Why Journalists Should *Not* Become Bloggers
Bully for them, I say. Blogging is essentially the Head Start program of digital journalism–a way to ensure that even the most needy and disadvantaged are at least minimally prepared for the greater educational challenges ahead.
Blogging teaches several essential lessons of online journalism: Write short. Be clear. Use keywords. Shoot bullets. Add crisp explanation and a viewpoint. Link off-site. Get the hell out. [Actually, I wish more of my blog entries were like that, but let’s set that aside for the moment.]
Okay, blogs are good tools for reporters in digital diapers. The problem is, they create a lousy user experience–and may do late-adopter journalists more harm than good.
- Blogs bury yesterday and make last week disappear. Like the clocks in The Exorcist, blogs demonstrate reverse chronology in an unsettling way. Today’s entry is on top. Until tomorrow, when yesterday slips away. Wednesday buries Monday and pretty soon the good stuff is down in the basement somewhere. Want context? Just check out our handy tag cloud! Click around and you’ll find it. . .somewhere. Maybe.
- Blogs impose no word limit. Saying “no word limit” to a journalist is like shouting “shrimp at the buffet table.” Stand aside and don’t expect to see that reporter for awhile.
- Blogs sustain the Cult of Text. Traditional journalists are trained to render complex behaviors and ideas into columns of words. (Most) blogs do little to invite journalists to tell stories in novel ways with new media.
- Blogs reinforce the auteur theory. Bloggers often think they are curating a collection of their wisdom, which fans will stop by daily to admire. Fifteen minutes with Omniture illustrates that web users don’t behave this way. Much (if not most) blog traffic comes in through the side door, via links from other blogs or web search results. Blog traffic isn’t about who–it’s about what (and what else).
Is any of this starting to sound distressingly familiar? Journalists write for themselves and colleagues. . .ignore readers. . . cling to familiar, pernicious habits and forms. . . .refuse on principle to acknowledge commercial imperatives. . . .
It’s enough to give pause to any newsroom manager congratulating herself for having dozens of reporters blogging.
Blogs aren’t even kindergarten in new media.
Get a reporter, an editor, a producer and a developer to sit down together. Have them figure out how to report on some important civic event without writing a story at all.
Welcome to Middle School.
[Added with barely repressed glee 8 p.m. 4/3: “New study finds that newspaper blogs fail to increase public dialogue . . .Newspapers will have to change the way they approach blogging if they are going to be a force in increasing public dialogue on political issues, says a joint study from Ball State University and the University of Nevada, Reno. A study of blogs and audience engagement during the week before the fall 2006 elections found that most newspaper staff-produced blogs contained a small number of postings, failed to create much interaction between the blogger and the audience and attracted few audience comments.”