Mainstream news organizations could steal an idea or two from blogs.
By Barb Palser
Barb Palser (email@example.com), AJR's new-media columnist, is vice president, account management, with Internet Broadcasting.
Dear journalist, fear not the blog. Embrace the blog.
Weblogs are online journals consisting of brief entries displayed in chronological order on a page (see "Online Uprising," June). They are usually (but not always) written in a conversational voice and usually (but not always) peppered with links and references to other sites. If you've visited Jim Romenesko's MediaNews (poynter.org/medianews), you've got the idea.
The simple, linear structure of Weblogs has long served the narrative needs of software developers and teenage diarists alike. Now blogging is confronting journalism, with the rise of current-events blogs that deconstruct news coverage, spew opinion and even scoop the big media from time to time. The best news bloggers are articulate, independent thinkers. In some ways, they are the antithesis of traditional journalists: unedited, unabashedly opinionated, sporadic and personal.
There currently is a rollicking discussion among bloggers and some traditional journalists about whether blogging is a new form of journalism, and whether blogs will overtake online newspapers in the not-so-distant future. In March, New York Times Digital CEO Martin Nisenholtz accepted a playful wager from blogger Dave Winer that, in 2007, Weblogs would rank higher than Times articles in a Google news search. For both position statements, see longbets.org/bet/2.
Tempting though it is to wade into that debate, it means little to most pavement-pounding journalists or their readers. More relevant are the possibilities that blogging offers traditional newsrooms.
In the most literal sense, that could mean luring successful bloggers into the media's own stables. In February FoxNews.com brought blogger Ken Layne on board; in May Mickey Kaus paired his blog, KausFiles.com, with Microsoft-owned Slate. In a more practical sense, it means that news sites could adopt the format for certain types of reporting. The technology is dirt cheap (the most popular provider, Blogger, inexplicably offers its service free of charge) and easy to use. The Weblog format isn't ideal for hard news or in-depth reporting, but it's a perfect fit for opinion writing, brief dispatches and digests.
MSNBC.com is one of a few big news sites to jump on the blogging bandwagon. Its five blogs encompass science and entertainment, politics ("World Agenda" with Michael Moran) and opinion (Chris Matthews' "Hardball" blog and Eric Alterman's "Altercation"). Unlike free-range species, MSNBC's blogs are edited--"but with a light hand," says Managing Producer Reed Price. "We want to take advantage of the transparency offered by blogs, allowing readers to draw a clearer bead on the writer's personality."
News blogs can also focus on specific stories or events. During the World Cup, London's Guardian set up a temporary Weblog (football. guardian.co.uk/worldcup2002/weblog/) dedicated to tracking online commentary and features about the games.
Any news site could set up topical Weblogs to monitor major stories, summarizing and linking to international and alternative coverage that readers wouldn't encounter on their own. Consider the possibilities for foreign correspondents and local beat reporters. The prospect of rampant cross-linking might flummox a few editors, but it's high time they get past that phobia.
Meanwhile, a growing number of journalists are blogging on their own time. (See cyberjournalist.net/cyberjournalists.html for a directory.) Many are freelancers and columnists who want a showcase for their collected works and an overflow bin for commentary that couldn't fit into their allotted inches or minutes. (I wish I had a blog right now.)
Joshua Micah Marshall, freelance writer and former Washington editor of The American Prospect, recently wrote on his blog, TalkingPointsMemo.com: "One of the great things about having a Weblog is having a forum for expanding on points that must be dealt with briefly in conventional article writing. The article on Iraq which I just wrote for The Washington Monthly is a case in point."
Even journalists who have no interest in running a blog can glean story tips and ideas from them. As Catherine Seipp wrote in AJR's June issue, she likes to think of Glenn Reynolds (superstar blogger who runs Instapundit.com) as her "unpaid personal research assistant."
Get the picture? Blogs can be a rich resource, an easy publishing tool and a repository for notebook overflow. I seriously doubt they'll usurp online newspapers in five years--but newsrooms could borrow a few tricks from today's bloggers to make their own journalism better.###