14 March 2008

SPOTLIGHT – BLOG I

Welcome to this fortnight’s post for the SPOTLIGHT series, where we’ll be concentrating on another aspect of the digital world.

This week we’re looking at the rather expansive subject of blogs – so expansive in fact that it’s going to be split into a “Blog Trilogy” with three instalments over the next few weeks.

Today we’re looking at examples of mainstream media bloggers who produce blogs for their newspaper or broadcaster.

While Parts II and III will look at user-generated blogs, the independent blogosphere as well as mobile and video blogging.

Back to today, we’ll be providing a picture of the online newspaper blogging landscape in the UK and have some interesting examples from the US.

Then we’ll take a look at some of the resources available for journalists looking to take their first step on the blogging ladder.

Blog – What is it?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a blog is “a frequently updated website consisting of personal observations, excerpts from other sources, etc., typically run by a single person, and usually with hyperlinks to other sites; an online journal or diary”.

SOA offers a more detailed definition, adding that a blog consists of entries presented in reverse chronological order with the latest posts (blog entries) showing first.

As we shall see from the examples below, newspaper blogs come in all shapes and sizes and range from the personal and opinionated to news round-ups (like this blog) to breaking news platforms.

However, they usually share these key features:

• Regular updates
• Posts presented by latest first
• Links to sources within posts
• Links to relevant websites in form of a blogroll
• Space for user comments


Why blog?

Journalists and editors may well be asking themselves what all this has to do with them. Should they be blogging? And if the answer is yes, what are the advantages to blogs?

Experienced journalist Alfred Hermida recently addressed the question of “Why blogs should play a role in journalism” on – where else – his blog, where he argues for more debate about its potential role as a publishing platform for reporters.

Meanwhile, new media pioneer Steve Outing advocates that reporters should start blogging to better understand how the “modern consumer interacts with media and news”.

[2008 All For Online]

And Scott Karp on his Publishing 2.0 blog goes even further and suggests all journalists should start blogging as it will enable them to become publishers and to build portfolios of online work.

Of course, not everyone subscribes to these views and Guardian technology correspondent Bobbie Johnson explains here why he believes blogging isn’t suited to all journalists.


BLOGGING LANDSCAPE

There are a number of ways newspapers in the UK and beyond are incorporating blogs into their digital output.

To get an idea of what’s happening, we’ll take a look at some examples of editorial blogs, breaking news blogs and beat blogs.


Editorial Blogs

These usually provide a behind-the-scenes peek at the newsroom, explaining the decision-making process behind issues such as story selection and headline choices.

They provide a place for interaction between readers and the newsroom and can be group blogs or written by individual members of staff.

Examples include BBC blog The Editors, Sky News’s Editors’ Blog and the Birmingham Post’s News Blog, which has devoted several posts to editorial matters.

Some good examples from the US include the Fresno Bee with its Ask the Editors blog, the Raleigh News & Observer’s Editor’s Blog and the Los Angeles Times’s Readers’ Representative Journal.

The advantages of managing such an interactive service are discussed in a recent American Journalism Review piece.

[Editorial Blogs ‘Open Conversation’]

Meanwhile, a sort of hybrid editorial/personal genre of blog is cropping up in the UK on regional press websites.

A growing number of blogs penned by editors are appearing which discuss editorial decisions and provide an insight into their daily lives.

Some are more personal than others and leading the pack in that regard is Alistair Machray’s blog for the Liverpool Echo, where he chronicles his home and office lives.

Next up is Birmingham Mail editor Steve Dyson who’ll blog one day about putting together a splash and the next about his near-death choking experiences.

Joining Dyson in the blogosphere is Birmingham Post editor Marc Reeves who last month launched a blog entitled "What a UK daily newspaper editor is learning about online journalism".

[Second Brum Editor Launches Blog]

Other examples of these “edistorial” blogs include Mark Thomas’s blog for the Liverpool Daily Post and Adrian Seals’s blog for the Uxbridge Gazette.

Oh, and if you’re interested in some of the potential pitfalls of blogging, check out Seal’s latest post where he appeals to the person who’s sent him 217 blank replies during the past 24 hours to kindly desist.


Breaking news via blogs

The first known case of a newspaper using a blog to issue breaking news occurred in 1998 with the Charlotte Observer’s reporting of Hurricane Bonnie, according to Cyberjournalist.

And Online Journalism Review says a breaking news blog is a must-have for newsrooms in 2008, citing examples of its success in 2007 with the LA Times’s coverage of the Californian wildfires.

[OJR’s Online Lessons From ‘07]

The advantages of blogs for breaking stories can be seen from the BBC’s coverage of the plane crash at Heathrow in January where political editor Nick Robinson found himself at the end of the runway on another plane.

He posted updates from his vantage point directly to his blog, thus turning his political blog into a breaking news resource.

And the fastest way to break news with blogs? Well, according to Steve Outing it’s by using micro-blogging service Twitter (of which we’ll hear more in Part III).

The website enables members, using text messages, instant messaging and the web, to submit short posts (known as tweets).

Outing reckons regional newspapers should harness its capabilities for their own ends by getting reporters in the field to “tweet” about stories breaking on their patch and direct readers to these posts.

[Tweet – To Who?]

It’s a tactic followed by Birmingham Post journalist Joanna Geary who was twittering not long after February’s earthquake.


Beat Blogs

Journalists blogging by theme has been an established feature of newspaper websites for some time.

Cyberjournalist has a wiki containing a list of ongoing newspaper blogs and it’s certainly worth seeing to get an idea of which websites have an established blog network.

Also, if you write a blog then you can visit the wiki and add yourself to the ever-growing ranks.

Among the newspapers aiming to create blog networks as an integral part of their online offerings in the UK is the relaunched Birmingham Mail.

[Mail Aims To Be Midlands Portal]

Beat blogs are not only a way of distributing news, but are also a way of generating stories due to the interaction with users.

Citizen journalism pioneer Jay Rosen is putting this to the test with his latest venture – Beatblogging.org.

Rosen has teamed up with a dozen reporters who are experimenting with the social networking potential of beat blogs as a way of creating leads and meeting new sources.

[And The Beat Goes On]

And for anyone interested in what makes a good beat blog, Rosen and his team’s research into America’s best blogging newspapers is worth a look.

Finally, if you’re curious about the popularity of such blogs, Martin Belam produced a chart last year showing the most popular UK newspaper blogs by subscribers.


How Do I Begin Blogging?

There’s a plethora of online resources advising people on the best way to blog so here’s just a few to provide a starting point.

For general blogs, Publishing 2.0 offers some practical tips with this post.

Poynter Online’s “How to start a news blog” is short but sweet and Alfred Hermida offers some ideas about how to begin a breaking news blog.

A more in-depth discussion about journalism and blogging is available from Blog-Talk Radio.

The programme is hosted by new media professor Sree Sreenivasan and features best practice tips for print and broadcast journalist bloggers.

For those who want to cut to the chase, Poynter has a short round-up of the highlights of the show.


What About You?

So that’s it for BLOG I, hope there’s some useful information in there for any curious would-be bloggers.

Next time we’ll be looking at the world of user-generated blogs while the final part will look at independent bloggers and new trends such as mobile and video blogging.

And if you’re a journalist or editor with your own blog we’d love to hear from you and maybe we can include your blog in future instalments or regular blog posts.

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