The July 2009 Blogger in the Spotlight is Esther J. Cepeda of 600 Words.

Blogger in the Spotlight is a monthly series where Newstex 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 is with Esther J. Cepeda who is an opinion journalist and expert on the issues of U.S. Hispanics/Latinos. She writes about that and much, much more on www.600words.com.

cepeda_1Newstex: How did you get started writing your current blog?

Esther J. Cepeda:
I was a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times when the print media industry started to melt down because of the migration of advertising dollars to the internet.

When the newspaper had its second round of mass layoffs I was let go and the city lost the only metro columnist who regularly wrote about Hispanic and Latino issues, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from reporting and opining on news, sports, and culture. So instead of mourning the loss of my printed perch, I decided to keep writing on-line where all the action is anyway.

Newstex: What makes your blog unique?

Esther J. Cepeda:
“600 Words” is unique because its foundation is laid on first-hand reporting of stories that are unique and relevant to a mainstream audience – news, politics, sports – yet also focused on Chicago and on Hispanics, who comprise such a large share of the internet traffic these days.

My readers – who write to me from all over the country and are young, old, black, white, Hispanic, male and female – honor me with comments such as “you tell it like it is,” “you’re never boring,” and “why isn’t everyone talking about this?”

Newstex: To what do you attribute your blog’s success?

Esther J. Cepeda:
Recently, the Chicago Community Trust commissioned the Community Media Workshop to rank local on-line news publications (exclusive of the web sites of major mainstream media outlets) and named “600 Words” number 19 on a list of 60 Chicago-based news, information, and opinion providers.

“600 Words” has enjoyed such success in a relatively short timeframe. People read me because I’m a trusted journalist and media personality who delivers unique, compelling and entertaining content that many times is completely ignored in the mainstream media.

Also, I stay visible by promoting each blog post through various social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook, and by sending out a weekly email to approximately 7,000 media types, community organizations, and fans.

Newstex: What are the top 3 tips you can give to bloggers looking to develop successful blogs?

Esther J. Cepeda:
Developing a successful blog requires a long-term commitment of passion, time, and financial resources.

  1. You have to be inspired and pour your passion out in your content frequently and on a schedule your readers can learn and then rely on year in and year out.
  2. You have to put the time into really researching your content, making it engaging, and then polishing it by letting others edit or react to it before publishing it live. This level of professionalism requires a sizeable time commitment and the responsibility to never cut corners.
  3. To make a blog look and feel professional, invest in paid professionals who can help you attain a unique design for your site while still using common blogging software, and professionals who can help you with both aligning your visual brand to other social media tools and executing search engine optimization for your blog posts.

Newstex: What is the best thing that has happened to you as a result of your work on your blog?

Esther J. Cepeda: I’ve been on TV, on the radio, featured in magazine and newspaper articles, had my columns reprinted and re-posted across the country, been offered speaking engagements and had publishers express interest in me writing a book.

Newstex: What inspires you to keep blogging?

Esther J. Cepeda:
My inspiration comes from the satisfaction I get when I tell a person’s story, or throw light on an otherwise ignored subject, and the subject subsequently gets the attention it deserves in the mainstream media.

Newstex: What are your favorite blogs and why?

Esther J. Cepeda:
I love Chicago’s “Beachwood Reporter” because of the biting media analysis the editor Steve Rhodes delivers daily.

I love “Taking a Second Look” by Jack Spatafora because of the homespun, folksy observations.

And I love “Back Garage” (“a virtual museum dedicated to all things beautiful on a budget”) because of the gorgeously curated garage sale finds.

Newstex: What effects do you think blogging will have on traditional media?  How about on your industry?

Esther J. Cepeda: Blogging has already changed traditional media by forcing reporters to write in more engaging and reader-centric styles, and to be accountable to readers by providing them with a forum to react to their stories.

Blogs will continue to change media by raising the bar on content written by true experts in their fields, rather than content provided by someone whose professional training is in the reporting of information. This is not to say that the solid foundation of journalism is not a requirement of good news, but we are entering an era of authors who bring authentic expertise to their content.

Newstex: At what point did you decide to syndicate your blog with Newstex and why?

Esther J. Cepeda:
I decided to syndicate “600 Words” with Newstex immediately after launch because it was important to me that my content be vetted and that I could differentiate my work as professional journalism. I also wanted to ensure that my work could be indexed to news databases and also distributed to news websites across the country.

I feel the Newstex credential has really given me a stamp of approval as a trusted news source to those who might not have known me from my previous work at the Chicago Sun-Times.

Newstex: What’s next for you and your blog?

Esther J. Cepeda: In the next year I’d like to see “600 Words” be featured in more print publications. On-line, I’d like to add more audio and video features to the content. Off-line, I’d love for a book deal to come through. No matter what, I’m going to continue bringing passion and fun to all I do.

Esther J. Cepeda’s Bio:

With a diverse background in journalism, education, and marketing Esther J. Cepeda is one of Chicago’s most prominent and thought-provoking media personalities, as well as an esteemed public figure within the Hispanic community. After joining the Chicago Sun-Times in 2006, Ms. Cepeda became Chicago’s first Latino metro columnist where she covered news, politics and sports. Prior to this, she reported on political and social issues at a local and national level, for various Illinois newspapers and magazines across the country. Currently serving as the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, Cepeda writes the ‘600 Words’ column (www.600words.com), which is distributed nationally through NewsTex, a news content provider, and syndicated on HuffingtonPost.com, as well as translated and posted on the “Migrantes” blog of El Universal, Mexico’s national newspaper. Ms. Cepeda has been a frequent radio and television contributor on local and national outlets including Fox News Channel, The O’Reilly Factor, CNN Headline News, Chicago Public Radio, the nationally syndicated Jerry Doyle Show, Chicago Tonight, Telemundo and has been published as a guest op-ed columnist in newspapers across the country, including the Sacramento Bee, the Orlando Sentinel and the Chicago Tribune.