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 estimate.

(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 them.

“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 Magazine.

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