. . . they are on newspaper sites.
I’ve come to argue that newspapers should not be big brands but big collections of brands.
If I develop a relationship with a blog, I don’t go searching for it through the many layers of an adventure game that is newspaper-site navigation. I don’t treat a newspaper as a portal to my blog relationships. I don’t recommend a brand and address that has too many dots and too many slashes in it. I mostly find posts via links from trusted peers or through RSS subscriptions. Blogs spread not because they reside on huge sites but because they have relationships with people, because the are viral. And the way to be viral is to live at the same level as other linkers: blog to blog, brand to brand, person to person.
So I think that if newspapers are going to blog, they should have lots of blogs at lots of addresses, lots of people creating lots of brands. And this also means that they must be written in the human voice of the person, not the cold voice of the institution. And, while we’re at it, this means that they must join in and link to other conversations; that is they only way they will spread and grow, not because they live six clicks deep into a giant newspaper site. We are seeing the links and the voice. But the architecture remains a problem.
Choire Sicha at Gawker, a man who knows his blogs, highlights the problem at newspapers as he points to their ghettoization into blog sections, as if we come in thinking, ‘hmmh, I feel like some blogs today — a little sports, then some gossip and maybe some politics too,’ as if we are really at a Mongolian barbecue saying, ‘I have a hankering for some chicken and pork and sprouts and put that sweet sauce on it, please.’ It only highlights the broken nature of the newspaper navigation and the portal. Well, Choire would argue, I think, that it’s not broken: We still come to a newspaper and newspaper site wanting to get sports and business. But we don’t come wanting blogs. We either will or won’t build a direct relationship with those blogs and to do so we need to get to them directly.
Architecturally, this returns to the idea that news sites shouldn’t be sites at all but larger, looser networks and not just of stuff they make but also — who can afford to make it all — stuff others make. It also points to the problem of presuming that sites can and should still consider themselves destinations; this, I argued, is one of the lessons of the death of Timesselect.
Now having said all this, I am happy to see that newspaper bloggers are understanding the need for a new voice and a new relationship with others. Simon Dumenco at Ad Age pointed this out in a column that is now behind a pay wall (Hey, Ad Age, can’t you learn a lesson from the Times on this?). One of the best examples of the new newspaper blog voice is Saul Hansell at the Times’ Bits blog. He gets personal and opinionated and is certainly breezier than his print persona and he also makes artistic use of the link to bloggers’ conversations and competitors’ news.
I’m also happy to see that the Times doesn’t think it has to produce all this bloggy goodness itself; that’s why it made a deal with Freakonomics. But the mistake, I’ve argued, was bringing Freakonomics into the Times’ site and navigation. I think that instead, it should have made it part of a larger Times network of content and ads. I should add that Prezvid, my other blog, was brought into syndication deals with the Washington Post and now CBSNews.com. This slurping-up of the content occurred for another reason (media lawyers’ fear of the copyright questions raised by news video on YouTube). And may be the idea that Prezvid’s posts can exist in four or five places is just a preview of a more distributed architecture for blogs themselves.
Still, I think Choire has important advice for newspapers. The blogs may be getting more plentiful and they are getting better. But now they’re ready to move out of the house and find homes of their own.