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Thursday, May 11, 2006

VT newspaper blogs: anybody read them?

Amy Gahran writes about conversational media at the Poynter Institute, and I've been following a discussion she's prompted about newspaper blogs — i.e. why have them? It's a question I thought a lot about as I was bringing 802 Online to Seven Days last year, and it's something I return to often as I think about how to expand our online content here.

Gahran solicits comments from journos. One of the most interesting was from Laura Fries, web editor of Atlanta-based alt. weekly Creative Loafing. Laura writes, "I think it goes without saying that sometimes the excitement over a new blog comes before the work of figuring out what exactly the blog should be. I created this set of bullet point guidelines to help guide editors and writers through the process of setting up a focused new blog."

If you're thinking about starting a blog, read Fries' guidelines. She makes some excellent points.

I bring this up because I know Vermont newspapers are interested in blogs. In fact, all of the media folks on the  traditional media panel I attended for Leadership Champlain on Tuesday talked about how excited they are about the Internet, and the possibilities it offers for journalists to experiment.

I'm a big fan of online experimentation, but I'm also interested in honest feedback about how those experiements are going. We've gotta learn something, after all.

I just scrolled through my blogroll to take a look at the various newspaper blogs around the state, and I'm wondering how people think these experiments are going?

Hall Monitor, for example. Darren Allen's much-balleyhooed blog about the statehouse. Well the legistlature ended the session yesterday. With all those last-minute deals, you'd think he would have written something, but he hasn't posted since April 26. What gives, Darren? We miss you.

49 School Street, the Stowe Reporter's news blog, hasn't been updated since April 28. Are readers not responding?

Rutland Herald Readers' Roundtable lists 5 contributors, but only 3 of them have posted in 06, one of them only once. And nobody since May 3. Is anybody reading this?

Times Argus Reader Roundtable lists four bloggers, one of whom is the TA editor, but it's almost entirely made up of posts by Rama Schneider.

Montreal Now, Jim Lowe's Montreal blog, has always been updated infrequently, but it also looks amateurish. What's with the weird paragraph breaks? I mean, if you're going to spend the time and money to have a blog, you ought to at least make the effort to learn how blogs should look and work.

Compare it, for example, with TA writer Heather Aja's Get Real. Now that's a blog. I don't read it often — it's about reality TV, and I don't have a TV — but when I click on her site, I immediately see that she gets blogging.

Much of this is about the RH/TA, I know. I don't mean to pick on them, but they launched all this stuff, and I think it's time for a conversation about how it's going.

One traditional media personality who's launched a fairly successful blog is VPR commentator Philip Baruth, who publishes Vermont Daily Briefing. Philip's site looks like a blog. It works like a blog (albeit without comments). He reads other blogs, links to them, and comments on them, thereby inserting himself into the blogosphere.

Of course, Philip is doing that on his own, independent of any media organization. Maybe that's why it works? Or maybe not. Feel free to share your thoughts, and to comment on our 7 Days blogs, too. Like Shot in the Dark — I like the photos, but does anybody use that? 

May 11, 2006 at 09:12 AM in Media/Keeping an eye on the competition | Permalink

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Comments

Hi Cathy,

Very interesting post.

So, this is my guess: the best blogs tend to be ones that are done for love and not money. And the best bloggers are often people who would not otherwise have an outlet for their writing.

I think the problem with a lot of newspaper blogs is that they're run by people for whom blogging is just a small part of their "real" journalism job.

If traditional media outlets are serious about getting their blogs up-and-running, they might have to approach it the way that, say, Nick Denton (of gawker, etc.) does: his "professional bloggers" have a daily quota (actually more like an hourly quota) of posts or they will get fired. (Just like a regular newspaper reporter would get fired for consistently missing deadlines).

Of course the problem with "professional blogging" is that it has to compete directly with regular old blogging. Economically, it makes more sense for a newspaper to have someone who's already working for them work on their blog rather than to create a brand new "dedicated blogger" position.

The best bet might be for nespapers to "sponsor" already existing blogs, but that might get into tricky legal/censorship issues.

Best,
Jon

Posted by: Jon Hastings | May 11, 2006 10:52:02 AM

As one of the official bloggers on the Rutland Herald's reader roundtable, I would agree that the idea has been a failure. I joined because I found the opportunity hard to resist. I honestly gave it a 50-50 chance of success. Two reasons I can think of for its failure is primarily a complete lack of promotion by the Rutland Herald and the fact that this basic premise already existed as letters to the editor.

Ultimately, I get my satisfaction through my own personal blog, which I doubt anyone else reads either; I do it because I have always wanted to write a book but lack the ability to concentrate that long and my blog will hopefully form the basis for such a book down the road.

Posted by: Greg Henry | May 12, 2006 4:37:24 AM

Hmmm. I'm not sure if the posting quota is the way to do it, although I agree that writers need to be motivated to prioritize their blogs. The best motivation for me is watching my stats go down when I don't post — I've spent a lot of time and energy on this project, and it bums me out when nobody reads it.

And the blog, unlike a regular story or feature in the paper, is very explicitly tied to me. So when I neglect it, I'm obviously the one responsible. That's a great motivator.

Posted by: cresmer | May 12, 2006 9:47:48 AM

I will consider that the best blogging advice I've ever had.

Posted by: Greg Henry | May 12, 2006 11:09:06 AM

It would be great if these newspapers had a tag at the end of the printed stories that have blog entries "Comment on this story on our blog at xyz.com/blog"

Posted by: James Hathaway | May 12, 2006 4:58:23 PM

I think it would be great just to have comments enabled at the end of the stories. I've been trying to get those at Seven Days for over a year. The issue apparently has something to do with our web vendor. I don't really understand it. All I know is that we don't have it, and we want to, and there's nothing I can do to make it happen.

That's a great example of how innovation can be slow coming even when you have tech savvy people on the inside of an organization advocating for it.

I think it would be great to have comments enabled at the end of stories. But there are already some papers who do that, and it doesn't seem to have been successful. I'm thinking of the County Courier up in Franklin County. I've tried to post comments to their stories, but have never seen my own comments appear. I've also never seen other people leave comments. Not sure if that's because I haven't been looking hard enough, or what. The RH/TA also has forums, which appear to have gotten some traffic, but not a ton.

I think these features could be popular with users, but I think the newspapers really have to promote them aggressively to get people to use them. They need to reach out to online communities to get the early adopters on board. I don't know to what extent they're already doing this.

Getting people to really use this stuff also requires a paradigm shift--you have to get people used to the idea that media is a conversation, rather than a lecture, and that's not always easy to do, especially with the older folks who are traditionally the newspaper readers. And the newspaper writers and editors and publishers.

Posted by: cresmer | May 13, 2006 5:16:43 PM

Add a little humor and pass the word around... readers will follow. As an avid blog reader for years on end, the one thing I've noticed is that few hardcore blogs survive, the whiny ones rarely get read and humor rules. Keep it smart, classy and throw in a good chuckle. The word will get around.

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