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Blogging in the Newsrooms

American Journalism Review: Blogging Between the Lines. The mainstream media have fallen in love with blogs, launching them on everything from politics to life in Las Vegas to bowling. But does the inherent tension between the blogosphere’s anything-goes ethos and the standards of traditional journalism mean this relationship is doomed?

Well, it took only, what, seven years for blogging to catch on in newsrooms. Given the journalism industry’s hidebound ways, that’s not so bad.

But the same questions — relevant ones — keep popping up. This article talks at great length about the legal and ethical questions, which are mostly being asked by lawyers, if my own experience is any guide.

I recall being summoned to a meeting four or five years ago at Knight Ridder headquarters in San Jose. The topic was blogging, something I’d been doing since 1999 and pushing inside the company ever since. I believed passionately that this format was one of the answers to our long-term troubles — and at the very least it was a great additional tool of our trade.

So, as I drove downtown to the meeting, I had visions of senior management folks asking me to lead or help a company-wide blogging explosion, where Knight Ridder would become the unchallenged leader in this form of new media. It wasn’t to be.

Instead, when I walked into the room, I found a conference table around which were two journalists other than me. Everyone else was a lawyer or an executive with a worried look on his/her face.

And the question wasn’t, “How can we make this happen?”

It was, “How exposed are we?”

Exposed, as in exposed to lawsuits.

We spent most of the time talking about finding ways to insulate the company against the problems the lawyers were being paid to anticipate. We spent very little time talking about how blogs might improve our journalism.

Now my old paper has a bunch of blogs. Everyone does. In the slow-moving ways of newspapers, the progress has been rapid. In the world we actually live in today, it’s been dog-slow.

8 Comments on “Blogging in the Newsrooms”

  1. #1 Bryan Murley
    on Dec 3rd, 2006 at 11:24 am

    To be fair, blogging didn’t really take off until late 2001 and on into the beginning of the second gulf war, which means it’s been more like 5 years.

  2. #2 Bryan Murley
    on Dec 3rd, 2006 at 11:30 am

    There were approximately 23 blogs in existence at the beginning of 1999, according to Rebecca Blood. Even if there were a few thousand weblogs in existence in 2000, the tools were not advanced enough, nor the audience widespread enough, to expect newspapers to embrace them at the time.

  3. #3 tish grier
    on Dec 4th, 2006 at 5:13 am

    Well, it’s not really a *bad* idea for lawyers to be involved in helping large corporate-owned orgs to give some opnions on libel, slander, etc. (lest a news org’s blog aim for a level of deadly dullness.) But there’s more to worry about out here than legal action…

    What the orgs need, and what would help some of their journalists, is to bring in experienced bloggers to help them understand the social milieu they are entering. Most blogging (and forum/messageboard) mistakes that are made at newspapers–and magazines–comes from not understanding how to deal with negative feedback, message spam, trolls, splog, why *not* to engage in sock puppetry, etc. as much as how to be gracious and engage in conversation when “legit” comments roll in. These are skills that, while acknowledged as important in a recent study, are still given a great deal of short-shrift overall because they are assumed as being “natural.” High profile mistakes made by some high profile journalists in the past year are an indication that this really isn’t the case. Anyone can get lost out here without good guidance.

  4. #4 Joan Stewart, The Publicity Hound
    on Dec 4th, 2006 at 6:23 am

    Tish makes a great point about media folks being coached by bloggers.

    I worked in the newspaper industry for 22 years, mostly as an editor. So I know first-hand that the industry has had atrocious customer service at all levels and that that could spread to the blogging community.

    Got a snotty reader on the telephone? No need to listen to them lecture. Get ’em off the phone as quickly as possible.

    What about a nut? Well, don’t even waste time talking to them. Just hang up.

    No time to return readers’ calls? Then don’t call. Besides, 99 percent of them want to know if we got the press release they sent.

    Don’t like a comment somebody posted to your blog? Just delete it.

    Blogging journalists will have to be patient and responsive to readers who ask them questions about their blogs, or leave comments they don’t like. If they aren’t, then why bother blogging?

    Also, the emergence of blogging journalists provides a great opportunity for anyone who wants to self-promote. I teach people how to work with the media.

    And I tell them that if you want to pitch a story idea to a journalist, or approach them and introduce yourself and invite them to tap into your expertise, first search Tehnorati to see if that journalists blogs. If so, read the blog regularly, then start posting comments to it. That’s a fabulous way to get a journalist’s attention. Then, several days later, email them with your pitch.

  5. #5 Robin Hamman
    on Dec 5th, 2006 at 2:22 am

    It’s funny how things change. I can very clearly recall a meeting I had in about 2000 where the BBC’s lawyers and editorial policy people were initially adamant that, were we to launch a message board, we must come up with a way of verifying absolutely that the names used by members of the public were in fact their own. Every post was pre-moderated, that is checked by a real live person, before being published.

    Although I’m still waiting for the BBC 10 O’Clock News to run a photo submitted by and credited to “FluffyBunny69”, most parts of the BBC are perfectly happy for people to post under a pseudonym and don’t even require registration for people to participate in many of our comment and discussion based services. Most comments are post (checked after going live) or reactively (alert only) moderated. Our legal and editorial policy teams are increasingly understanding of the stuff formerly known as user generated content and more of it streams in than ever before.

    It has, as you say Dan, taken some time to get here. And I agree with the comment from Joan above that some media and news organisations still don’t get it. I don’t mean ones that don’t have blogs or message boards or comments on articles – just about everyone has at least some mix of those features today. What I mean is newspapers and media organisations that have embraced the technologies but implemented them without much thought put into the techniques. Open ended, unfocused online discussions bring no editorial value to the audience and often end up rife with bickering, insults, and inappropriate or even threatening behaviour. Blogs that are simply periodic editorial columns written using the blog backend as a cheap content management system are blogs only in names, not all singing, dancing, obsessive, focused, discursive, engaging, linking out, real-live-all-singing-and-dancing-blogs.

    So yes, we’ve come a long way, but there is still a long way to go – and sometimes getting it is a lot different than GETTING IT.

  6. #6 Anna Haynes
    on Dec 5th, 2006 at 12:26 pm

    What the orgs need, and what would help some of their journalists, is to bring in experienced bloggers to help them understand the social milieu they are entering.

    You can lead a horse to water…

  7. #7 Beerzie
    on Dec 6th, 2006 at 10:12 am

    Corporations Killed the Blogging Star? I guess the problem here is that weblogs engender the kind of freedom that makes people uncomfortable, and in a corporate environment, this always takes on legal/economic ramifications. Are we offending our advertisers? Are we “exposing” ourselves to libel, etc.? These are questions the independent blogger doesn’t have to worry about (much). I find that most bloggers that are on new sites are often watered down versions of what is available on the Interner at large.

  8. #8 Abdurahman
    on Dec 17th, 2006 at 10:20 pm

    I work for one of the biggest news orgs in the world, and perhaps the only one that hasn’t taken up blogging … yet.

    But everyone realizes that there’s no going back, everyone will have to do it at some stage. Some are doing just because their rivals have blogs but others are really coming up with great models.