Freelance Blogging vs. Freelance Online Journalism

Both are written for the internet, but what separates the two? And what about the issue of “Fake News?”

Image Credit: Suzy Hazelwood

ith all the talk of “Fake News,” how is an ethical freelance writing journalist suppose to overcome the harsh and negative rhetoric?

How are we to be able to still hold on to our online “Street Cred,” report the “truth,” and still make a good living as a freelance writer/journalist?

​I recently read an article over at Writer Mag, authored by Debbie Swanson, where she broke down some different elements that differentiate blog writing from online journalism.

Clearly, both blog posts and full-featured online articles can be found all over the digital landscape.

In fact, most “respected” news sources and magazines have spent the past several years developing a digital presence that generates equal readership and viewing as their offline counterparts — some may even say that their digital audience makes up more of their overall readership than their physical Newspapers and Magazines.

With that said, that means major good news for freelance bloggers and freelance journalists. In fact, it’s online article assignments that most newbie freelance writers go to in order to start making a name for themselves in the writing space and industry.

But as Debbie said in her article for the Writer Mag

“For most writers, the terms aren’t interchangeable, and understanding what is expected with each is key to landing more assignments.

Writing Style For Blogs and Online Journalism Pieces

When it comes to writing for your own personal blog, this is where you are able to let your real self truly soar. It is, essentially, your own domain where you are able to try out your writing wings and grow out your wingspan until you are able to really fly high and proud like an eagle.

To be honest, this is where most sought after writers are often found. That is because these are the writers that truly know their stuff. They are experts in the topic that they are most passionate about.

Of course, it may take a few years to carefully grow a following of readers that love your stuff and trust you as the go-to person for the information, knowledge, and wisdom you have to offer to the world.

But trust me, if you are writing about a topic that you truly love, and you are writing for the love of writing rather than for fame or fortune, those few years will go by faster than you know it, and it won’t be long before you have prestigious pubs reaching out to you to write for them about the topic that you are most knowledgeable and passionate about.

In fact, that is what happened to Mary Quigley when she launched her personal blog, mothering21.com, a site where she wrote about a topic that she was most passionate about — mothering adult children.

After a few years of developing a following of readers that were interested in her topic of expertise, it wasn’t long after, that she was approached by AARP’s online editor asking if she would be interested in becoming a full-time contributor to their respected publication.

Mary Quigley stated:

“The editor assumes you know something about the topic, and they want you to bring your voice and expertise to the table.”

The Blog Writing Style is meant to be friendly, conversational, and informative. In essence, you are sharing your educational take on a subject but in a less academic sort of way. Think of it more as talking with someone over coffee.

However, writing for online journalistic pubs, in contrast, are very different. Prestigious News Source publications don’t typically embrace the voice of a writer.

The Online Journalistic Style is to adapt the voice of the pub by fusing your own unique voice into the featured piece. ​In fact, consider what Aileen E. Gallagher, assistant professor of magazine journalism at Syracuse University had to say about the subject.

“ Adapt the voice of the magazine or pub. Read similar features, and follow that. The writing style is largley dependent upon the publication.”

Now, I know that may sound hard to wrap your brain around. Of course, every pub wants each writer on their staff to have their own personality and write with a voice that is unique to them, but they don’t want the writer’s personal voice to contradict the pub’s overall voice.

I know that sounds a lot like a Catch-22 but, trust me, it isn’t.

Backlinking and Resource Sharing

Some may think that terms like backlinking or hyperlinking are new and something that only bloggers are familiar with, but the truth is: hyperlinking and backlinking was being done way before the Internet even existed.

​Have you ever read a non-fiction book that didn’t quote some other author’s work or make reference to another book title within the manuscript? Well, this is what was called resource sharing back in the day. It is also a form of giving credit to whom credit is due.

You see, there are a lot of bloggers out there that want to take credit for something that isn’t theirs. They want you to think they created something out of nothing (which is, essentially, “fake news”).

Look, I will be writing another piece about this “Fake News” business real soon. But for now, just bear this in mind: Fake News is “news” that is not based on facts or actual accounts. Essentially, it is made up, fiction (some times even science-fiction), or just plain fairy-tales.

You see, there’s a difference between fiction and non-fiction just like there is a difference between a novelist and a journalist. Reporters and journalists that report “Fake News” are, essentially, “novelist” because what they are writing and publishing is made up, fake or fiction.

If you want to know how to overcome this issue of fake news in mainstream media and still be able to be considered a respected journalist, all you need to do is what journalists use to do back in the old days — report the facts and leave your bias at the door. Let your readers — the public — come to their own conclusions.

Now, back to resource sharing and backlinking. Don’t be fooled about this. Backlinking, hyperlinking, and link sharing was being done way before the Internet was ever on the scene. Writers, authors, and journalists just didn’t call it that back then. They referred to it as resource sharing.

​With that said, there’s not much difference between back-link sharing for blogs and online journalism resource sharing. It is essentially all the same thing. You are giving credit to whom credit is due. And this is part of what being a writer is all about — research gathering and reporting.

The Dilemma of Article Length and Word Count

As Debbie Swanson stated in her article for the Writer mag’s website

Basing length on a fixed word count is generally a concept of print journalism and is helpful for planning out physical pages.”

​However, when it comes to writing for the digital space, online experts all agree: well-delivered focused writing is senior to word count frustrations.

As long as you are keeping your readers attention, delivering the information that you promise, and encouraging readers to not only return, but to become engaged in the piece by sharing comments; this kind of criterion applies in both forms of digital writing (blogging and online journalism).

Back in the day, when blogs were just beginning to become popular, short and sweet posts were what was most accepted as the standard. In fact, personal blogs typically fell under a 500-word baseline.

But because of the popularity of tablets and smartphones, as stated in Debbie’s article, it’s not uncommon to find online journalistic articles of prestigious news outlets to run longer pieces, usually anywhere between 3,000 to 4,000 words.

Moreover, there was a recent study done by Medium that suggested: the length of a blog post is best measured in reading time, targeting seven minutes as the go-to sweet-spot.”

The key point here is this: When it comes to writing for the online digital space, it is not the length that is important, per se, but rather the value you are offering to both readers and editors.

In short, don’t be boring. Continue to provide value and keep your readers entertained. If you do that, the length won’t matter.

The Organizational Structure of a Blog Post & Online Journalistic Piece

​A lot has changed since the infancy of blogs and online article writing. These types of writing pieces tend to be very flexible. In fact, these kinds of pieces come in many different shapes and sizes — or styles and formats. For instance, there is the List Post, the Q&A style interview, and How-Tos just to name a few.

​Moreover, there are even some posts that are more photo-heavy than others. In other words, they have more images than texts. This is usually present within travel articles.

Back when blogs were first beginning to get attention the typical layout of a blog always had a sidebar. Now, however, you may or may not come across an online pub that is using the sidebar layout anymore. Consider the layout of which you are reading this article on Medium.

Some readers tend to appreciate a fresh approach with how they receive the information that they are most interested in. And they tend to appreciate a regular structure to the information that is being delivered to them as well.

Because of this, they will, in essence, make gathering information from a source — one that they trust and respect — a daily habit of theirs.

​Some online pubs may send out video content on Monday, then send out an image post on Tuesday, and then a full-length written article on Wednesday. Readers tend to love this kind of structured variety in how they absorb the information that they are most interested in.

Aileen E. Gallagher had this to say about how the traditional style of reporting and storytelling has evolved since moving online

“The writing style of a reported feature hasn’t changed at all (since moving online). What has changed is that an online feature may include other forms of storytelling — such as multimedia, an infographic, or video.”

​To that end, when it comes to these featured article type pieces, not much has changed in journalism since moving to the digital landscape. The same structure style applies, 1) an attention-grabbing headline, 2) a storytelling intro (lede), and 3) a type of emotional suspense in the body of the piece that leads to a 4) climactic conclusion.

Now Over to You

​As Debbie Swanson wrote in her piece at the Writer mag website,

​”Years ago, no one may have predicted the stronghold of blogs in the online world, or the regularity with which a reader fires up their tablet to pour over the news. But to today’s freelancer, the popularity of both of these forms of journalism is a welcome outlet, and understanding the nuances and commonalities between the two can be key to success.”

​What are your thoughts with regard to this topic? I’m looking forward to reading what you think in the comments below.

William Ballard is one of the most sought-after business and leadership coaches in the world. As founder and CEO of William Ballard Enterprise, his core business development and leadership programs are designed to be a catalyst for entrepreneurs and leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their business, their lives, and the world.

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