A recent c|net news article discusses the uneasy relationship between bloggers and the news media. While decrying the lack of blogger objectivity and their second tier status in the news food chain, newspapers have been quietly wooing bloggers to augment their online presence.
The article cites a recent Forrester Research study that shows that blogs now have the same audience share as newspaper Web sites among Internet users between the ages of 18 and 24. For other demographic sectors, newspapers still win, but blogs are gaining.
Newspaper efforts to mashup blogs with their traditional news has had mixed results. There have been some famous cases of fired bloggers, but mostly it's just a simple case of too little attention or too little money.
One of my local papers, the Salt Lake Tribune, has a bevy of blogs. I've followed some of them. They tend to be well written--when they're written at all. That's the problem. One of my favorites, Paul Rolly's blog, hasn't been updated for weeks. Clearly he sees this is a sidelight that gets dropped when he gets busy.
This blog, Between the Lines, and the other ZDNet blogs are a similar effort by ZDNet to do the same kind of thing. ZDNet has pulled this off, I think by observing a few rules newspapers could learn from:
- Dedicate resources, including systems and people to bloging. ZDNet has a person who runs the blogging program: recruiting bloggers, managing problems, coordinating special features across blogs, building traffic, and so on.
- Don't make the mistake of thinking of the blogging czar as an editor who has editorial control over the writing that appears on the blog. This is more of a facilitator position, even if it comes with the title "editor."
- Mix people from the established news organization with real, experienced bloggers. The newspeople have good things to say and the non-news bloggers leaven the mix.
- Work on building traffic. You have an established media engine; use it to drive traffic to the blogs.
- Blogs need frequent posts to remain fresh. Rather than thinking of a blog as a sidelight that is worked on a few times a week, blogs need posts a few times a day.
ZDNet has had success here, I think, because they're not a newspaper. They're a publishing concern, to be sure, but the whole c|net side of the business was begun as an Internet venture and the Internet's in their blood.
In the end, this may be a classic Clayton Christensen (Innovator's Dilemma) situation. Almost all established businesses fail to take advantage of upstart technologies that are competing against non-consumption rather than head-to-head. The few that manage to escape this trap do so by cannibalizing the established business to grow the new one. Somehow I don't see that happening in the newspaper industry.