News in the Age of Blogs
Publishers need to embrace a hybrid model.
Publishers all over the country are wrestling with how to incorporate popular blog material into their Web sites without losing credibility with advertisers.
It’s a toughie, because the siren song of the blogosphere is loud. If you build blogs into your network, so the Web 2.0 hype has it, the audience will come.
At the same time, publishers are rightly leery of the well deserved reputation that most blogs have acquired for being poorly written, fact-challenged and potentially defamatory.
And oftentimes the publishers’ in-house editors want nothing to do with blogging—climbing onto their ethical high-horses and lecturing about the importance of continuing to deliver “real news” in a Web world before going off to the bar to sulk.
The end result is the worst of all worlds. Most sites that deal in the business of news, or even news about business, now feature “split” home pages. One side of the page features regular old news analysis. Another page element, usually smaller and lower down, offers a handful of half-hearted blogs.
Right Problem, Right Solution
The fact of the matter is that everyone’s tackling the wrong problem with the wrong solution. In the upside-down publishing world created by the Internet there is no reason not to slaughter the sacred cow of “traditional news” and invent an entirely new type of news coverage—one that combines the best practices of news (dual sourcing, quantitative analysis, content and copy editing) with the attitude, qualitative opinion, gossip, and social networking benefits of first-person blogging.
This is the model that we have been employing on Internet Evolution since 2006, with great success (and I do say so myself).
Another hugely popular technology Web site, The Register, has effectively been doing this for years, as has The Guardian newspaper’s online “Comment” section, with its 700 or so contributors—not to mention The Huffington Post.
Implementing this hybrid of news and blogging allows in-house editors to focus more of their efforts on community-building activities (finding external writers to produce the news/blogs rather than writing them all themselves). And, having run both traditional online news organizations and a blog-based site, I can tell you it’s also much cheaper than maintaining a traditional news staff—and far more likely to generate traffic in a search-driven publishing online world.
The two main obstacles to implementing such a model are people: editors and bloggers (not readers, note, who love this format).
A lot of currently employed editors won’t buy in—especially older ones, who tend to suffer from an “information age gap.”
At the other end of the spectrum are the bloggers. When we rolled out the hybrid news/blog model on Internet Evolution, a couple bloggers balked at having their work edited and withdrew from the site, claiming that it ran contra to the fundamental tenets of blogging (spontaneous, uncontrolled, blah blah blah).
However, it was notable that the only ones who complained were also—how to put this delicately—not especially wonderful writers; draw your own conclusions about what was really driving their hostility.
Don’t Sing the “Blews”
The vast majority of bloggers, and we now have more than 200 contributors to Internet Evolution, welcome and enjoy the editing process, rightly recognizing that being content and copy edited by professional editors makes them look better (or is “good for their brand” as they like to have it).
Which just leaves one problem—what to call this combination of news and blogging? “Nogging” just doesn’t do it for me.
But one thing’s certain: Publishers that don’t embrace this hybrid are soon going to be singing the “blews.”
Stephen Saunders is an independent media consultant and the founder of Internet Evolution.