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:

10 thoughts on “Journalists who learn to blog help their online sites grow beyond shovelware

  1. Howard,
    Normally I’m very critical of what you have to say on this blog and dismiss it as just another tech guy touting technology. But this blog I 90 percent agree with. I guess I’m still going to be one of those crotchity guys who sees a blog as a tool for newspapers to use, but I whole heartedly agree that a blog is only as good as what you have to say. Perhaps my biggest hang up on blogs is exactly what you say: some people will just publish anything for the sake of publishing it. Good job, man. And take care of Ryan Sholin at Gatehouse. He’s a good journalist.

  2. Tito, thanks … I’m glad you recognize the balance of what I’m saying here, but there’s also nothing inconsistent with anything I’ve said previously.

  3. The fact that you just published an essay using a blog as the platform tells me just that — the blog is a media platform. You could have published the same essay on good, old deadwood — newsprint.

    If you think newspapers have been struggling with objectivity for 100 years, you need to read newspapers priot to WWII. Written from points of view, edgy and entertaining.

    And while I realize you were being euphemistic in writing “crap,” I head the phrase 25 or so years ago as “garbage in, garbage out.”

  4. Walter, if you scroll through the journalism category on this blog, you will find several posts that touch on the subject of reinventing journalism. The train of thought began with examining the history of objectivity and how journalism has evolved over the past 200 years or so.

    Also, a blog is just a piece of technology, the way the steam press that made the penny press possible, was just a technology. It’s the new, previously non-obvious things that people do with technology that makes it interesting.

  5. Howard, my point is that you are suggesting a writing style that was around in newspapers until WWII, so a writer who wants to write with and edge and in an entertaining way, might want to study those writers — Mencken is the most obvious — and try to apply that intelligence and wit, in any media form.

    You certainly are right about the need to make things interesting. Different delivery methods can help do that. But in the end, it is the quality of the writing, or video, or audio that keep people reading, watching and listening. Of course, that quality has to deliver what consumers want.

    Also, I think the development of cheap newspring helped a little in development of the penny press, which by the way, did not cease to exist in this country until the end of the 1920s.

  6. Howard thanks for this post… I’ve been blogging for 6 months and love it. I blog about Americans sorry eating habits and poor health. I never run out of things to write about and do try to keep it interesting but I know at times it’s too much information, like a story in the newspaper that could be cut down to a few sentences.

    I do read lots of blogs and use link backs to the info I find. I’m trying to stay focused but I guess I have too much going on in my mind…

    Anyway, I got a lot from your post. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply