The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

Keeping up with the bloggers

Thinking in the sunI have a confession to make, and I’m not proud to do it. My wife is a better blogger than me. Yes, my wife, who writes about how she hates blogging, posts far more frequently than I ever had, even when I had to blog for a class. In fact, I think my wife is exposing me for what I am – a cold intellectual who can talk the talk but not walk the walk.OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but she has definitely taught me two lessons about blogging that both I and media professionals need to hear. First, blogs thrive on constantly updated content, whether it’s a short blurb about your kids or a breaking news item. Second, we are naive if we think blog writing and reading are exclusively the domain of the pseudo-intellectual, politically active news junkie. Just looking at the blogroll on my wife’s blog alone shows that average people are making and renewing lasting connections through frequent online posts.For newspapers to truly embrace their audiences online, they could learn a thing or two from the vibrant community to which my wife now belongs. First off, we know newspapers are finally embracing blogging. Jon Dube provides links to at least 250 ongoing newspaper blogs, and I don’t think his list includes all of the local papers who are forcing their editors and reporters to blog. According to the most recent Changing Newsroom report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism says that all of the large newspapers surveyed and all but 37 percent of the small newspapers surveyed have at least one staff blog on their site. This is good news, but before we get too excited, we have to take a serious look at what newspaper staffs are blogging.I agree with many other media industry watchers that newspaper blogs almost don’t seem like blogs. They are more like columns than anything, with little personality. The original content online too often is merely what was left out of that day’s story. And that’s if you can get reporters to blog. Too often, you can tell they are filling quotas by writing once a week at the exact same time.Mark Cuban, Internet billionaire, wasn’t nearly as kind when he wrote about newspaper blogs last March:

Never, ever, ever consider something that any literate human being with Internet access can create in under 5 mintues to be a product or service that can in any way differentiate your business. 

 The problem may be that reporters are being asked to do too much. Mark Evans, a Canadian news watcher, agreed in this 2007 post.

You have to remember that the current generation of reporters are being asked to do more – write for the newspaper, write for the Web, blog, podcast, video blog – with little or no additional compensation while newsrooms are shrinking. How much energy would you put into something new if your boss said there was nothing it in for you except more work?  

What’s ironic is by asking too much of their staffs, newspapers are missing a golden opportunity, Lisa Stone, editor of BlogHer.org writes.

America’s newspapers have the opportunity to leverage blogs as credibility-building exercises — but the first thing we need to do is to stop architecting our own demise. To avoid meltdowns like this, newspapers need to do exactly what exceptional blogs do: For God’s sake, assume the position of the reader and behave accordingly. Readers want to know what they’re getting, who they’re getting it from and how, so that they can trust their sources — that’s you.

My wife has shown me that the SAHM (stay-at-home mom) community takes Stone’s advice wholeheartedly. They know their audiences well, even if it is only a collection of their friends and family. They know what kind of content they are looking for, even if it is a few snapshots and home movies of their kids. Most importantly, they are excited about what they are doing, so excited in fact, they’ll find the time to blog regularly.Now I’m not saying all newspaper blogs are boring exercises in recycling old news, but I do think most can learn from nearly any simple blog you can find on Blogger, Blogspot or WordPress. Make it interesting. Make it light. Show some personality, and be willing to reveal who you are. But most importantly, just keep it. Hopefully, you’ll find the right mix to create lasting relationships with your audience. 

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August 3, 2008 - Posted by | Hans Meyer

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