I meet so many people who dream of firing up some kind of modest interface with the world where they can communicate their knowledge and wisdom. Not a full-on newspaper but just a simple conduit where they can pump out ideas and pass on information.
Do it! Building out your independent media voice a worthwhile challenge -- in fact the world depends on it. But you have to get ready to educate yourself about social media platforms and web trends and no whining about “I don’t like the Internet”! Hahahahaha!
(Disclaimer: If you are attacking one person or institution; or attacking an individual person whether a public figure or private figure; if you are dreaming of using your voice as a revenge tool or something of that nature; that is not what I am talking about. That’s not journalism.)
Let's take a minute and sketch out a super basic outline for what you need to set up some kind of media platform to share your ideas with the world. Just so you can think about it.
Go get a big sheet of paper. Yes, do it, and a great big pen or a crayon. At the top of your paper write out the point of what you want to do with your media project. Because it *is* a project. Be specific. Be focused. Make it something positive, something that involves building a network of positivity. These projects work best in the long run. Because you’re going to be building a community around it, right?
Ask yourself: Is it an activist thing? Maybe you're mad about corruption in City Hall, you want to slow down breakneck gentrification or you want to educate people about the idea for a single payer health care system in your state? Maybe you like cultural preservation, such as setting down recipes from your family or neighborhood and telling stories about them for the historical record? Or you could be a teenager who wants to support fashion design or music recordings by your peers.
Come up with a statement of what you want to achieve using descriptive words, with a verb in the statement. Be clear about the verb. The more focused you are, the easier this whole thing will be. At this point consider naming it -- again, using descriptive words other people will use to find you. Don’t be obscure, be specific, because you don’t want to miss people who are looking for your message. Your blog’s name and a brief description of what you want to accomplish with it -- these words typed into digital space become the magnet that draws together your (future) community using SEO, the magic of “search engine optimization.” Magic is an overstatement, but you get the idea. More on that another time.
Now write down a time frame for your media project. First: How long are you committed to doing it? Just for the duration of New York Fashion week is totally fine; jumping into coverage of a situation that shows no sign of resolution is harder but equally fine -- just so long as you are clear on what you are committing to. And then: How many times a day will you feed it? Once? Twice? Four times? 30 times? WRITE IT DOWN. Thirty times is probably too many, unless you're live-tweeting the Olympic figure skating finals, which might demand even more than that? Be specific, write out a plan. Do your research on what trend-setters in your media field do. Curate digital lists of your favorite trendsetters and connect with them too.
Third: Find your platform and sign up. Ask yourself: Where are the people I want to be talking to? Figure that out, then go to that place. Any digital platform you can think of -- Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Tumblr, Vine -- has its own demographics, and also its own skill-set. Do your own research on your future readership -- where do YOU go for info? Then consider signing up for multiple platforms where you can tick a box and post once in such a way that it goes to two or three other platforms of your choosing, starting from your top favorite. My Instagram is hooked up to my Facebook and Twitter so that, if I press a button, I can send one post to either of them or more than one platform at once. Through that I can also get a post onto my blog homepage if I want to. You really do not always want to post to every single platform every time, because it creates a spam-tide of over posts -- but learn about what audience is on each platform and let that guide your choices.
Once you're on, find your first friends: Look at each platform and tally up who is in your community there -- make a list. Then, when you sign up for your platform, first thing, you'll network with all the others you can find who are like you. In fact, as of this writing, Twitter requires you to follow 15 other tweeps when signing up for a new account. Whichever platform you’re using, go connect with people who could be swayed or impacted by the goal of your project.
Fourth: GET COMMUNICATIN'! Think of "value added" posts and tweets where you hold up links to great articles you’ve read or special video or images. Retweet or repost others' material that you desire to hold up as exemplary. Decide in advance what you will NOT repost ie Facebook cat videos, particular kinds of violence, or whatever you particularly wish to avoid in your more lucid state. (Believe me, this one can save you hours of arguments and at times, psychic pain.) WRITE IT DOWN where it will serve as a reminder. Now get out there and start making the world a better place!
Here are a couple of examples and ideas of bare-bones indy journalism projects. As edgy as some may seem they really all depend simply on someone on the ground willing to put out the words.
--Twitter helped shape the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine that kicked off the nation's modern protest movement, with individual citizens such as @PersianKiwi risking real danger to keep global watchers apprised of grassroots activities in real time, at first for a few weeks, then revisiting the situation in years that followed.
--When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, an anonymous blogger named Riverbend wrote poignantly on the destruction that rained down on her neighborhood in "Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq... let's talk war, politics and occupation." She, too, updated her blog in 2013 after the 10th anniversary of the occupation, bringing her wry and wise observations straight out of the war zone.
--Years ago when I worked at the Seaside Signal newspaper in rural Oregon, the retired lady who led 4-H chapters for kids wrote a weekly column that was widely loved and quoted from. She described Boy Scout hikes looking for the elk herds in Jewell or maybe a few community service projects and the upcoming pancake social.
--At the Scappoose Spotlight one of our favorites was a retired cook who wrote a weekly recipe column with stories about her family. The online foodie community is gigantic, global and uplifting.
--Another Scappoose writer covered the church scenes, of which there are always many and every one provides significant services to their neighborhoods; they have awesome pancake socials and spaghetti nights. It is my humble opinion that pancake socials are the gold standard of a community, especially if there's sausage and the coffee's really hot.
By the way, if what you do results in people getting together physically in one room and being nice to each other, then it's successful. Period.