Time for a new edition of the monthly series called Blogger in the Spotlight where Newtex turns the spotlight on our publishers with in-depth interviews that give you a glimpse into the stories, tips and secrets of successful bloggers and content producers.
This month’s interview provides a glimpse into the world of political blogging. Newstex spoke with the founder and sole author of Above Average Jane, a blog dedicated to the progressive politics in Pennsylvania, particularly in the greater Philadelphia region. The author is a mother of two who writes anonymously under the pen-name Jane. She has been blogging since November of 2004.
In the days before the Pennsylvania primary in 2008, Above Average Jane featured an in-depth interview with a staffer in the political campaign of Barack Obama. During this interview, Newstex asked Jane about how she landed this interview, what first got her blogging, where blogging is headed and much more.
Newstex: I’m curious how you came up with the title for your blog, Above Average Jane, what inspired that?
Jane: A friend of mine suggested that I might pick up blogging, and I decided to do that, and I decided rather quickly – you know, I was trying to think of a title…and I had an opportunity to meet President Bush a few years ago, before I started blogging, and the reason that I was picked for that is because I was average. I was a just a person off the street basically, and – but if you do things because you’re average, then at some point, you lose you’re average, then at some point you lose your average-ness, if that makes any sense.
Newstex: Kind of like the magic of being unoriginal? Like that?
Jane: Yeah. [she laughs] Something like that…implying that I had no particular credentials, but the fact that I was doing this and there were very few women bloggers at the time.
Newstex: So, you said you got picked for that event because you were an average person. Did you end up meeting with Bush?
Jane: I did meet with him. I actually had a picture taken with him. I did not know if I could bring a camera to this event, so I brought a disposable, and one of the people I ran into was actually someone of some note, and he hadn’t brought a camera, so he asked the President for a picture, and since I had the camera, I got to be in the picture too.
Newstex: So, you started your blog in 2004, and did your blog turn out the way you intended it to, or did it sort of take on a life of its own?
Jane: Well, when I first started out I didn’t necessarily know a lot about local politics. I was interested, but I didn’t really know a lot, and as I went on, I started going out to political events and I started doing email interviews with candidates, and, you know I found some niches that I hadn’t really known were out there. There weren’t that many people writing on state-level politics – state house races, state senate races; unless it was a hotly contested race, it doesn’t really get a lot of press, so that’s an area I could focus on.
Newstex: What do you think makes for a popular blog post?
Jane: Well, if you can find something that other people don’t have – there are some local political blogs that are written by people who are committee people, who serve as a political committee person for a board or a district, so they have inside information that they might allude to or they might post. There are other people who might have been active in the political community who have a lot of background and can bring a sense of history. There are other people that can get out more. They go to a lot of events; they cover a wider geographic territory, so they kind of have that niche where they can go out and report on a lot more events. I tend to have kind of a mix. I tend to do email interviews and those can be lengthy. The longest email interview I had was 11 pages…a newspaper is not going to let people talk as long as they want about anything that they want, and I tell people that I don’t edit their answers except for very obvious spelling errors, so if someone wants to go on and on and on about a topic, they can. That’s something a candidate is not going to get anywhere else.
You find something that you can offer that maybe somebody else can’t for whatever reason. You figure out what your strength is and you go with it, and if it’s an odd strength, maybe other people will find it interesting.
Also, what is popular in the short run is not always what is popular in the long run. Bloggers who want a long run should try to balance both, as far as such things can be balanced. For the short run timely or unusual topics are best. For the long run trying to find a niche that no one else has staked out or finding unusual ways of looking at something will often guarantee some audience, though not necessarily a large one.
Newstex: What effects do you think blogging will have on the traditional news media?
Jane: Good question. Blogging, at least political blogging, can’t exist without the traditional news media. The traditional news media can exist without us, but I think bloggers can complement them with posts on local races that are too small to entice the larger papers or provide longer entries than the papers can. We can certainly provide PR for radio, TV, and papers by mentioning and linking to their broadcasts and articles, and steering people towards them. In some state house races the best or sometimes only press a candidate can get is on a local political blog.
Newstex: Which blogs/bloggers do you admire most and why?
Jane: Time does not allow me to read all the blogs I would like. Most of the ones I read are also Pennsylvania political blogs. Gort at gort42.blogspot.com and ACM at asmokefilledroom.blogspot.com come to mind. John Micek’s Capitol Ideas, from the Allentown Morning Call is a daily read. They are all well-written, informative and tend to take the high road.
Newstex: If you’ve been writing solo for a while, have you been tempted to collaborate with other bloggers? If you’ve already got a team of writers for your blog, how did you go about building that team?
Jane: It’s really nice to have your own shop. Much of the workaday world and almost everything relating to kids is collaborative in some way. Having one corner of the universe that is mine alone is a treat.
Newstex: At what point did you decide to syndicate with Newstex?
Jane: After they asked me politely about three times and put an anonymity clause in the contract…in fact somebody asked me today about Newstex. Every once in a while I get an email from a blogger saying, “hey, I see you work with these people, what are they like? What do you get out of this? Would you recommend them?”
Newstex: If you don’t mind my asking, what do they say?
Jane: [laughs] Well I always tell them that I have actually earned a little money and that I’ve found the Newstex people to be reliable, dependable and trustworthy, and they did put the anonymity clause in for me, and just the fact that I’m in there gives me a little more credibility especially when I’m emailing with congressional candidates or an ambitious state house or state senate candidate who intends to go on for greater things. If I tell them the blog is included in LexisNexis, that’s a selling point in some cases. I’m not sure I would have gotten the Obama interview if that weren’t the case.
Newstex: Actually, I’m glad you brought it back around to that, because I meant to ask, I think you said in your email to me that you spent four months trying to get a response from the Obama campaign, but that eventually you got a hefty one.
Jane: Well, that’s as long as it takes for anybody to get my questions back. I usually spend about ten hours preparing questions. I tell people up front, these are not fluff questions. This is not the “why are you running for office?” type of question. This is the “in 1998, in this publication you said this. What did you mean by that? You’ve switched parties three times. Why did you do that?”…so, I don’t do fluffy questions…and it usually takes people about three or four months to get them back to me. I will nag them twice, and after that, I stop.
Newstex: Do you just send them an email, or does it take a personal connection to get a response?
Jane: Jane has no personal connections. Occasionally I talk to people on the phone, but it’s usually people I’ve been emailing with for over a year and there’s some reason we need to speak in a non-traceable format, but other than that I don’t talk to people on the phone and I don’t meet people in person.
Sometimes candidates approach me, sometimes I approach candidates, and I am very very pleased to say that Obama’s campaign got in touch with me, so I got an email…well they were looking for Pennsylvania bloggers and it was the Women for Obama part of the campaign that got in touch with me, and if you’re looking for women political bloggers in Pennsylvania, that is not an especially long list…so they got in touch with me and they wanted to know if they could put me on their mailing list, and it was basically a “what other kind of interactions can we have?” and I said, ‘well, I’ve done these interviews, the blog is in LexisNexis, here is a link to the interviews that I did in 2006, here’s a link to all the interviews I did in 2007, so you can see what you’re getting into…’ With the Obama campaign I nudged them twice, and I had kind of given up…but they did come through with the answers to my questions a few days before the primary.
Newstex: But, clearly there’s a reason why your name came up. Do you think it’s just being out there, going to events…and your name starts to get known at the local level and that’s how you ended up on the Obama campaign’s list?
Jane: I’m on some blog rolls. I’m on the Politics PA blogroll. I’m on the National Council of State Legislatures blogroll, and it depends on what audience you’re going for. I mean, the Pennsylvania suburbs are going to be a key battleground, and we really need to reach out to women voters…if you parse it down that far…I can count one other blogger, and she focuses on national politics.
Newstex: How do you market your blog? Any gems of wisdom of how to drive traffic?
Jane: If I see interesting like-minded blogs I will sometimes send an email introducing myself and complimenting the blogger on his or her work. It’s a good way to make friends and perhaps get a notice in their blog. If you have a good niche then you are likely to be on blogrolls for related areas. Like most “long tail” bloggers I watch traffic and usage stats which give me an idea of what political races have a lot of interest and what topics people are looking for.
Newstex: Advertising – do you take it or not? Are there other ways you making money from your blog?
Jane: There does not seem to be any way of making good money from a small blog. I don’t take ads because there isn’t a cost effective to do that while writing under a pseudonym; the bloggers with the same size blog who do take ads seem to earn about what I do from Newstex.
Newstex: How do you think blogging and online publishing will impact the industry that you write on?
Jane: Smaller, geographically focused political blogs provide an outlet for candidates and information for voters that were not previously available.
Newstex: What do you think makes your blog as successful as it has been?
Jane: Over the weekend I try to plan out, to a general extent, what blog entries will be posted that week. Long posts tend to take weeks if not months to put together and the shorter ones hold things together between the meatier ones. It helps to have good organizational habits like that so you don’t sit down at the keyboard that night with no idea what to write. Building a reputation for trustworthiness will bring both on and off the record bits of information that allow you to provide better background. The highest compliment I’ve received, and from people on both sides of the aisle, is that I’m fair.
Newstex: Do you get regular comments on your blog posts? How do you interact with people who comment on your ideas?
Jane: My blog posts seldom inspire a lot of comments but there are blogs or sites that link to my posts regularly. There is a lot of behind the scenes that happens mostly on email. Sometimes people will read a post and email me about it. A few thoughtful comments or emails are better than hundreds of unrelated or mean-spirited comments.