I’ve been running a news/fan blog for about 4 months now and it’s going really well (i.e., it’s making money), so I figure it’s high time I shared the things that have worked well for me so far. 

Oh, and if you like this post, please share it. It’s a beast and took a while to write. Thanks!

Where I’m coming from

So I’ve been blogging for 8.5 years now and building websites for even longer, but I’ve only been running a news blog for the past 4 months (most of my other blogging has been tip- or how-to-oriented). My news blog is Amazopia [EDIT: I have since sold Amazopia and it is under new but equally loving ownership]. It’s a blog of Amazon.com-related news and general goings-on, and I started it about 4 months ago. It’s now making a few hundred dollars a month (mostly from ads on the YouTube videos, which have gotten nearly a quarter of a million views, but also from the Amazon Associates affiliate program). And then I got an email just today from an advertising company, saying that they’ve got a client who wants to advertise on the blog. Sweet.

So things are going great. I’m obviously new to this whole news blogging thing, but now that the blog has found its footing, I feel like I can help others get to the same point.

How to [not] start a news blog

After deciding that I wanted to write a blog post about how to start a news blog, I Googled “how to start a news blog.” I sometimes like to see what other people have written on a topic before I write about it. And what I saw was a ton of generic blogging tips garbage mixed with just plain bad advice. Here are some examples (I’ve cut out some of the superfluous stuff).

Set up your blog. [And then there were a few sentences here about deciding on a color scheme, etc.]

Start writing on your news blog. [This was followed by profundity along the lines of “You can write every day or whenever you want!”]

Monetize your blog. There are many ways you can make money from your blog. You can place advertisements such as Adsense ads that pay you each time someone clicks on them, place links to affiliate products/programs that pay you a commission when you bring them a sale, or you can sell advertising space. You can even do all three if you wanted.

Oh, so all you have to do to start a news blog is set it up, write for it, and monetize it? Man, that’s easy! As you can see, that advice really, really oversimplifies things.

Here’s another juicy tidbit from a different source:

In no way can a reporter’s news blog be a collection of opinions.

Yeah, heaven forbid! The thing is, that’s what people expect from blogs: opinions. Sure, if they’re looking at a news blog they want to see what’s new, but they also want to see what you think about the new stuff that’s going on. And that’s where you can provide value, because your interest and background in your area of interest are uniquely yours.

Here’s one more choice morsel before I move on with some actual useful advice:

You need to write for it every hour. If you have a job you need to make sure you have about 5 mins every hour to put some words together.

Wow. I would go crazy if I had to do anything once an hour. This is just odd advice. Write whenever you can, duh. Prescribing one schedule for everyone is loony.

How to actually start a news blog

Hmmm... Where to start...?Alrighty, with all that other stuff out of the way, let’s move on with some good ol’ real advice. For the sake of having concrete examples to go along with what I talk about, let’s say that I’m an avid rock climber and outdoorsman and that I want to start a news blog along those lines. I’ll also be using some examples from my own experiences.

1. Choose your niche wisely. No, seriously.

Don’t do something that everyone else is already doing. For example, you’d have a rough time with a news blog that’s all about Google or Facebook, since there are already a bunch of blogs and websites out there about those companies.

Don’t go too broad. You can only keep up with so much that’s going on. I’m fairly certain that any attempt by you or me of starting a general news, Huffington Post-esque blog would not do too well. Going back to the rock climber example, starting a news blog about “the outdoors” would be a pretty daunting task for one person. (That’s not to say that you couldn’t do it along with a few other people, but that’s something I have no experience with and that’s beyond the scope of this post anyway.) “The outdoors” is just too broad of a topic.

Don’t go too narrow, either.  You don’t want to have the weight of the world on your shoulders, but you also want to make sure you’ve got stuff to write about; you need kindling for that fire. Again going with our climber example, I don’t think it would be too wise to start a news blog about, say, New Hampshire ice climbing. Why? Because ice climbing is a seasonal sport, first of all. And second, it’s just too specific. You wouldn’t have much to write about.

Be different. If there are other blogs doing what you want to do, that’s not a terrible thing. Competition is healthy, and it’s a sign that there’s enough interest in the topic, just as long as not everyone and their dog isn’t writing about it (remember the Facebook and Google example). But what can you do that everyone else can’t? Unless you can somehow do it better than the others, don’t bother. You’ll just add to the noise of the blogosphere and waste your time.

Choose something you’re interested in. Hopefully that goes without saying. I think that there are very, very few people in the world who can pull off blogging about something they’re not very much into. I know that’s the case for me, and I’ve seen it time and time again with others’ blogs. Remember, if you’re not having fun, you’ve chosen poorly.

Choose something you can make money in if your goal is indeed to make money. Now, you can make a little money in pretty much any niche, but it would be hard to make a significant amount of money off of a poetry news blog, for example.

And yes, I’ve actually had a poetry blog before. And no, it made no money, not even a little bit. In fact, I got banned by… well… That’s a story for another day.

2. Subscribe to the sources

Ok, so you’ve got your amazing niche and you’re psyched to write. But uh, so… How exactly do you find stuff to write about? Where do you get your news?

Ideally, you get it straight from the source. Let’s return to our rock climber example yet again. In the rock climbing world, a lot of the news revolves around significant new climbs being done. So to go straight the source, you could subscribe to the blogs of professional climbers and follow them on Twitter.

You could also subscribe to company blogs, websites, and Twitter feeds to get news directly from the companies in your niche.

Ideally, you’d buddy up with the newsmakers in your niche, whether they be individuals or organizations of corporations, and get your information that way. But that’s later on down the line, and we’re still talking about how to get started here.

Now you’re going to subscribe to all of the other sources of news and information in your niche. You’re going to want to subscribe to other blogs like yours (if there are any). Subscribe to applicable forum feeds. Most niches have large hub websites that include forums, articles, and so on. They also often have news feeds, so don’t forget those.

You’re going to want to subscribe to the RSS feeds or get email alerts for Google News and Google Blogs results for keywords in your niche. Just go to either of those sites, type in a term you want to track (like our climber friend could type in “rock climbing”; I use “amazon” and “amazon.com” and “publishing” for Amazopia) and scroll down to the bottom of the results page. You’ll see these options:

Google Subscriptions

And then just choose whatever form (RSS or email) you want.

I keep track those feeds and the feeds of the industry blogs I’ve subscribed to in Google Reader.

3. Aggregate, baby!

If you can’t break news—that is, if you can’t be the first person to report a new story—it’s not the end of the world. I haven’t broken much news at Amazopia, but I am good at sifting through all of the Amazon-related material and compiling the best stuff. Bring together all of your different sources and make sure you cover everything. Be the best darn collector and aggregator of news you can be.

4. Facts are boring

Remember how earlier I talked about the importance of your opinion? Yeah. It really is important. It makes your blog unique and more interesting. Don’t just state the facts about such-and-such new product. State whether you think it will fail or succeed. Talk about what you think are the good and bad points of it. Discuss where the new product fits in the broader scheme of things. Is it setting a trend or following one?

Let’s go back to our climber friend again. The readers of the rock climbing blog don’t really care about the thickness of the rubber on that sick new pair of climbing shoes. They’re going to want to know why this pair of climbing shoes matters when there are already a billion others already out there. Put your thinking cap on and go to work.

5. There’s more to news blogs than news

News blogs these days aren’t one dimensional. They’re multifaceted entities. Sure, we’re calling them news blogs, but there’s more that you can talk about besides the latest news (especially on slow news days/weeks.

Variety is the spice of life and blogging, so throw some videos, infographics, and how-to articles into the mix. Post pictures and photo galleries. Write opinion pieces.

Here’s an example of a video I recorded and posted last week for Amazopia that isn’t news. I just talk about the different on-screen keyboard configurations for the Kindle Fire.

Final words

Whew. By now you’re probably either jonesing to start your own news blog or horrified at the prospect. Excellent. My job here is done, then.

If you want more where this came from, be sure to read an earlier post of mine Reflections on My First Three Months of Running a News/Fan Blog.

This blog post is by no means comprehensive. And as I said earlier, I’m by no means a pro at this news blogging thing, and super important things like marketing your news blog are far beyond the scope of this blog post. But hopefully you can find these lessons and tips useful. If you made it this far and read the whole post, you’re a gentleman (or lady) and a scholar, and I commend you.

Good luck with your news blog! (And again, it’d be great if you would share this post.)

  • What questions do you have about starting a news blog or a fan blog?
  • What other tips do you have for people interested in starting a news blog?
  • Do you have any questions for me about Amazopia?
  • What do you like to see (or not like to see) on news blogs?