The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

Leading, not following

Jeremy LittauMark Cuban had an interesting post pertaining to the news media and blogging this past week. Cuban’s a sharp guy, he’s an entrepreneur who “gets it” when it comes to striking that balance between technology and content distribution. Plus he remade the Dallas Mavericks, maybe he can take over the LA Times next and make that thing work too.

He correctly diagnoses a big problem with media sites and blogs, in that they don’t seem to have a direction:

“Why. Why ? Why do you do what you do. Is it because:

  • You get paid to do it ?
  • Because you want to promote something or to promote yourself ?
  • Because you want to start a discussion ?
  • Because you want to communicate with customers, fans or ??
  • Because its a way to say whats on your mind ?
  • Because you want to make money from it ?
  • I’m sure there are other reasons to communicate on the web. What software you use, even whether you use video, text and/or pictures, really doesn’t matter.

What matters is why you do what you do.

I see this over and over again, both on content sites and in newsrooms I’ve been in (past and present). They tell a reporter one day they’re blogging, then leave them to figure out what that means. Oh, the technology is set up by the company, but determining the content? On your own, dude.

Clyde has already said before on this blog that journalists are afraid of too much commentary on their blogs, because having strong opinions might bump up too much against their strained notions of objectivity, and he’s right on that point. Many newspaper blogs I’ve read seem to be extensions of a reporter’s own reporting, stuff that doesn’t make it into the story. In doing this, news sites are falling into a trap, churning out blog material that pretty much mirrors what non-legacy media already are producting. Cuban sums it up nicely:

“If you are a blogger, and you work for a major media company, you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth. You are granted a platform with traffic. Thats the good news. The bad news is that you also have ratings. If you can’t hold your traffic or build upon it, you better hope you generate sufficient value in other places, or your days of publishing on the web may be numbered. For those of you who haven’t noticed, paid bloggers do come and go from media websites if they don’t produce. But wait, there is worse news.

The media companies that have traffic foundations and can dual purpose people so that they can publish off line and online come with their own set of problems. They are paddling as fast as they can to retain their offline businesses. Newspapers, to continue to use them as an example, are pushing as hard as they can to sell papers and retain advertisers. For those who think that a newspaper is just like a newsletter, you have never been a paperboy.”

And later …

“That is the endgame I see for newspapers that publish complimentary content on their website. You can call it blogging. You can even call it something else. The point I didnt make clear enough in my previous post, is that it has to be something else. No matter the quality of the writer, its just another stab at an audience in a medium where there are no barriers to entry. Its just one more example of the newspaper business following everyone else onto the web and doing exactly what everyone else is doing, but expecting they will be better because they are “The big paper”. Thats a huge mistake.”

Cuban’s post is worth reading, I just gave you the highlights. But by trying to keep a foot in both camps, a lot of people are starting to wonder if journalists are degrading the product. Just producing news content on a blog won’t cut it; that is being done by everyone else.

When I teach students here about how to blog for their job, I tell them to get out of the concept of reporting the news. And don’t do the “check out today’s issue for a story on such-and-such” posts either. Instead, consider the other things related to your beat (or even NOT related to your beat) that you can talk about:

  • The process of making the news. Apply some transparancy to enhance the story a person reads. What was it like to gather info for this behind the scenes?
  • Color material. What is a source like during an interview? Tell them details that are irrelevant to the story
  • Blog about things off your beat. What has your attention these days? What’s in your CD player? Doing this kind of thing humanizes the reporter (and this CAN’T be worse for credibility than the ivory tower mentality, could it?). It also is exactly the kind of commentary that makes blogs interesting.

The key seems to be to find a way to have your blogging job not cannibalize content the content from your regular job, but also to do it in a way that enhances your reporting, making the NEWS more valuable. In this manner, the blog is there to grab eyeballs and keep them there so they read the news, sort of a gateway drug for news use.

That would be my idea. I am curious what others think about Cuban’s post and how we can reimagine this thing.

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March 22, 2008 - Posted by | Jeremy Littau

3 Comments »

  1. I agree with all of three of the things you suggest as advice to students on creating a blog. I think that the Web is inherently a personal medium, and reporters would do well to show the human being behind the byline as much as possible. And as you know, I’m a huge fan of transparency. 🙂

    However, I think that original reporting is the one big thing that newspapers in particular still have that not so many others do, and I think that newspaper blogs have the potential to stand out from the rest because of their expertise in that area. Yes, report the news on your blog, in my book. Sure, you should have a goal in mind for your blog and not just be haphazardly throwing whatever up there, but I think that a good blog is like a good column — it has personality, but it also has lots and lots of solid reporting behind it.

    Comment by Carrie Brown | March 23, 2008 | Reply

  2. On your last point, I don’t think Cuban would agree with you. It seems a waste of resources to publish original, insightful reporting in the blogosphere where, as he says, barriers for entry are so low that you are competing with millions for eyeballs. He seems unconvinced that the “brand name” of news won’t be enough to make you stand out.

    I think newspapers have been struggling with how to incorporate blogs into the content stream, which is why I suggest separating the two. Give blogs a purpose by letting them play a complementary role, don’t make them compete not only with your own reporting content but also with millions of bloggers out there. To me, this would make your blogs stand out and make both your news reporting content AND your blogs more of a must-read without infringing on the other’s territory.

    I could be wrong, but I’ve seen too many publications where things bleed into the other and in my mind it lowers the overall value of both.

    Comment by Jeremy | March 23, 2008 | Reply

  3. Great post Jeremy and comment Carrie. I’ve long been a Cuban admirer. Like you said, I think he gets it, and he usually gets it before everyone else does. I mean, his Broadcast.com made a site like YouTube possible.

    Here’s one interesting wrinkle to throw into the mix. Cuban’s also behind this site (http://www.sharesleuth.com), which purports to bring investigative reporting to the Web. It seems like the site does exactly what both Jeremy and Carrie are talking about – provide solid reporting founded in verification but exuding personality and transparency. They even link e-mails they receive and post unedited comments.

    Comment by Hans K. Meyer | March 24, 2008 | Reply


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