Interview With A Pro Blogger: Sarah Perez

I’ve written previously on the idea of entrepreneurial journalism and writers as brands where I gave a few examples of successful individuals doing just that.  Today I was lucky enough to convince pro blogger Sarah Perez to give us her story and share some insights on the themes presented here.

First some quick background:  Sarah worked in IT up until 2008 when she became a full-time pro blogger.  She writes for several publications in the niche of Technology including Read Write Web, Microsoft’s Channel 10, Sticks of Fire, and The Social Geeks to name a few and also has her own blog:  sarahintampa.

Sarah represents what I believe is the future for the industry:  she’s a smart, agile writer with a deep understanding of her niche who not only makes a living off blogging, but also uses social media to it’s full potential as an enabler for success.

Now that you’ve been introduced, lets talk with Sarah:

First up can you tell me briefly how you got into writing from IT, and what was the final push that made you decide to leave the IT field completely and write full time?

I have been a blogger for a long time, starting back in the early 2000’s on Blogger, then moving to TypePad and finally to WordPress. Because I worked in I.T. at the time I began blogging, my blog’s focus naturally shifted away from being a personal site to one that discussed the latest technology, specifically Web 2.0. Blogging was just a hobby up until mid-2007 when Microsoft got in touch, asking me if I would be interested in writing for Channel 10. Of course I said yes! I began blogging for Microsoft on the weekends but kept my day job, which, at the time, was working as a systems/network engineer for a community bank here in Tampa. About 6 months into that gig, I received an email from ReadWriteWeb with another job offer. After doing the math, I realized that by working for both the Microsoft blog and RWW, I would no longer need the I.T. position to make ends meet. I turned in my notice and left the bank in early 2008 . I’ve been blogging professionally ever since.

How important do you think it is for journalists and freelancers to have their own blog/social media presence?

I think that these days, it’s more important than ever before. Social media has gotten a foothold in our society and, at the same time, the newspapers are struggling to survive. The way of the future is web-based news and that can no longer be ignored. Journalists who want to continue to deliver the news in this age of new media need to become familiar with the tools for doing so. Those include everything from blogs to Facebook profiles and certainly Twitter accounts. Old school journalists may balk at these changes, used to hiding behind their bylines and just distributing news. Today, though, the people reading the news expect to be more involved. They want to provide feedback through comments and engage in conversations surrounding the topic – whether on the site or elsewhere on social media. However, the most important reason for journalists to engage on multiple platforms is because these days you can’t expect everyone to visit a specific web site every day in order to read the news. You need to make sure that your readers see your content, no matter where they are – Facebook, Twitter, their iPhone, an RSS reader, etc.

Do you think the web is making media brands less relevant and putting people front and center? (ie, is TechCrunch really the same without Arrington?  And when we think of marketing writers, we might think of Seth Godin, a human, before a marketing trade)

That’s a tricky question because in some cases, with some people, the answer is yes – it is about the people. I know many folks who specifically follow a new media personality and would likely do so no matter where that person went. For top “A Listers” like Arrington perhaps, or Robert Scoble, I think people are just so interested in hearing what they have to say, they would follow them anywhere. I mean, just look:Scoble moved to FriendFeed in 2008 and has tens of thousands of people engaging with him there now instead of  on his blog. However, while it may be true that some people have “personalities” that get followed like this, I think the brands themselves – like TechCrunch or ReadWriteWeb – have a staying power of their own. You know what sort of news you’re going to get there and, no matter what new writers come in or leave, the type of content remains – for the most part – consistent.

You’re making a full-time living off your blog and as a contributing writer to several outlets – did the blog give you leverage to be able to score your writing gigs at high level sites such as RWW, or did your writing for those sites give you the credibility to build a reader-base at sarahintampa?

I’m not making a living off my blog but it gave me the exposure I needed to get real writing gigs at the high level sites. I’ll probably always keep it around and occasionally post there, but I can no longer keep it up the way I used to. I pretty much work all day for RWW and Microsoft. Blogging is just as much a full time job – if not more of one – than my day job ever was. At least with the day job, you could clock out and forget about it. You never really get to leave work when you’re a blogger, you just take little breaks. Because of the amount of work I do , if I tried to keep up like before, my personal life would suffer. I want to do other things besides blog!

Some people might argue you are in technology so it’s easy for you to develop your own brand of media, but that it might be difficult for say, someone interested in writing on botany to do the same.  Do you think having an understanding of the web gave you an easier path to build a career as a writer?  Do writers in all genres have this opportunity?

I think having an understanding of the web and technology makes everything easier, but I’m biased. :) I do know some people that wanted to get involved on the web and start a blog of their own but didn’t know how to or even where to begin. They will ask me for help and part of me is surprised that they can’t just type ” how to blog” into Google and be on their way. But some people are just not comfortable with technology. Still, I think that those sorts of problems are becoming more rare with every new generation. Today’s youth is very tech-savvy. I think this is really more of a concern for parts of Gen X and older. A lot of those people didn’t grow up with technology so it doesn’t come as naturally to them.

What advice would you give to students who are currently learning journalism and about to enter our fast-paced media landscape?  What steps can they take to succeed?

I’ve never been trained in journalism, so I don’t know if I have any good advice for them! I think that they will need to be highly adaptive to the changes ahead, though – their industry is rapidly shifting beneath their feet. New media isn’t going away and they will need to learn how to use the tools of today if they want to stay competitive.

How can PR evolve to work more efficiently with bloggers?  Do you find PR professionals treat you respectfully and you have positive working relationships with them, or do you think PR pros and bloggers are still working out the kinks of having beneficial, collaborative relationships?

I think there is a somewhat of a problem with PR professionals wanting to drive the news. So much of the content you see out there initially came from a news release that’s just been re-written in someone else’s words. It’s important to find bloggers or journalists whose reviews you can trust. That said, I don’t want to make blanket statements about PR. As in any industry, there are some good folks, some bad folks. What I do want to see more of are social media press releases. Bloggers need the news fast – we shouldn’t have to email the PR person and ask for images or can we please get the embed code for the video they have on their web site? All those things should be up on the press page, ready for the taking. And the sites that don’t have RSS feeds for their press releases? Ugh, don’t get me started.

Also, be sure to subscribe to Sarah’s blog and follow her on Twitter.

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