Over this new year, one of the most interesting developments on the Internet will be the continued evolution of blogging. Starting as little more than populist rants, blogging has already transcended its origins and grown into a fresh new journalistic genre, one that is likely to become the main engine of modern news sites. Two recent anecdotal observations lead me to this conclusion.
First, I observed changes in my own news consumption. Until recently, like your usual news junkie, I jumped around from one source to the other, poring over news sections, bookmarking a few here and there. Then, I began to rely increasingly on professional blogs — independent ones as well as ones hosted (and endorsed) by news organizations. Nothing fundamentally new here: over several recent US elections, we’ve seen bloggers become trusted sources or even shape the debate. “The Note” is such a blog, created by ABC News in 2002 (read the story in The New Yorker about its founder Mark Halperin). Today, I enjoy journalists’ blogs entries as much as their news stories. It works like this: once you’ve got the facts – they’re everywhere — you quickly want to dig deeper. Usually, the next layer, analysis, is careful and cold. Then, if you want something livelier, more fun, with more flesh, you turn to blogs maintained by trustworthy journalists. That goes for the Guardian (a list of their blogs here), or the New York Times (which hosts about 60 blogs), or The New Yorker, whose blogs covers culture, business, politics and defense. These “pro” blogs are often more interesting than their authors’ main writings.
The second observation involves the coverage of the Detroit auto crisis by the New York Times. I follow the crisis for three reasons: 1) A collapse of US automakers could transform a severe recession into a depression with worldwide repercussions; 2) The modus operandi and magnitude of the rescue is likely to set the standard in the industrial world; 3) I harbor mixed feelings towards the “too big to fail” concept which too often ends up in perpetual subsidies (I live in France where we have a long track-record at drip-feeding industrial dinosaurs).
On December 4th, the Big Three’s CEOs, where due to appear before the Congress, for the second time. This type of event lends itself to “live blogging”. In many newsrooms, live blogging is assigned to a junior reporter who feels he’s used as a mere stenotypist. In the case of the Big Three hearings, guess who did the 2700 words live blog ? No one else than Floyd Norris, the Times’ chief financial correspondent, demonstrating the NYT editors’ high regard for blogging. The Gray Lady must be the only paper in the world to feature a Nobel Prize of economy (Paul Krugman) as a prominent blogger.
Today, blogging must be a key component of a modern web site’s editorial strategy. Blogging should be carefully nurtured, managed, selected. Beside their expertise and/or writing skills, many guest bloggers are chosen for their peculiar, alternative view of news. Two symmetrical examples are the Freakonomics blog
hosted by the NY Times and The Undercover Economist part of the Financial Times site. Both are spinoffs of eponymous best-selling books and compete on the same field. (With this in mind, you can assess the fierceness of competition between the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal by the numbers of overlapping blogs).
Convincing staff reporters and editors to maintain a blog can be delicate. Foreign correspondents, often frustrated by the scarcity of space in the physical papers are often good candidates for delivering strong behind-the-scenes stories. Until recently, the more a journalist was full of himself, the less likely he was to blog. “Outside pressure”, read the (un)employment situation, is helping things move slowly in the right, opposite, direction.
Writers do discover the freedom associated with blogging. Style is more direct, more conversational; the length of the articles can range from a few paragraphs “post” to a full-story. A blog entry is sharp while an Op-Ed piece ponderously pontificates, periodicity is no longer frozen into an editorial plan but can be adjusted to the news cycle, pieces can be corrected or amplified at will, and so on. Plus there is the conversation with the audience, readers’ comments. Such exchange is a double-edged sword, depending on the way it is managed (we’ll come back to that later).
Depending on the news organization’s history and culture, blogging can be designed as a supplement to traditional news reporting or, conversely, it can be a unique, stand-alone product. The Huffington Post (see Monday Note’s tag on the subject) is a clever mixture of traditional reporting and of a sophisticated news blog platform. It has a staff of 50 operating in Los Angeles (its founder’s hometown), Washington and New York — the hubs for the usual recipe of entertainment, politics and media. But its also relies on a “staff” of no less than 2000 bloggers. While most of these bloggers are unknown, a few have become celebrities; they will all deliver their disparate views on national or world affairs. For them, the HuffPo has set up a 24/7 phone and email service of stenotypists! The celebrity blogs, set up thanks to Arianna Huffington connections, has proven to be a strong PR engine for the site. And the resonance of HuffPo blogs is enhanced by cross-postings with other platforms such as the Guardian’s Comment is Free site.
Moderating user comments is too often neglected, even on major news sites. The policy should be unyielding: shouting comments are to be banned. Contradiction is always beneficial as long as it is arguments driven — if that leads to the elimination of 80% of comments, that’s fine. Quality, not quantity should matter. The Huff dedicates a team of 30 people working from their home to the task of “moderating”, that is cleaning up the flow of comments. Other sites choose to rely on users to vote for the most relevant comments, or to report abuses. But in most cases, experience shows, pre-moderation by editors is the best way to proceed.
To wrap up, let’s talk about money. On the CPT (Cost per Thousands impressions) scale, blogs rank poorly. The advertising community doesn’t value them much. CPT will be 2-3 dollars/euros where average content will yield 8 to 10 (or more). This will have to change as news organizations develop a real strategy for professional blogging. The responsibility lies not only with the notorious sheep-like media buyers, but also with editors who, for too long, have considered blogging as a minor genre. This is about to change. We don’t have the luxury of dallying. —FF
- How tangible is the blogging economy? TweetCan’t get rich with blogs. Neither the writers, nor the publishers. In the US market, one in six blogs draws more than 500 pageviews per day, that is $45 a month. And less than 3% of blogs make more than $1000 a months in ad (and for the publisher’s side, blogs bears the lowest level [...]...
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