Susannah Gardner, author of Buzz Marketing with Blogs for Dummies [LexBlog Q & A]

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Our first LexBlog Q & A of the week focuses less on the law and more on blogs: the impact they’re having on journalism, how they’ve changed in recent years, and how authors manage to keep up with the industry.

To guide us through the maze is Susannah Gardner, author of the 2005 how-to book Buzz Marketing With Blogs for Dummies (one of the staples of our in-house library here at LexBlog’s Seattle office). Susannah, who recently wrote the second edition of Blogging For Dummies, works at the Vancouver-based web design copy Hop Studios.

1. Rob La Gatta: From 1997-2003, you taught online publishing to journalism students at USC. Did you see students graduating from journalism school there with an understanding of new media’s importance?

Susie Gardner: Yes and no. Within the faculty of the school at that time, there was still a lot of resistance to including new media in every class, or even in most of them. And not just resistance – there were plenty of people who had had long and distinguished careers in journalism when new media had not been part of it, and so I think there was mixed message teaching at that point, where the students in some classes were hearing “new media is it, this is what its all about,” and in other classes hearing “newspapers are never going to go away.”

The students who were able to deal with that conflict left in pretty good hands, but I’m sure we also graduated people who ended up taking positions on either side of the fence and who weren’t particularly prepared for new media.

2. Rob La Gatta: Is it even necessary, then, to continue attending journalism school, when so many of these skills are self-taught and can just be done from home with an Internet connection?

Susie Gardner: That question has been around for a long time, even before citizen journalism came about. There have always been people who believe that journalism school isn’t necessary, that you can become a journalist and a good reporter by doing…many top journalists took that route, and in a lot of ways I agree: people can become excellent journalists without having to attend journalism school. I don’t think that’s changed at all.

But I do think it teaches some really good solid skills that, if journalism is your career choice, it’s not a waste of time at all: it’s going to give you skills that you will find useful and key, no matter if you end up in a new media newsroom or if you end up in a more traditional organization.

3. Rob La Gatta: When did you first have the idea to write “Buzz Marketing with Blogs for Dummies,” and what sparked it?

Susie Gardner: I started kicking around the idea of doing a book about blogging in early 2004, and pitched a “Blogging for Dummies” book to Wiley (the publisher of the “Dummies” series). They felt, at the time, that the market wasn’t ready for a “Blogging for Dummies” book, but that we could maybe position something aimed at business and organizational marketing folks. I actually agreed with that, the idea that business was going to be one of the big focuses and uses for blogging. So we worked together at that point to develop a book that was going to end up on the business shelf as opposed to the consumer technology shelf, and was designed to be used by marketing folks and by communications people or CEOs, or whoever needed to do marketing using a blog or marketing on a blog.

And actually, the timing of that worked out great…early 2005 was when the idea of business blogging really took off.

4. Rob La Gatta: When you look back at the first edition of the book, do you see a lot of information that’s no longer relevant? Or is most of it still applicable?

Susie Gardner: I’m actually pleasantly surprised by the amount of information that is still valid. Partly, I think that’s because when I was writing the book, there was a constant struggle in my head about, “I’m going to write this down, but it’s going to be outdated, even before the book hits the shelf.” And I had conversations with people who were going to be featured in the screenshots or used as an example, who would say things like, “Well, I might change this facet of my blog that you’re showing.”

You just sort of realize after a while that if you’re writing about the Internet in a book, it’s going to be outdated, and people will (hopefully) understand that that’s the case. But in general, I think the basics and the principles are still solid…the chapters on ethics, and law, and the basic marketing approaches are still valid.

5. Rob La Gatta: What do you know now about the art of blogging that you wish you knew when you first started?

Susie Gardner: I wish I’d realized that it’s okay when you start a blog to not intend to keep it around forever. I think a lot of people get into the situation where they start a blog, they’re really excited about it, they write it for a while, and it sort of dies a slow death…they lose interest or their priorities change, but they feel like they can’t just stop writing the blog. I wish I’d realized that it’s okay to start a blog for a short-term project and have an end date on which you’re going to stop publishing it.

I also don’t think I realized at the time just how pervasive [blogging] was going to be, and that it was going to change the way that all kinds of people build websites. Hop Studios is a web design company, and 3 or 4 years ago we got a lot of inquiries about brochure-type websites: people wanted to put up 5 or 6 pages and never touch it again.

These days, that’s a very rare request. People want something dynamic, something that’s going to be updated…it may not be a blog, but the idea that you need a website that is active and refreshed and current has really trickled down to everybody.

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