Saturday, January 14, 2006

Why newspapers struggle with blogs

If you want a nice summary of what the problems are when newspapers try to blog and, in addition, when they try to invite outside bloggers to set up shop using the paper's site, read Snoring Out Loud by Kevin Brass in The Austin Chronicle.

Brass takes a pretty evenhanded look at the issue by examining why, in his opinion, the efforts of the Austin American-Statesman aren't working very well -- either with staff blogs or those from the outside. (Oh sure, there's a little snark, but the Chronicle is the alt paper, after all.)

A few excerpts:

  • Instead, after three months, the Statesman's public blog site has the communal energy of the Yarborough Branch library on free beer nuts night. Anyone willing to root around Statesman.com long enough to find the public blogs will discover only three or four new posts a day, mostly about UT football. According to the Statesman, of its "hundreds of thousands" of registered users, 396 have signed up for blogs. Of those, only about 20% have been active users in the last 30 days. As of mid-December, those frenzied citizen journalists had generated a total of 1,141 entries, an average of less than three a blog, which doesn't quite suggest a bubbling cauldron of ideas and dialogue.
  • But most of the blog entries so far have zero comments, the sad notation of a tree falling in the Internet with no one there to read it.
  • Although it's free and easy to use, the Statesman doesn't offer bloggers the ability to promote their blogs and link to other sites, bloggers note.
  • As is often the case when old media attempts to enter the new media realm, the Statesman's blog site is chock-full of rules, disclaimers, and warnings sure to annoy anyone raised in the Internet era.
  • Newspapers want to maintain a level of control in a format that thrives on a lack of controls, says Jon Lebkowsky, an active member of the local blog community. "The editor filter has value in the journalism context, but the lack of those filters is valuable for blogs," Lebkowsky said. To attract dedicated bloggers, he says, newspapers would have to alter their fundamental mindset, "to change their sense of what journalism is." If they can't let go, "it's not really blogging. It's just a newspaper using a different content management tool."
Brass does not address the potential legal issues, however. And while I know he wasn't trying to turn this into a law review article, I think any critique has to acknowledge the likelihood that any established company's lawyers probably are waving caution flags all around and examine, even briefly, the role that's likely to play.

All in all, however, a good summary of where we're at in one aspect as mainstream media try to deal with the idea of audience as content creators.

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