This guest post on writing about politics is by Allen McDuffee governmentality.
While it’s an exciting time to write about politics, bloggers who ordinarily don’t write about politics can easily be intimidated by just the thought of it. Can I write authoritatively about the subject? Do I know all sides of the issue? What if my readers know more about the subject than I do? What if I don’t have all the facts?
There certainly are some risks involved but if you get it right, the potential rewards can range from sparking a heated debate to informing your readers about something important to testing the waters on going a little off the beaten path in the future.
These 7 tips can help avert disaster and build your confidence to write on politics.
1) Keep it simple and stay focused. It’s easy to get caught up in every detail about a particular issue, especially if this is one of your only political posts and you feel like you need to get it all out. Do your best to simplify the post as much as possible. If your readers are interested, you can always tease out some of the nuances in the comments section. Or, if there is real interest, you can write follow-up posts.
Think about your organizing principal. Are you writing about an organization, an issue, a law, a policy, a budget…Or has your mayor gone just too far and it’s time to let him or her have it? Whichever it is, the best thing you can do is focus on that primary subject. Focus on the exact reason the issue is important to your readers, who the key players are, and what the potential outcome is. Once you’re done, edit away anything that isn’t necessary—this is precisely the time good editing skills come in the handiest.
2) Keep writing in your voice. When you’re out of your comfort zone, it’s really easy to take on the voice of the subject matter rather than you’re own. Fight this the best you can—your readers notice! On more than one occasion when I’ve written about subjects that I knew would be important to my readers but weren’t exactly comfortable, I received reader emails asking if somebody else wrote the post or why I was dispassionate (unfortunately, politics writing has a higher propensity for getting boring). Work hard to make it your own and what your readers are used to seeing from you stylistically. Again, editing comes in very handy here and this might be the time to put yourself back into your post.
3) Make sure your audience knows why it’s relevant to them right away. This is good advice for any post, but more than ever your first line or two need to be carefully crafted. If readers aren’t used to seeing politics posts on your blog, you should help them understand why it’s there. And right away! Try tying it into a previous post you’ve written. Or express outrage that your readers would likely share. If they don’t get why it’s for them right away, you run the risk of them skipping it. Or worse: they’ll think you’re shifting focus and that it’s not “their” blog anymore.
4) Get an official statement. This sounds daunting, but you don’t always have to call a press officer to get one. Almost every governmental agency posts dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of press releases on their website each week. If you write about technology, look at the FCC website. If you’re writing a post about your city’s school system, look at the Department of Education website. You don’t have to agree with the statement, but using it lends credibility to your post and your readers will know exactly what you’re standing for (or against), officially.
5) Use video to launch your argument. Sometimes all the background knowledge required to write a good politics post can scare bloggers with otherwise good ideas away. Let seasoned reporters take that pressure off of you. News agencies like Reuters [http://www.reuters.com/news/video] provide fairly well balanced reporting pieces in video that you can embed in your post. You can always add a line or two to cover a part of the story they left out. Now you have the reporting foundation to carry out your viewpoint.
6) Use a picture to spruce up your post. The great thing about writing on political issues is that you can use photographs from governmental websites on your blog because you’ve already paid for them in taxes. Not only does it dress up your post, but it also connects a name with a face. There are lots of times your readers will know who somebody is from television or the newspaper, but can’t remember their name–a picture would be a good reminder and adds another level of why the post is relevant to them.
7) Check to see if you’ve reached the outcome you wanted.
- Was it your intention to be strictly informative? If so, did you give as much information as possible with links to resources?
- Were you calling people to political action or some type of advocacy? If so, was it clear what position you were advocating and what you hope your readers will do?
- Or are you just trying to open up a true debate on a topic your community faces? If so, what have you outlined the tough questions?
These tips might not make you Andrew Sullivan, but who wants to post every 90 seconds anyway?
Allen McDuffee writes on politics for places like The Nation, Mother Jones and New York Observer. Allen is currently working on a book project, No Child Left Unrecruited, and blogs at governmentality. He lives in Brooklyn.