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Student bloggers turn hobbies into professional portfolios

Madeline Cruz

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Meghan McAllister started her life and style blog, Lincoln Park Minute, in January 2015. At first it was just a place for her to share her love for fashion, but her blog has since evolved with her. She said she has stepped away from just her personal style and now focuses more on adult content such as home décor as well as beauty, hair and skin care.

Although the blogging world is changing and possibly headed to social media platforms instead of traditional websites, student bloggers continue to write and post about their passions and hobbies as a way of sharing who they are to their audience and to potential employers.

McAllister is a DePaul senior majoring in public relations and advertising and minoring in communications and media. She sees her blog as a portfolio and a great place to show work samples. She said it can be difficult for college students to show their personality through a cover letter and resume.

Matt Ragas is the academic director of the Master of Arts (MA) in Public Relations and Advertising program and an associate professor in the College of Communication. In some of his classes, Ragas assigns students to create their own blogs that they then present in class.

“I just like assignments that exist beyond the classroom or are not limited to just class, but students can use in their portfolio and just to have a broader conversation with other folks besides students in the class,” Ragas said.   

Ragas said blogs are a great way for young professionals to show their interests and that they are passionate about different topics and can develop an expertise in ways that go beyond the classroom. He also said blogging can also help them improve their writing and editing skills.

In addition to her blog, McAllister has social media accounts connected to her blog where she posts content. She said her Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are also her personal accounts as well because her blog is a part of her identity.

A challenge McAllister said she has faced is trying to get people to click on a website to get views on her blog. “I think the future of blogging is Instagram only,” McAllister said.

According to New York Magazine, Instagram’s “uncomplicated design and tightly curated feed make it more than just a photo app — it’s also one of the more potent blogging spaces around.”

McAllister has her biggest following on Instagram with a little over 23,000 followers. She predicts people will create appealing Instagram feeds and include content in the captions of photos and not bother to create a whole website.

Ragas said there has been an evolution with the web from longer to shorter form and visual or multimedia content, so blogging is very different from how it was 15, 10 or even five years ago. However, he said the shorter forms do not necessarily show off the same skills.

Although many bloggers are moving their blogs to Instagram, there are still some who want to continue blogging the traditional way. Natalie Reehl started her food blog the-hungry-sloth in 2010 as a way to document her life, the city of Chicago and good places to eat. “My family has always been really adventurous eaters, we really like to eat as an experience and kind of celebrate everything with going out to dinner somewhere,” Reehl said.

She is a DePaul senior majoring in communications and media, and she is in the five-year program on track to receive her master’s degree in advertising. In addition to her blog, Reehl is also the social media coordinator and one of the founders for Spoon University at DePaul.

In 2013, she said she bought her own domain through Tumblr, so now it is a site they can run advertising through.

Reehl said she tried to make an Instagram account for her blog, but she prefers traditional media and having just her website. “This blog has been something I’ve been so close to for so long and the thought of moving it to Instagram or something that’s so promotional I don’t think I could do that,” Reehl said.

She said she prefers her hobbies not become her work and promotes her blog through her personal Instagram because it is more authentic. “I focus on keeping it an enjoyable aspect of my life,” Reehl said. “I don’t want it to become doing things for money or sponsorship.”

However, Reehl said she does talk about her blog at interviews because it is a good display of seven years of work. She said she wants employers to see that blogging involves a lot of networking and incorporates technical elements such as writing, editing, photography skills and web design.

One of the biggest mistakes young people make, Ragas said, is that they launch a blog but then do not maintain it because then it seems that they do not have enough commitment or persistence. Ragas said even though the platforms are changing, there’s still a lot of value in maintaining a blog that can be used professionally and for fun.

“If it is a topic you’re passionate about, it’s a hobby, it’s a real interest area, you’re going to maintain it and you’re going to do a good job on it,” Ragas said.

Reehl said she does not make her blog a scheduled job because she wants it to come organically and be about her life as well. She said she does not know for how long she will continue blogging in the future, but the blog is a part of her and will grow with her. “If it turned into a mom blog one day, I wouldn’t be shocked,” Reehl said. 

Although Alicia Stella Maciel technically is also a blogger, she said she considers herself more as an innovator, contributor and photographer. Maciel is a DePaul sophomore majoring in marketing with a sales concentration and a minor in music business.

She started taking concert photos this year and is now contributing to the Chicago Vibe, a college student media outlet created by current DePaul students, Lauren Stufflebeam and KP Peters. Maciel said the photography she does focuses on “really capturing the moment and showing how the music is fluid.”

Maciel also posts content and photos on her personal website, Facebook and Instagram accounts. “I definitely have a certain Instagram just to follow professionals in the music industry or for professionals to follow me,” Maciel said.

From 2012 to 2015, the proportion of online adults who use Instagram doubled, according to Pew Research Center. In 2015, 28 percent of online adults used Instagram, and 59 percent of Instagram users visited the platform daily.

Maciel’s personal blog and social media accounts help a lot when trying to brand herself and network because she said when they see her photos it is an easy way to start a conversation about music and everything else she does.

She has taken photos for local bands such as Modern Vices and the DePaul based band The Slaps. Maciel said a number of bands have used her photos including Pianos Become The Teeth, Mannequin Pussy, Max and the Mild Ones and even Metro Chicago.

Even though she said it is hard taking five classes, being heavily involved, shooting three or four bands some weeks and editing content, Maciel said she does the outreach because she wants to have fun and shoot her favorite bands. Unlike most other photographers who are assigned and getting paid, she said she has been able to shoot photos for some of her favorite bands such as Joyce Manor and The Menzingers.

But she never does it for the money. “To me, I’m a fan promoting you,” Maciel said. She said she does it to gain her own experience, build her portfolio as a student and most importantly, she is having fun and shooting her favorite bands.

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Student bloggers turn hobbies into professional portfolios