Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof

How and Why the Television News Should Blog

In Blogging, Journalism, Social media on June 25, 2005 at 12:42 am

A few notes:

6/24: This document originally had many, many convenient hyperlinks. But Blogger.com, for all its convenience, makes you choose between links and formatting when dumping a document into a post. I simply don’t have the hours and hours of unpaid hand-coding that it would need to retain them. So, use Google or something. If you would like a copy of the original, email me at bobfolder [at] gmail [dot] com.

7/4: According to Michael Tippett/NowPublic, KRON-TV in SF has just added a blog, called The Bay Area Is Talking.

10/2: Television blogs are now becoming more common. Marvel at my prescience. Blogging will grow; some will do it well and others poorly. Those who don’t understand what makes blogging popular or who think they’re “better” than those they are writing for, or who believe that blogging is just another marketing gimmick will probably not fare very well in the long run.

***


Hiring an official, full-time broadcast blogger has been done only once before. Brittney Gilbert was recently hired by Nashville’s WKRN-TV Channel 2 to write a blog called Nashville Is Talking.

Of course, a number of influential dailies have already put bloggers on staff. These include the Spokane Spokesman-Review, the San Jose Mercury News, the Toronto Star, the Guardian and Paris’s Le Monde. Why, with all the accusations of unreliability currently being leveled at both blogs and “mainstream media,” would a television station want to employ a blogger? I am uniquely qualified to answer that question.

Here are some reasons why this is a good idea for your station.

1. Dialogue. Blogs can encourage and cultivate a dynamic, ongoing conversation between the paper and its readers. Blogs give a station a much more detailed look at the hopes and needs of their readers than any survey could.

2. Humanization. A blog can extend the human face of a station to its readers. Yes, they see people on the station every day. But with a blog, they interact.

3. Immediacy. Blogs, updated at a moment’s notice, act as a gravity well, bringing daily readers into the station’s sphere multiple times over the course of a day.

4. Transparency. Blogs provide the reader with a window into the newsroom and the station with a window into the reader’s living room.

5. Trust. See above. Nothing captures the loyalty of readers like transparency and humanity.

6. Content. Blogs add content, which is even more important for a “broad but never very deep” medium like television.

7. Tip sheet. Via the accessibility tools (comment fields and email) and the general sense of approachability, the blogger can act as a conduit between readers and reporters for developing news stories.

8. Income. Ads can be sold to appear on the blog pages.

What would stop your station blog from being open to criticism?

There has been a lot of criticism directed toward bloggers. As a blogger and a journalist I’m in a position to confirm that a lot of that criticism is well-deserved. Bloggers, especially those without either journalistic or academic experience, can make sloppy, ill-formed and unsupported arguments that inflame emotions without clarifying the reality of the issues. You would be insulated from these criticisms for the following reasons.

1. Credibility. Your blogger must be a journalist with a proven track record as well as a blogger with an established voice.

2. Standards. By creating, publishing and adhering to a clear set of journalism-based blogging standards you obviate any criticism.

3. Journalism approach. Although your blogger will take full advantage of the tools and customs of blogging (quoting, linking, blogrolling, comments, etc.), he will also use those of journalism (multiple-sourcing, interviews, research, observation, etc.).

Lead, follow or get out of the way.

As non-flaky a source as Rupert Murdoch recently said, “Scarcely a day goes by without some claim that new technologies are fast writing newsprint’s obituary. Yet, as an industry, many of us have been remarkably, unaccountably complacent. Certainly, I didn’t do as much as I should have after all the excitement of the late 1990’s. I suspect many of you in this room did the same, quietly hoping that this thing called the digital revolution would just limp along.”

Although, having been through the e-commerce hype-fest of the late ’90s in the Bay Area, I would be the last one to assert that blogging will be anyone’s salvation, it seems safe to say that ignoring it, as Murdoch asserts, is something the media will continue to do at their peril. The latest study on consumer confidence in the media indicates that confidence is at an all-time low.

Your station’s Blogging Roadmap

1. Decide which blogging software to use, where to host it and how to link it to the main site.
2. Decide what technologies will be used, text only or, as I prefer, photos and podcasting and even videopodcasting.
3. Set up the site, including initial blogroll, contact info, etc.
4. If you do not already have one, create a simple but strong company-wide blogging policy.
5. Create a mission statement for the station blog. This is to set up expectations by establishing such things as ‘we will clearly distinguish opinion and analysis from news on the blog’ and ‘comment fields on all posts will be open’ and ‘the only comments that will be deleted will be those that are racist or violent’ and so forth.
6. Have an idea of how to balance the journalistic elements with the blogging elements. The blog has to adhere to journalistic standards but it also must retain the bold, in-process feel that has made blogs so popular.
7. Decide how to promote it.

Coverage

Many of the posts will be traditional blog posts that expand the reach of news stories by linking to resource materials, offering extra materials, quoting from other sources; or that point out elements of stories that fall between the cracks, or things that don’t add up to full stories but that people might find interesting. Others would be more traditionally journalistic, though augmented by new media elements like podcasting raw interviews.

In addition to day-to-day blogging, events could be blogged (a particularly important city council meeting, a sporting event, etc.) We could also create blog-specific packages.

Blog Goals

Strategic (your company)
1. Establish your station as broadcast blogging leader
2. Increase viewer share and attract new viewers
3. Add to the robustness of your station’s multimedia content
4. Deepen your station’s broad coverage
5. Provide audience assessment tool
6. Increase your station’s transparency and viewer trust
7. Serve as tip sheet and source pool for news operation
8. Serve as possible starting point and hub for station-wide family of topic blogs

Functional (your viewers)
1. Enrich viewers’ news experience
2. Give viewers a sense of “applied democracy” in terms of the media they rely on to make informed decisions
3. Give viewers more points of entry and examination of topics and stories
4. Acts as the Eugene area’s blog aggregator, aggregating both blogs written by members of the local communities as well as sites of interest to the viewers
5. Act as internal your station blog consultant and source

Professional (your blogger)
1. Gain a living wage doing a professional job for an established media organization with a good reputation
2. Become a recognized and valued member of the community
3. Increase my profile as both a blogger and a journalist
4. Become a nationally-recognized specialist in the use of blogging in broadcast media
5. Get on-screen experience
6. Increase technical skills

Notes on structure and process

The blogger should report directly to the News Director.

The ND should review the blog on his own on whatever schedule he determines. However, posts should not be vetted beforehand. There are several reasons for this departure from journalistic custom: First, it’s a blog, so, although it is in the service of the station, it needs to maintain a certain independence to retain credibility or it will be dismissed as a marketing tool. Second, the immediacy and responsiveness of the medium necessitates a lack of drag-time between issue and post (not to mention the fact that a given day could see a dozen posts, the vetting of which would take a great bite out of the ND’s day).

Frankly, blogging within a company, media or otherwise, requires two things from management: trust in the blogger and guts to take the chance on an unproven medium. From the blogger are required common sense and good faith.

The blogger will need to establish good working relationships with the news staff, the station’s technologist and its web designer.

The blog will be posted to daily during the week—usually, multiple times daily. Any time when the blogger is unable to post (illness, working on a larger piece, etc.) other members of the news staff would be invited to “guest blog.”

Members of the your station staff—news and otherwise—should be encouraged to register their feelings in the same way as all other readers of the blog: by writing into the comments on the posts. In fact, the staff, especially news, should be encouraged very enthusiastically by the blogger and ND to do so. One of the benefits of that is the sense of the blog being a place where viewers can interact not just with the station, as an abstract entity, or with the blogger, but with the whole host of personalities, onscreen and behind the scenes.

The blogger will work with the technologist to continually enrich the blog with the use of multimedia tools (digital video, audio and photo).

Future facing

Your station’s blog can be the anchor for your development of, and experimentation with, so-called “citizen media” (CM). I doubt very much that the obituaries being prepared for what is, often derogatorily, called -“mainstream media” (MSM), will be published. But it is at this point beyond doubt that the most successful of the MSM will be characterized, in part, by how well they use, and respond to, CM.

This blog can, as I’ve said previously, be used as the hub for a news-division-wide and, in fact, station-wide suite of blogs. Onscreen talent may want to take advantage of the form; the entertainment division may wish to. Many companies have had great success encouraging their employees to blog. Examples include Sun Microsystems and Microsoft. These technology companies are often early adopters of technology for obvious reasons, but others are getting into the act.

But I think the future of your station as it relates to CM may be to take a page out of the Current TV playbook. Current TV is the new, tech-savvy television network started by, among others, former Vice President Al Gore, and headquartered in San Francisco. They are relying heavily on their young demographic to provide a great deal of independently-produced content. Current Studio allows viewers to submit their own stories, shows and specials to the network. My reservation about the network is that it may skew too young and be so self-consciously “cutting edge” that the vast majority of its viewers may wind up being ill-served. It also has the excessively glossy look of Tech TV, an unsuccessful experiment that had to transform to the even more specific focus of video games to survive.

This is what I see for a successfully blogging station: The Citizen Journalist Network (CJN). Like Current Studio, it would provide a place for amateur journalists, deeply invested in their community (or communities) to post video, audio, photography and text stories. It would create a participatory space for invested viewers. You could start by advertising a weekly contest on the blog, select one story per week and post it for viewing and comment. Should that prove successful, you could begin to air one story per week on the broadcast. And then, should that in turn prove successful, you could launch the CJN.

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  1. Hi,

    We’ve quietly been working on the next release of NowPublic and it is now – finally – in testing. We still have a few seats left in our beta group so if you’re interested in getting an advanced viewing before we launch please let me know.

    In the coming weeks I’ll post additional details here but please feel free to contact me in the meantime. My email address is calder(at)nowpublic(dot)com.

    Best,

    Calder Lorenz,
    Director, Contributor Relations, NowPublic.com

  2. Hi,

    As promised, here are the details…

    It looks like the NowPublic V3 beta program will be starting next week. Let me know if you want to join us. We’d be very interested in what you think. My email address is clorenz(at)nowpublic(dot)com.

    Thanks,
    Calder
    Email: clorenz@nowpublic.com

  3. Hey,

    As promised, here are the details about NowPublic V3

    We will be going live tomorrow between 6am and 6pm (pending the servers showing up to work). You can find a sneak peak here:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/clorenz/

    Feel free to drop me a note with your comments. Thanks. My email address is
    clorenz(at)nowpublic(dot)com.

    Yrs,
    Calder

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