newsroom veteran.

As well as the formal classes in media law, shorthand and reporting, part of the course involves a placement.

I’m at the Ealing Times with another trainee, so we’ll be covering all those important local issues: firefighting squirrels, water skiiing budgies and maybe even some real news.

Are you currently on an NCTJ course? If so, how has it helped you? Or are you thinking about doing one? Feel free to post your comments or questions below.

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