Veteran journalist uses blogging to connect during pandemic

After a hiatus, longtime journalist Tom Strini has returned
to the blogging world, but it’s not the world that he left. 

Social media and advertising have changed how bloggers
engage their audience. These tools can help pull in readers, but good writing is
what builds regular readership. Strini knows that he’s a good writer, and now
he’s using social media to develop his blog’s content and audience.

“Right now I’m in a mode of, okay, let’s just put the copy
out there and promote it as best I can on social media,” said Strini, a St.
Louis native who was a longtime music and dance critic at the Milwaukee Journal
Sentinel. “And, you know, just give it six months and see what stories resonate
and what stories get readership and probably bend that way in terms of content
going forward.”

Tom Strini

Strini originally started his blog in 2014, buoyed by the readership that he
had built during his time at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and then later at
Third Coast Digest in Wisconsin. These readers followed him to his new space;
right away, Strini was surpassing 10,000 page views per month. 

Blogging fell to the wayside as Strini pursued other professional projects. But his work paused amid the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting him to revamp his blog from his new base in Columbia, Missouri, where his wife, Lee Ann Garrison, is the director of the school of visual studies at the University of Missouri.

“I thought, okay, let’s just see if I can rebuild my
audience for this blog,” Strini said. “And so my condition now is I’m trying to
figure out what might play in this market, and I’m trying to figure out what I
want to do.”

There are an estimated 500 million blogs on the Internet,
with their authors accounting for more than 2 million blog posts every day, according to one

(Photo via Flicker)

Strini’s blog posts cover music, art, food, and politics –
his personal interests. He believes that successful blogs usually have a narrow
focus, so he plans to see what posts resonate with readers and then focus on
this content. 

Barbara Iverson, a longtime blogger and former journalism professor, compares the specific
focuses of blogs to traditional journalistic beats. She said journalists who
start blogs can explore their interests and personal lives while also keeping a
professional tone and drawing on their journalism experience.

“There are a lot of things where you can say, oh, this isn’t
just a personal interest, I can actually do this in a journalistic way,” said
Iverson, emerita at Columbia College Chicago where she co-founded the
hyperlocal ChicagoTalks and taught blogging.

Iverson remembers how a lot of her colleagues scorned
blogging when it first gained popularity. But as people grow more distrustful
of journalists, she regrets that journalists didn’t engage with the blogging
world earlier to build trust.

“I always thought that journalism really missed an
opportunity…Back then, they had a chance to reach out and put ahead a better
relationship,” Iverson said.

Now, the blogs of journalists like Strini might help repair
that relationship between journalists and readers. But blogging has changed a
lot in the past few years as new forms of media take its place. With social
media use increasing, one wonders if blogs, once revolutionary, are on their
way out.

Julie Bates, a professor at Millikin University whose
research interests include blogging, understands this view but believes that
blogs still have value. She argues that writers can use blogs as a platform to
publish their work and write on their own terms.

“There are so many ways
for writers to promote their work, share their opinions, and make connections
via social media that I think it could be easy to predict the end of blogging
as we know it. I’m not ready to do that, though,” Bates said. “Instead, I think
what we’ll continue to see are writers who carefully craft their presence
across platforms.”

Strini is doing just that. Rather than competing with social
media, he views his accounts as critical tools. He uses Facebook, Twitter and
LinkedIn to promote his blog posts, encouraging his followers to read and share

“You have to think about, okay, what are my friends
interested in? I’m only going to post things that I think are going to appeal
to them,” Strini said. “And I would say that this is really hugely important to
leverage all those personal relationships. I know it’s a little bit like Amway
or something, but you really absolutely have to do it…There’s a certain
finesse in this. How do I get people to become my brand advocates without
annoying them?”

Most social media sites also offer advertising and search engine
optimization tools. But while Strini hopes to eventually make money through his
blog and acknowledges that these tools would help him to do so, he wants to
conserve his energy for writing rather than analyzing and advertising.

For now, Strini’s revamped blog is still in its early stages
as he builds up his readership and narrows his focus. Social media might be
impacting how bloggers connect to readers and advertise their posts, but the
hallmark of a successful blog – seasoned writing – remains the same, and that’s
his priority. He plans to give it a year to see what happens.

“I’ll see where the numbers are, and if they’re trending in
the right direction, I’ll put more effort into it,” Strini said. “And if
they’re not, I’ll say, well, maybe I’ll just take up fly fishing or something.”

Sydney Sinks studies journalism at
Millikin University. She serves as the news editor for
The Decaturian, Millikin’s student newspaper, as well as the co-editor-in-chief for BURST