Daily Archives: March 12, 2008

Journalists who learn to blog help their online sites grow beyond shovelware

There’s an old saying in computers — I first heard when I was in the Air Force 26 years ago — “crap in, crap out.”

In other words, if you feed a computer gibberish, that’s all you’re going to get back.

Until artificial intelligence really becomes something, CICO will be true.

The same could be said of blogging.

Blogging is only as good as you make it.

There’s a lot of bad bloggers out there. There are bloggers who don’t really have anything to say, but say it anyway. There are bloggers who are more noise than substance, and some how manage to get more attention than they deserve. And there are bloggers who are just plain dumb.

Most of the bad bloggers tend to gravitate toward current affairs blogging.

Unfortunately, political blogs are also the kind of blogs most journalists tend to read. So a lot of journalists have a very low opinion of blogging.

Those of us more immersed in blogging, or who have grown beyond merely the current affairs bloggers, know that there is more to blogging than rants and raves.

Crap in, crap out. You only get out of blogging what you put into Word Press, Blogger or Moveable Type.

Naive as it might be, I haven’t given up hope. I believe journalists can become good bloggers.
Learning to blog really takes turning one simple switch in your head: This isn’t print journalism.

It isn’t the journalism of your cranky old city editor or your sainted j-school prof. Neither of those old farts would approve of blogging in any form, even though blogging is now part of the legitimate media mix.

A lot of people like to say, “a blog is just a tool.” By that, they mean blogging software is just technology for a web-centric content management system.

While there’s some truth to that, the statement also sells blogging short. Blogging is much more than that.

Blogging is a mindset. It’s a way of approaching media communications that is different from traditional media.

Traditional media is really mass media. In mass media, the voice of the reporter is authoritative. It’s one voice speaking to many people, so there isn’t much room for nuance or alternative view points. In fact, you better make sure both the left and the right, the creationist and the evolutionists, the global warmers and the SUV drivers, get heard. You better make sure you get the story right and balanced and present it in a way that says, “this is definitive,” even if it’s not.

That’s why objectivity has been such a strong touch point for journalists over the past hundred years or so. Generally, especially in print, you get one chance to get it right, and your communicating with a blob of an audience, so you better check out whether your mother loves you.

On the web, audiences are more fragmented. People are using personal devices to communicate.

That means, what works best is the conversational voice, a personal point of view, and a mindset that says, “I’m sharing,” rather than, “I’m reporting.”

So-called objectivity is great for print, not so much online. Some snarkiness and observational prose is appropriate online in a way that is not necessarily so in print. In part, because online, our audience can talk back. We want to encourage that.

That’s not to say in print, or even online, there isn’t a place for shoe-leather reporting and traditional modes of storytelling. There is still a place for all the things the blustering managing editors value, because it is still important. It’s important for society and for civic engagement. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do journalism these days.

Too many publishers, or more to the point, the editors and reporters they employ, still see online as just another place to shovel the same journalism they’re doing in print or in broadcast.

Online is different, and blogging is the key that unlocks the kingdom of how online is different. If you can get blogging, you can get online.

It would help newspapers.com tremendously if more reporters and editors would not only start blogging, but learn to do it well.

It’s a fact, blogs help grow audience. Blogs, however, can also help us produce online products that are different from our print product, giving consumers more choices and maybe, just maybe, a reason to make a habit of both print and online.

I say, it’s worth a try, cause the way we’re doing things right now ain’t working out so well.

In case it’s not obvious: There are lots of different kinds of blogging. This post might be an example essay blogging (if I were to be that pompous about it). There’s also link blogging, and commentary blogging, and news blogging. The kind of blogging a journalist might do depends on the situation, the purpose and the goals. The purpose of this post is merely to say — get over your objections to blogging and start exploring how you can use it in your newsroom to grow readership.

For a related post, see Ryan Sholin’s list of example blogs. (And yes, it’s no coincidence the Ryan and I — we work together — are posting nearly simultaneously along such parallel lines. GateHouse Media readers, are you paying attention?)

Some related links from me and elsewhere:

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Mark Cuban hits nothing but air in his stance on blog media

I’m preparing a post on newspaper blogging … it was partly inspired by something Mark Cuban wrote recently, but addressing Cuban’s rant has really more of a sidebar to my main point (I hope to finish that shortly), so I’m spinning it out here:

Newspaper blogging is probably the worst marketing and branding move a newspaper can make. The barriers to entry for bloggers are non existent. There are no editorial standards. There are no accuracy standards. We bloggers can and do write whatever we damn well please. Historically newspapers have set some level of standards that they strived to adhere to. By taking on the branding, standard and posting habits of the blogosphere, newspapers have worked their way down to the least common demoninator of publishing in what appears to be an effort to troll for page views.

CICO (Crap in, Crap out — see my coming post for how this fits). Some newspaper bloggers (most, probably), aren’t very good. But that doesn’t mean newspapers should not hire and promote bloggers. Online isn’t news print. You would think a man of Cuban’s background and blogging prowess would get that. And there is no reason to assume that a newspaper-affiliated blogger would adhere to the low standards Cuban assigns to bloggers. CICO. Newspaper bloggers can and should do better.

Besides that, I can think of several bloggers who demonstrate higher ethical standards than some of the people employed at the New York Times or CNN.

So Cuban sells bloggers short, sadly. And with that said, his space limitation problems are his problem, not the media’s. He has an obligation to accommodate all legimate media, whether the output is to print, broadcast, a vlog or a blog. If he needs to build a bigger locker room to do it, then he should start calling contractors.

For more on this topic, check out Beth Lawton’s post. Continue reading

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