After spending most of my career writing for print, I have had an epiphany since joining the staff of FORBES more than two years ago: I discovered that I was born to blog. During that time I have put up some 400 blog posts on a wide variety of subjects that together have gotten the eyeballs of more than 7.7 million visitors. I’m guessing that’s a larger audience than I reached in the previous 23 years as a journalist.
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For most of those years, I was happily self-employed. I was a syndicated columnist, newsletter editor and contributed articles to many national publications, including The New York Times, Bloomberg Wealth Manager and BusinessWeek. I also traveled all over the world and wrote about those journeys, for the travel sections of various newspapers.
Still, I spent about one-third of my working hours writing query letters trying to persuade editors to assign me stories that I proposed. If I couldn’t find a home for an article in one place, I knocked on another door. And despite solid relationships with editors at a variety of newspapers and magazines, it sometimes took several tries before I got assigned to write the story I had pitched. Nor did I always wind up with as much space as I thought the piece deserved. And if I got scooped, my story got spiked, and I didn’t always get paid.
Blogging completely liberated me from all that. It also gave me creative freedom that I never had when I was tied to print. I could write about an article I just read, an event of the day, a movie I had seen, a presentation heard at a conference or respond to a reader’s email without first having to “sell in” the story. Nor was I tied to a particular angle. The article could take shape without any risk that an editor would say I had deviated from the initial proposal.
With blogging, no material goes wasted either. Or as Nora Ephron, the writer and film maker once said (quoting her mother who died long before there was such a thing as blogging), “Everything is copy.” My post, “What To Say On LinkedIn When You’ve Been Laid Off,” was based on an interview that didn’t make it into my FORBES magazine article, “How To Get The Best Severance Deal.” Reporting for “The Best Foreign Retirement Havens,” which is what journalists call an “evergreen,” informed an article with a news peg: “Move To Canada If Romney Wins? Not So Fast.”
The immediacy of the web has also enabled me to ride the wave of reader interest in breaking news. My most popular blog post, with more than 1 million page views, “10 Things To Do When You Win The Lottery,” was written on the eve of one jackpot drawing, and has gotten additional traffic from subsequent ones. “ After The Fiscal Cliff Deal: Estate And Gift Tax Explained,” has also had a long tail. And when news of Mark Zuckerberg’s surprise wedding broke on a holiday weekend, I could get right out there with, “Mark Zuckerberg Ties the Knot, But It Isn’t All Love And Roses.”
And yet I occasionally bump up against a lingering bias in favor of print. Surprisingly, it tends to involve public relations professionals who have been engaged to promote a particular person, company or newly published book.
For example, I received a pitch in October for a forthcoming book that hits right in my sweet spot. I promptly indicated that, and said I would recommend it for the FORBES magazine “Retire Well” guide, which closed last week, and that if editors said “No” for that, I would definitely blog about it, since I thought it would interest many readers.
So far so good. Or so it seemed.
I proposed the story for Retire Well, but it didn’t fit the editorial mix. That was no problem from my perspective. But when the publicist heard the news, she wrote back saying, “I have to give print preference but will definitely keep you posted about timeline.”
Her response seemed ironic and a bit old fashioned and wrote back saying so. I also contrasted what I took to be the attitude of the publicist’s baby boomer clients (the book authors) with that of Matthew Rubinger, who I wrote about in the post, “How One Millennial With A Liberal Arts Degree Landed A Six-Figure Job.” This, too, was a story that didn’t make it into the magazine and got terrific traffic on the web. After the piece ran, Rubinger, who I “discovered,” without any help from a public relations person, was chosen for the FORBES “30 Under 30″ list. And as it happened, he had given me an exclusive.
Two days passed after I explained all this in an email to the turnabout publicist, saying that before I took the time to read her clients’ book, I wanted to know whether they would cooperate for an interview. In a separate email I indicated that she might find it enlightening to attend a Gorkana program where I will be speaking on Wednesday, along with several other FORBES staffers.
On Friday afternoon the publicist wrote back, “I definitely understand – convincing authors (especially ones growing up with hard copies of everything) that print isn’t always king is a constant part of the job!” She also offered to set up an interview with her clients. I am looking forward to it.
Deborah L. Jacobs, a lawyer and journalist, is the author of Estate Planning Smarts: A Practical, User-Friendly, Action-Oriented Guide, now available in the third edition.
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