As you may already know, I am from North Jersey. Since I live and travel into New York so frequently, I follow the New York History Blog. This blog has tasked itself with not only retelling New York history, but to be a platform and database for those looking for historical sites, or events throughout the state.
The blog’s similarity to my project here on New Jersey’s Historical Suitcase led me to contact the blog’s creator, John Warren. I wanted to learn about his perspectives and experiences on the path he took to create the New York History Blog.
John Warren grew up in Rensselaer County, New York. A lot of his early years were spent exploring the Adirondack Mountains. He began writing at an early age, founding an underground newspaper in high school, and worked with various papers in college. He graduated with B.A. in History and Anthropology, and later an M.A. in Public History both with SUNY Albany. After college, he worked many years in documentary television, in which much of his work has been aired on the likes of the Discovery Channel the History Channel.
Now 48 years old, he currently runs two blogs. The first blog he created in 2005 is the Adirondack Almanack. A few years later in 2008, he created the New York History Blog.
The Adirondack Almanack focuses on the news, history, and culture around the Adirondack Mountains region. Warren states that it was the first publication of its kind that covered the region and quickly morphed into a leading news source for the Adirondacks.
Warren created the New York History Blog because, “there was no place on the web for members of the New York State History Community to share successes and challenges, and to learn about what others were doing, events, new publications, and other “public history” news.”
Mr. Warren explained to me that the biggest challenge in maintaining the blog is finding time. The task of writing or editing two stories a day, running the site and communicating with contributors all end up being a challenge.
During the New York History Blog’s run, a few interesting things have happened because of its exposure to the public. The blog ran a story that publicized that New York State History day was no longer being celebrated. The state was eventually persuaded into renewing the program.
Additionally, the position of New York State Historian became a full-time position in the state government. The blog wrote about the issue that the position was a part-time position, and was left with few resources to perform efficiently. The state government decided to reform the position after the publicity.
Warren provided me with a number of tips for writing a successful blog. Having a “brand” is very important. Warren believes the success of a blog is all about “attracting an audience,” specifically that readers should know “what to expect when they visit.”
He also advises that you should “stay focused on a topic.” While you shouldn’t refrain from speaking your mind, do not forget the journalistic ethics of being “fair and accurate.” Additionally, he added that it is important to be serious about being a journalist and to utilize the press releases of organizations.
“Cultivate contributors to lend their voices,” Warren recommended. He stressed the importance of a blog creator reaching out and requesting help from others. “Be involved in the community you’re writing about.”
Lastly, “publish several times every day to keep readers coming back,” Warren added. “Publishing two or three stories a day will give most readers at least one or two stories they might be interested in since they last visited.”
However, one problem for blogs is paying for them because securing ad revenue is difficult if you do not have a large following. While crowdfunding has become a great remedy for this issue, it doesn’t solve the problem. Many blogs have a dependency on volunteers.
Looking towards the future of the industry, Warren believes that blogs are a primary location for people interested in reading about certain subjects, and for experts to divulge into them. Warren also believes local blogs are in a great position because they can inform communities while being at the heart of the news to understand the context.
Personally, interviewing John Warren has left me more motivated. I get baffled looks from friends and family because of the academic path I took with history and journalism. Warren chose a similar path, and his work has had traction and influence in the industry.
It gives me hope that I could do the same by using my knowledge of history in a journalistic context. New Jersey’s Historical Suitcase is one of my first steps towards that path.
Until next time, see you later!