This is a blog for the local Southeast Michigan Sierra Club, so we’ll be following Sierra Club guidelines. First: See User Submissions section of Sierra Club’s Terms and Conditions at: http://www.sierraclub.org/website/terms/index.asp#submissions.
For a more complete idea of how to comply with the laws and rules involving 501C3 and 501C4 funding, you might want to download the pdf document “Sierra Club Compliance Guidelines.” The website hosting for this site is free and the content is almost all provided by unpaid volunteers. Since, generally speaking, no funds whatsoever are used in this blog/website, these rules will not be relevant. If a Sierra Club paid staff person provides material for the website, they will have to comply with the rules.
With those restrictions being noted, we can get to some guidelines for making a blog entry based on practical considerations for good writing.
An article for the SEMG blog should be mainly about explaining an issue to the audience, and it should mainly be factual. The selection of facts will of course be about environmental consequences, because this is a Sierra Club blog.
The audience will be mostly Sierra Club members who will generally be on the side of the environment versus suburban sprawl, industrial development, pollution, climate change and so on. Most of the rest of the audience, even if they are not Sierra Club members, will also generally be on the side of the environment or at least willing to give the argument for the environment a hearing, just because they are reading a Sierra Club blog.
Now, somewhere in the article, locically toward the end, there can be a paragraph or two for people who want to learn more about the issue and/or do something about the issue. That may be a reference to a website that focuses on the issue, contact information for a person or group focused on the issue, or a schedule of community meetings about the issue. If, for instance, there is a website that shows several upcoming meetings, regularly scheduled demonstrations or the like, that would be a good site for a link in the article.
We would not want an article to say or imply that the Sierra Club endorses an action which the Sierra Club has not formally endorsed. Petitioning to ban fracking in Michigan has actually been endorsed by the Sierra Club, for instance. That took months of discussion and voting in various layers of internal Sierra Club organization. For that matter, you might say it took years, because the Sierra Club did not endorse the petitioning before 2015.
The general tone of an article should be consistent with; here’s a local issue or event that Sierra Club members should find interesting; here’s the facts and/or history of the issue; and here’s how to follow up.
A photo or graphic to accompany the article could be of people demonstrating about the issue; a crowd at a community meeting, hearing, etc., or a person speaking at such a meeting with a crowd in the background; a cartoon on the issue; a scenic photograph of an oil well next to suburban homes; a scenic photograph, period, possibly with people hiking, conoing, etc; or – well, there a lot of possibilities, as long as the photo or graphic is somehow appropriate to the article, and not infringing on copyright.
The best way for an article to appear on the blog is for the person who writes it to become an “author” (in WordPress terminology) on the site. This is best explained by the document: https://en.support.wordpress.com/user-roles/, which says, “An Author can create, edit, publish, and delete only their own posts, as well as upload files and images. Authors do not have access to create, modify, or delete pages, nor can they modify posts by other users. Authors can edit comments made on their posts.”
if you want to become an author or an editor on this blog, contact Art Myatt, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doing the first post, once it is written, may take a little coaching, if you’ve never done it before. This could be taken care of in a meeting in a library or coffe shop with a good Wi-fi connection, where we bring our laptops. It takes about an hour to show someone how to post the basic text, create a live link, insert a photograph, embed a YouTube video, do some basic formatting and insert the “continue reading” tag.
The advantage of doing it this way is that the author could follow up with a related article a month or two later; can reply to comments made on the original or on follow-up articles, and so on. The WordPress system is set up to keep track of articles by the same author, so there are some long-term benefits to doing things this way.
For someone who just wants to write one article without the bother of registering as an author, any editor (there are several) can of course post the article. in that case, we would want the article to include a short explanation of who the author is, since the website will treat it as an article originating from the person who posted it.
Other general guidelines: Put the gist of the article in the first several sentences. This is the journalism rule which is sometimes summarized as putting who, how, what, why and when in the first paragraph. Blog articles will, as a general rule, need to have the “Read More” tag inserted after the first paragraph or so. This is useful in allowing the visitor to see the beginning of several posts quickly, and to continue with whichever one strikes him as most interesting.
Then there is a rule of writing that may have come from George Orwell or Ernest Hemingway: Break up long sentences into several short, simple ones. Following this rule won’t make you into an orwell or a Hemingway. It will make your writing easier to read.
Keep paragraphs short, because this works best on the internet, especially when someone is reading the story on a smartphone or small tablet. Shoot for 1000 words or less, total, for the same reason.
And tell some kind of story – someone did something, and someone reacted, and something resulted. Don’t worry too much about over-simplifying the story, because clarification and complexity can be part of the links or the comments to the article or both. Of course, not every article is good for some king of story, but those that do are generally more interesting.
It’s probably best if articles are published while the topic is timely.
This is the second draft of rules for Sierra Club blog authors, so it may change in the future as we get more experience with it.