Why Journalists Should *Not* Become Bloggers

Every day it seems there’s a new report that another mainstream news operation has dispatched its ink-stained-wretches to become digit-spattered wretches, by drafting them into the blogging corps.

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.

Consider:

  • 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.

Good.

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.”

Explore posts in the same categories: journalism, news, print-to-digital, Uncategorized

12 Comments on “Why Journalists Should *Not* Become Bloggers”

  1. Jane Abao Says:

    Journalists shouldn’t really be bloggers!

    I like what you say. I am a product of traditional journalism, but I am willing to listen and try new ideas.

    Middle school? As long as it is a product of tenable research.


  2. Well, there’s a reason for the reverse chronological experience– blogs evolved around ephemera and reflect the flow of life, not the Topic of The Week as most news orgs present (CNN.com changes the top story about 4 times a day, which on a larger commercial blog would be ruination). Still, some blogs have figured out how to keep the good stuff at the top, just check out DIYLife.com or Massively.com

    But I had a few laughs here– especially since I’ve had some traditional journalists apply for jobs with our blogs and they just didn’t get it at all (not to mention their grammar and spelling were atrocious).


  3. We’ve been having more and more staffers start blogs at my paper. They often aim at breezy opinion on a particular subject of interest. While sometimes this works, such as in Sports, I haven’t seen a large number of responses from readers.

    They do tend to write short, though, and I’m sure this is due to the fact that everybody in the newsroom has PLENTY of other work to do. Blogging isn’t their main job.

    I do like the idea that reporters have a beat blog, not to engage in opinion, but to host community discussion on beat topics and gather information for story ideas. Are there many papers that have all reporters do blogs on their beats? The challenge, in my opinion, is to find a way to get enough readers to pay attention.

    Personally, I don’t see a big problem with a chronological order to blogs, the most recent being at the top. That’s the way the daily paper works, after all.

  4. Craig Stoltz Says:

    Thanks much for these comments.

    Victor: Yes, you’re right, blogs were first embraced as a journaling tool, so the today-at-the-top worked well.

    A blogging tool is really a simple content management system, and it’s been appropriated, with different levels of success, for various purposes. [As you point out.]

    For my money [and per usability and heat-map tests] readers’ eyes don’t move top to bottom. They scan the top, move down to the left, scan across to the right and often seek something related to click almost immediately. A blog that serves up long vertical entries that scroll beyond screen two are (my opinion/experience only) begging to be ignored.

    [I put my own blog in this category, of course.]

    Dhyana: Interesting point about how other reporters’ other responsibilities keep the entries short. Fascinating implications: If reporters spend more time on their blogs, do they make them worse?

    One point about the way today’s entry disappears by tomorrow. I’ve been reluctant to write a new post since I put this one up, fearing that anyone who comes to my blog directly will miss this one, which has generated a lot of interest. John Kelly, author of the excellent Voxford blog (http://www.voxford.blogspot.com) dropped a note he feels the same way–reluctant to post more than once daily out of fear a good entry will be buried.

  5. Dean Says:

    Dead-on about word-limits, Craig.
    The worrisome finding in Poynter’s new EyeTrack was that web readers dive deep.
    If writers take that as a license to bloviate, we’re still at the same stuck-spot.
    Getting better at no story at all is the point.

  6. VTFootballGrad Says:

    I wouldn’t think there is much money in blogging anyway. Stick to the paper.

  7. njpeters Says:

    Why don’t newspapers harness blogs like other bloggers do? Link to other bloggers, engage in conversation, and create community. Blogging isn’t about being center stage and reveling in the gaze of an audience. Seems more like shouting across a trading floor and gaining a momentary interaction (which speaks to your thought that blogging is about “what” not “who”. I’d love to see a newspaper link to relevant outsider blog posts and become a part of the conversation instead of trying to steal the spotlight.

    We’re having more conversations about this stuff over at wediaup.wordpress.com. Would enjoy your thoughts about our nascent community, Craig.

  8. swee Says:

    “New study finds that newspaper blogs fail to increase public dialogue . . .”

    I think a forum would suffice instead of a blog if dialogue is the main aim. I wouldn’t want to blog if that was my aim – to increase dialogue. I would instead install a forum engine and prompt a reaction.


  9. […] saw this regarding journalist bloggers – my responses are interspersed into the author’s […]

  10. Craig Stoltz Says:

    njpeters: Thanks for the invite, and I agree completely that news organizations that won’t link off-site to other blogs are depriving their readers of a richer, better experience. For a master class on the value of link journalism, see Scott Karp’s Publish2.com. (I’m an enthusiastic user of it.)

    Dean: The Poynter Eyetracking study (which found people on the web *do* dig down to the end of stories is simply inexplicable. I keep hoping for some announcement that the data was misinterpreted and we should all ignore it. Every usability test I’ve conducted/observed/read about suggests web users skim, grab and go.

  11. Expesserart Says:

    Waow loved reading your article. I added your feed to my reader.


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