Schonfeld on making the switch from print journalism to blogging

I point to TechCrunch all the time — both in this blog and in my public presentations — as an example of a journalistic blog.

It is a blog that breaks news, real news, important news. It is also a blog that is full of opinion. It is also a blog that is winning in the marketplace of readers and revenue.

TechCrunch represents both the present and the future of online journalism, of a reinvented journalism.

Today, Erick Schonfeld, a respected and serious journalist who joined TechCrunch six months ago after his previous employer, the magazine Business 2.0, went out of business, blogs about blogging for TechCrunch.

Working at TechCrunch is a completely different experience. For one thing, I no longer write long-form, narrative journalism. There is not much time for story-telling (except for weekend posts like this one). It is mostly breaking news, reporting facts and providing analysis. At TechCrunch, I am completely focused on blogging, 24/7. With a few exceptions, no single post is very difficult to write (unlike an in-depth magazine article that can require 50 interviews and weeks of travel, for instance). But taken as a whole, blogging is actually harder. That is because the blogging never stops. Just ask my wife and kids, who now mock me by repeating back my new mantra: “I’m almost done, just one more post.”

TechCrunch succeeds because its bloggers do very good journalism — gathering lots of stories, getting them online quickly (if not first), and because its bloggers know what the hell they’re talking about, their commentary is respected.

There is always something else to write about, and not enough time to cover it. But we live or die by how fast we can post after a story breaks, if we can’t break it ourselves. We hardly have time to proofread our posts, as anyone who’s come across one of the frequent typos in TechCrunch knows. Luckily, our readers love to point out our mistakes in comments. They are our copy editors and fact checkers. (We love you guys). Our philosophy is that it is better to get 70 percent of a story up fast and get the basic facts right than to wait another hour (or a day) to get the remaining 30 percent. We can always update the post or do another one as new information comes in. More often than not, putting up partial information is what leads us to the truth—a source contacts us with more details or adds them directly into comments.

Every traditional journalist who reads this post just cringed. I expect angry comments. But this is why traditional journalism is failing — declining readership, declining revenue, declining trust — and blogs are succeeding.

Here’s something from Mindy McAdams:

What some newsrooms (e.g., The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) have done is turn the workflow around — in a way that makes sense when the number of subscribers to the print product is decreasing and the number of online visitors is increasing: Make “Web first” the rule, in all cases. Produce for online, write for online, shoot for online, design for online.

If you’re going to produce for online first, start by thinking and acting like a blogger. If you don’t know how to do that, start following TechCrunch. You’ll learn.

More proof that blogs are just a fad

There’s nothing to this blog thing, right? It’s just a lot of blow hards spouting opinions.

Well, upstart has surpassed (not a blog, but more of a big media headline aggregator, and so well established now as to be pretty MSM) in traffic, and according to, is gaining on the Chicago Tribune.

(via Lost Remote)

Newspapers and the Big Band era: A historical comparison

As newspapers struggle through a recession at a time of media tumult, Stowe Boyd writes:

The Big Band era is coming to an end, and while some oldsters are going to keep on listening to Count Basie and Duke Ellington, most of us are moving on to rock and roll. Many of the players will find new gigs, experiment with new musical forms, but some won’t. Some will retire, open bars, or find something else to do. Zell and Tierney may have to take their losses and find something else to invest in. David Carr may have to start blogging for the Huffington Post, or run for office.

His comparison with the death of the Big Band era is more apt than he states.

You could say Big Bands were killed by rock and roll, but that would really miss the point (and be at least a decade off the mark). Big Bands were killed as much as anything by hubris, greed and technological efficiency, not to mention changes in society’s musical taste and needs.

The musicians strike of the 1940s opened the door to smaller combos filled with non-union musicians. Not only where these combos more nimble, they were playing new kinds of music (such as country and rhythm and blues), driven by better technology for amplifying their music. By the time the strike ended in 1944, the new musical forms had not yet gained in popular demand, but the trajectory was set. Hank Williams would break through in 1947. Louis Jordan dominated R&B charts from the early 1940s through the end of the decade, setting the stage for the birth of Rock and Roll.

Of course, the oldsters who clung to the golden era of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman saw no value in hick or race music. To them, it was all a fad whose time would pass. These wild sounds weren’t polished or sophisticated. This wasn’t quality music. The public would return to its senses and soon demand those big band sounds again. Sort of sounds like journalists attitudes toward bloggers, doesn’t it? (Interestingly, Goodman made a fine switch to small combo music, and he recorded some of the first jazz to feature lead guitar, employing the pioneer Charlie Christian).

Note that music didn’t die with the Big Bands, nor did it really diminish in quality. It fact, some of the greatest music of human history was created in the second half of the 20th Century. The music that came after was, to the discerning ear, no better nor worse than the stuff gathering dust on scratchy 78s. It was just different.

The same will be said of journalism fifty years hence.

For old-time sake, here’s Big Band music at its best: Goodman’s band playing the Louis Prima-penned, “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

UPDATE: Ur, um, is this video really “Sing, Sing, Sing”?  Nobody’s called me on it, but upon reflection — the “Sing, Sing, Sing” melody is not any part of this performance.  What it does have is elements of “Christopher Columbus,”  which was incorporated into Goodman’s version of “Sing, Sing, Sing.”  But “Sing, Sing, Sing” was eight (studio version) to 12 minutes long (the famous “Live at Carnegie Hall” performance, which is without a doubt the single greatest achievement of recorded music history.  At least, I say so.  More here.

(Boyd link via Jack Lail)

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 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:

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.

Journalists should pay attention to successful blogs to understand web journalism

Michael Arrington started TechCrunch in June, 2005. It’s now the second most popular blog in the world. According to, it is read by at least 900,ooo people per month, but that wouldn’t include the reported 500,000 RSS feed subscribers.

As TechCrunch has risen, Business 2.0 has gone out of business, while CNet and Ziff-Davis have hit financial hard times.

Arrington, when asked about blogs taking page views away from traditional news media, had this to say on Charlie Rose the other night:

It’s a very raw, very quick form of journalism. It’s not editing, it’s not balanced, it’s opinionated. A lot of people really want that.

I read TechCrunch everyday. The blog, now a group blog, breaks a lot of tech news. But every news worthy item contains what some might call opinion. I call it informed insight. Arrington and his team know what the hell they’re talking about and I value and trust their point of view.

TechCrunch has become popular because it is credible. It’s credible to its readers because over time they’ve learned that TechCrunch gets right more than it gets wrong, and it’s never proven itself untruthful, and when they’ve made mistakes, they’ve corrected them quickly. TechCrunch readers don’t look for fair and balanced. They look for relevance and understanding.

Before TechCrunch became a go-to blog for tech news, it had no brand. Arrington, who was pretty much an unknown outside of small circle of Silicon Valley insiders before starting the blog, made it credible; he made it a brand.

The next time some journalist talks about how important their newspaper brand is, think about TechCrunch, which demonstrates that brand isn’t about what you’ve done over the past 100 years — it’s about what you’re doing today.

While talking about journalism and blogging, I need to quote this Romenesko post, because it’s lingered in my mind for several days:

Many bloggers see Josh Marshall‘s Polk Award as vindication of their enterprise, writes Noam Cohen — “that anyone can assume the mantle of reporting on the pressing issues affecting the nation and the world, with the imprimatur of a mainstream media outlet or not.” Marshall says of bloggers: “I think of us as journalists; the medium we work in is blogging. We have kind of broken free of the model of discrete articles that have a beginning and end. Instead, there are an ongoing series of dispatches.”

Many times I’ve written about the need for journalists to blog because I think journalists need to get away from — at least online — from just repurposing what they do in print into the new kind of web journalism.

Web journalism is more raw, more conversational and makes immediacy and relevance more important than crafting the perfect, complete package.

Previously: Video can’t win on production quality alone (because of Chris Anderson’s quote about relevance vs. quality).

Why newspaper sites will continue to struggle with reader participation

We’ve spent many words recently debating the best way for newspapers to manage user participation, particular comments on stories and forum posts.

Most journalists value quality communication and are distressed to see rants, insults, cursing, lies and innuendo pass for online commentary, especially on their own

It’s an understandable position.

There are a number of strategies to try an elevate the nature of the discourse on a, such as enforcing real identity, or using a Slashdot/Digg-style reputation system, or pre-screening comments (my least favorite), to outsourcing the entire headache to Topix.

But have you ever stopped to wonder why quality blogs usually have quality discussions?

Consider, for a minute, how quickly a discussion on your would spin out of control if you allowed comments on a story about butts on TV.  Now look at the interesting discussion on this Lost Remote post (maybe not the best example I could find of a great conversation, but it is a logical contrast to what might happen on a typical

Some blogs get more and better reader discussion than others, but you rarely hear any more about bloggers debating whether to disable comments and wondering if this whole commenting thing is really worth it (as you do from some editors).

Sure, blogs use some form of pre-screen (first-time commenters on, for example, go into a moderation queue), but any filters on blog comments these days have more to do with trying to block spam than worries over the content of reader comments.

Why is that?

I would say, primarily because blogs get the close attention of their owners. There is little opportunity for trolls to get a foothold on a well-run blog.  Most blog owners apply high standards for the conduct they will allow.  They monitor closely. They participate in the conversation.  In other words, they are actively engaged and involved.  They are owners.

How involved are reporters and editors involved in participation on their web sites?

Not much.

And until we fix that weak link in our participation strategy, we will continue to struggle with developing the kind of online community our newspaper communities deserve.

Newsrooms need to develop an ownership attitude about participation on their web sites.  Only then will the technology solutions really work.  There is simply no substitute for real, sustained, dedicated participation in the conversation by editors and reporters.  Without it, newspaper sites will continue to struggle to grow and retain audience.

Yes, Virginia, blogs are a competitive threat to MSM businesses

There was a time when I considered CNet the go-to place for technology news.

It’s been three years at least since CNet was a habit.

And I’m not alone in concluding that CNet is now largely irrelevant.

“There are other sites now where you can get serious technology news,” says CNET user Alan Wilensky, a San Mateo, Calif., analyst who advises companies on their Internet strategies. He used to read daily but is now more likely to go to rival tech sites such as TechCrunch and Engadget. “I’ve gone totally cold on CNET,” says Mr. Wilensky, who has no link with CNET or the dissident investors.

What’s killing CNet: Blogs.

You could even make the case that blogs killed Business 2.0 (link to historical artifact — note no updates since October, decades ago in Internet years).

The tech sector was the first media sector where we saw blogging really take hold — in pre 9/11 days, which spurred political blogging. Since then, we’ve seen an explosion in blog growth, both in shear numbers and in the large volume of quality blogs covering a wide range of topics.

Local blogging has been growing. Some of it is very good.

Journalists shouldn’t be too quick to conclude that blogs are not a threat to their local newspaper monopolies.

Yet, we continue to hear from MSM journalists who dismiss blogging, such as this from a reader calling himself Tito:

A blog is no more than an online journal or column, if you want to use an industry term. A blog doesn’t make me a better journalist nor does a blog make you a journalist and blogging is certainly not where the industry is headed.

Such a narrow view of blogs is to completely fail to understand blogs.

And to so easily dismiss blogs as a competitive threat is to fall on the wrong sword in the name of “quality journalism” (whatever you may mean by that).

And as the WSJ link above notes, more and more bloggers are figuring out how to generate handsome revenue to off set their low overhead.

Users-drive sites growing faster than MSM sites — much faster

TechCrunch has posted an interesting chart showing the fast growing web sites.

Take out the porn, and what you have are blogs, social networks, video and UGC sites.  Some of the fastest growing encompass  one or more of those content strategies.

There’s not a traditional media site in the bunch. Even the government ( is kicking MSM’s butt.

Your audience is drifting away, MSM.

Blog triumphalism: How blogging changed once journalist’s mind

Is this where I get to say, “I told you so”?

Whenever I write about the need for journalists to start blogging in order to really get online journalism, some journosaur pops up with some snark about blogging and how journalism hasn’t changed because of the Web.

That so misses the point.

Colin Mulvany now gets it. He has discovered how blogging is really different from just slapping repurposed print content on the web and calling it journalism.

I will be honest with you, until I started this blog, I barely understood the concept myself. I was shocked by how many people Mastering Multimedia has reached in such a short amount of time. But what really opened my eyes was how people are finding this blog. RSS feeds, tags, Google Reader, blog rolls, and links from other social networks. It’s about sharing. It’s about a conversation. It’s about Web 2.0.

I now understand. I have been a producer of web content for years on a creaky CMS that only partially takes advantage of the Web 2.0 tools available on any WordPress blog. I just didn’t see the big picture of why this is important for all of us in the newspaper industry to grasp. If I didn’t get it, then how will my non-blogging co-workers, who are already apprehensive about change, ever understand?

If you haven’t already, my advice is to get an education in Web 2.0. Start a blog. Feed it. Share it. Our very survival as an industry will be predicated on how well we interface with this expanding social networking universe.

Sorry for the blogging triumphalism, but I’ve been saying this for like two years now.

If you want to understand where journalism is going, start blogging. There is simply no other way. And if you don’t believe me, start blogging. I won’t believe your alternative view until you do, because until you do, you have no credibility to snark at blogs. Sorry, you just don’t get it otherwise.

Now, if we can just work on Colin’s adherence to Big-J journalism “storytelling” instead of just connecting with video, making video that fits the conversation, then we’ll have a hell of a break through.

(via Mindy McAdams).

UPDATE:  Must-read post from Scott Karp, who articulates very well why journalists need to learn self-publishing tools.

Contrary to Askimet’s belief, I am not a spammer

Askimet thinks I’m a spammer.

Thankfully, Scott Karp, among others, knows I’m not a spammer. But he has had to hassle four or five times recently to fish my comments out of Askimet’s spam bucket. That led to this post.

On any blog that is using Askimet’s spam filter, if I leave a comment, my comment goes into the spam bucket.

Why? Apparently, it’s related to the fact that my site was hacked twice. One of those hacks involved putting a redirect page in one of my directories, and then the spammers sent traffic from hundreds of other hacked blogs to that page.

That was great for my technorati ranking, not so great for my reputation with Askimet.

I’ve written to Askimet and asked to be taken off the back list. So far, the request has been ignored.

I pretty much hated spammers before these incidents. My inclination to think they should all be shot on sight is hard to resist, even as much as I strongly believe in full and fair trails for all accused criminals. Here’s to hoping people like Alan Ralsky, assuming he’s convicted, get punished to the full extent of the law. We need thousand more prosecutions like this, but then I suspect most spammers reside in countries where the government could careless. Hopefully, someday, those governments will join the civilized world and come to hate spam as much as the rest of us do.

UDPATE: Afternoon of Jan. 9, 2008.  I just got an e-mail from Askimet saying I’ve been unblacklisted.