CTA Tattler's Kevin O'Neil shares blogging tips

We’re reinventing the ChicagoNow staff blog, and our first new feature is a weekly Q&A with a ChicagoNow blogger. We’ll talk with our best bloggers about what makes a good post, what keeps them blogging and what advice they have for new bloggers.

For our first Q&A, I talked with Kevin O’Neil who runs the CTA Tattler. Kevin was the first blogger I personally approached to join ChicagoNow last spring. Since then, we’ve had a lot of fun at ChicagoNow meet-ups, on ChicagoNow Radio and talking about ways to grow the community.

Kevin’s also organized his own CTA Tattler meet-ups, including a CTA Pub Crawl. I was out of town for both meet-ups, but hope to make his next one. Kevin shared photos of the Pub Crawl, as well as his answers to my questions below.

Q. How long have you been blogging about the CTA? Why did you start?

I started blogging about the CTA in June 2004. At the time I was looking for a creative outlet to use my journalistic skills. I had been a professional journalist but I was no longer writing and reporting, just editing. So the blog allowed me to do both.

Q. Years later, you’re still blogging. How much time each week do you spend on your blog?

I spend a solid two hours a day working on my blog at home at night. On weekends I sometimes spend a little more. I usually take Fridays off. Whoo-hoo!

Q. In addition to blogging, you have a full-time job, a family and recently earned your MBA. Any time management secrets?

Ha! I wish I was better at time management. But I have found you must focus on one thing at a time, and be as efficient as you can be at that. It’s important to plan your time. For instance, when I was still working on the MBA, I would map out three-to-four hours each weekend day for studying, and then leave a couple hours for the blog. Be sure to plan some time for yourself too. That’s what Fridays are for – my family and I.

Q. When you’re blogging, how do you divide your time? Research? Original reporting? Responding to comments?

I always spend about an hour doing research, which usually means
monitoring my RSS feeds for CTA news and notes, looking at the CTA’s
Web site
, and generally surfing for ideas. I try to keep up with reader
comments as they come up. If I’m working on a project requiring
original research, I definitely plan out that time, usually on weekends.

Q. The CTA is a big subject to cover in Chicago. What topics do you usually focus on?

I try to focus on the most important CTA news – that is, news that’s
going to affect the most riders. I also try to mix in stories about
crazy things that readers and I see and hear while commuting. But with
so much real news, it’s harder to fit those in these days.

Q. You have developed sources at the CTA and regularly scoop Chicago
reporters. Do you consider yourself a journalist? Why/why not?

First, I have a journalism degree from Penn State (Go Lions!), and have
worked as a professional journalist in Chicago for many years, though
currently I work in marketing. So, in the sense that I try to give both
sides of a story, I do consider myself a journalist. I try to be fair
and balanced. I try to do original reporting when I can. But since I
have a full-time job, I can’t go out to the CTA press conferences and
cover the beat like a professional journalist. So I aggregate news from
other sources to make it easier for my readers.

Q. Who are your readers? Why do you think they return to your blog?

My readers run the gamut from transit aficionados to regular commuters
who just want to know what’s happening with the CTA. They return to my
blog because I give them what they want and stay focused on that.

Q. How do you engage with your readers online?

In reporting news or notes about the CTA, I try to be provocative
enough to make readers want to comment and have a conversation about
CTA topics. I use Facebook and Twitter to talk about my posts, but
honestly, I know I can and should do better on the social media fronts.

Q. You’ve recently held two CTA Tattler tweet-ups. Explain how it worked and why you did it.

In October, I had a CTA Tattler Pub Crawl, where about 20 readers and I
used the CTA to go to four bars. I tweeted our location along the way,
and some folks joined us at various locations. Of course we used Bus
Tracker, but missed one bus because we weren’t walking fast enough!

In December, a bunch of us rode the CTA’s Holiday Train and then got
some dinner and drinks. Again, I tweeted as we moved from stop to stop,
and a few people joined us at other Brown Line stations. It’s just
another way to extend the online community to real-life, if you will.
Not that the Tattler community isn’t real! It’s just cool to see that
there really are some fun folks hiding behind ChicagoNow’s generic
traffic cone avatar.

Q. You joined the ChicagoNow network almost a year ago. Why did you move your blog over to ChicagoNow?

I thought long and hard before moving from ctatattler.com (an
independent blog) and joining the ChicagoNow community of blogs. I had
several meetings with the CN brain trust and liked the vision they had.
Money helps too, since I’m getting paid a little more than my lame
Google ads were bringing in, but that was really secondary. I like the
idea of being with the bigger community, getting more readers and
feeding off the energy and resources of a major Chicago media outlet.

Q. What would you change about ChicagoNow if you could?

Sometimes I think it’s hard to find your way around ChicagoNow, because
it’s so big. But the good news is I hear the developers are working on

Q. How are you going to develop CTA Tattler in the year ahead?

I’m going to continue to focus on providing relevant and important CTA
news, while also trying to show more of the nutty side of commuting in
Chicago. I used to post just once a day, but lately I’ve been trying to
push out more content of greater variety. And I’m trying to increase
use of social media to promote CTA Tattler and ChicagoNow.

Q. Finally, what advice do you have for someone who wants to start blogging?

The most important thing a blogger can do is find a pertinent topic to
write about and keep an unrelenting focus on that topic. Develop a
voice as a writer, and engage your readers. And have some fun with it!

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