Tim Graham’s seven tips to a great sports blog

Tim Graham is a former ESPN reporter who currently works for the Buffalo News. He is also an adjunct professor at Canisius College, where he instructs a sports journalism class. Today’s lesson was on running a sports blog, an area he became an expert in by operating ESPN’s AFC East blog until this past summer. He has given me permission to share the lesson with you here. Follow Tim on Twitter if you don’t already.

Above all else, Tim Graham says a sports blog should be unique. Don’t rehash what everyone has already said. He points to personality, voice, unusual analysis, humor and sources as traits that make a blog unique.

Your “sources” don’t have to be high-up league officials with confidential information. Anyone who provides quality (or otherwise interesting) insight can be effective for your blog. Tim, in this example, is my “source.”

Here are his seven tips for running a successful blog, in order of importance. “If you don’t do No. 1 and No. 2, nobody’s even going to care about the other five,” he says.

1. Credibility

The standards for blogs should be the same as for journalism. Your blog is only as good as your name. If you start blowing stories, no one will trust you.

A subcategory under credibility is balance. Balanced coverage lends trustworthiness. If you cover the good along with the bad, readers feel you’re being honest with them. Tim refuses to read what he calls “homer blogs” and “hater blogs” because they don’t give you anything new or insightful. Every post promotes the same agenda and is a repeat of what that blogger has already said.

2. Over-edit

With an average sports blog, there is no editorial board. You’re the writer, copy editor, headline writer and layout editor. Your work doesn’t end when you finish writing. Read your posts two and three times before publishing.

The look of the page is also on you. Most blogging sites allow you to pick a theme, but sprucing it up is your job. Nobody expects Average Joe sports blogger to have a site that looks like the homepage for [insert your favorite professional news outlet here], but making it look attractive isn’t asking much. Lastly, follow AP Style. Don’t let the grammar and punctuation of your work — or lack thereof — distract from the meaning.

3. Be conversational

Make it fun. That can be easier said than done, but if you love what you’re covering, it should come natural. This leads into the next point…

4. Be interactive

Giving your readers a chance to talk back is a given. That’s Web 2.0 — “so 27 seconds ago,” in terms of social media. Be active on Twitter and Facebook and use comments, polls and chats to your advantage.

Tim says comments are especially important because they keep people on your page. Plus, you get more hits when people come back to your site to argue with each other. And if people visit to your site without you having to do any extra work, that’s always good.

5. Keep readers guessing

Remember in “The Mighty Ducks 2″ when Miss McKay had to coach the team and wanted them to switch lines and yelled “Change it up!”? That’s what I thought of when Tim introduced his fifth point. Throw in different types of things. Post a photo and say “hey, write a caption for this.” Audio, video, podcasts and chats are all ways to give readers something different from an average post.

Tim also noted sometimes it’s interesting to change the times of your posts with the timer function on your blog. I find that I’m always finishing up at different times of day, but if you have a routine you are in for posting, change that up too. See what your audience is like at different times of day.

6. Be a clearing house

Make your site the place to go for your topic. Link to other things that are out there (with attribution!). You can’t cover it all (especially if you’re not making any money for blogging), but if readers know your site has it all, they’ll come back for more.

Tim also mentioned how newspaper philosophy has changed over the last few years. It went from “it didn’t happen unless we report it/can confirm it” to writing the story as “so-and-so is reporting…” This makes your job as a blogger easier, because you can link to anything to tell your readers here’s what going on in the news.

7. Take chances

A great thing about the Web is that you have unlimited space. If you swing and miss, so what? Write again in 45 minutes. It’s not like the newspaper where you’re limited to so much space every day. Go big or go home, right?