Posts about Weblogs

Haunted blogs

Siobhain Butterworth, the Guardian’s readers’ editor (read: ombudsman), examines the expectation of blog readers not to be spoken to by ghost writers, contrasting this with newspaper readers, who, she says, understand that pieces by pols and sometimes witnesses are often known to be ghostwritten. She quotes me and here’s what I emailed to her:

I don’t define blogs as content. I prefer to define blogs as people in conversation. The link is what enables that conversation. The link connects people and what they have to say. So a blog is presumed to have a blogger behind it: a person, a human voice. Granted, many of those people are hidden behind anonymity or pseudonymity. But they are still people. So when we find out that the person we are talking with behind the curtain is not a person but a PR agent or committee, it immediately robs the conversation of credibility and trust. It makes a lie of the dialogue. It is an attempt to game us, to defraud us.

It is the belief of many of my friends in the blogosphere that what sets it apart is precisely that we are hearing authentic human voices and not ghost- and flack-writen spin and that we have the opportunity to converse with these people. The internet, after all, is a conversation.

I do think there’s a desire to put the ghost writer out of business. And I’ve done my ghostwriting myself. I wrote others’ first-person stories in magazines (as the “as told to” cloak) and every time I’m stuck writing a press release (something else that should be put out of business) I’ve had to make up quotes for folks. We may all know that this happens but it doesn’t mean we like it. And I do think blogs are a reaction to that false voice.

The problem with newspaper blogs is . . .

. . . 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 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.

She’s baaaack. Bravo

Joan Rivers is back covering the red carpet, but this time for her own site: Emmys with Joan. It starts Sunday at 5p. Who needs a network when you have a blog? She and Melissa will be home live-blogging, live-vlogging, and all that, giving us the alternate soundtrack the awards show scene needs. No holds barred, my friend Fred Graver promises. She’s already blogging and its’ funny:

Hello, my darlings! Joan Rivers here, blogging for the first time in my short adult life.

I know what you’re thinking. “Why is Joan Rivers blogging?” Good question. My doctor told me blogging was what happened after eating too many bananas. But blogging is so much more — it’s sitting alone in a dark room, eating raw cookie dough out of the package while my dogs lick my bare feet, and wondering where my life has gone. Melissa, my daughter, love her to death, but the bitch never calls unless I threaten to update my will.

A game of wack-a-curmudgeon

Sometime ago, I tried to swear off commenting on linkbait that attacked either blogs or mainstream media. It’s just so tiring. Everything has been said. I feel the same way counteracting arguments against evolution, free speech, and television. I assume you do as well and so I don’t bother with the blog-v-MSM pissing matches. At the conference on networked journalism I’m holding at CUNY on Oct. 10, I’m thinking of having a gong on stage to bang if anyone even starts to head down that road. Enough already. Can we move on? Please?

So I was surprised when Jay Rosen bothered to snap back at Michael Skube’s contrarian-come-lately attack on blogs in the LA Times, just another in the apparently endless series of such screeds that pop up on op-ed pages like worms in the rain. In what was surely Jay’s shortest post ever, he told Skube to just retire: “I’m serious. You’re an embarrassment to my profession, to the university where you teach, and to the craft of reporting you claim to defend. It is time for you to quit, as you’ve clearly called it quits on learning– and reporting.” Here, here. That’s that.

But I should have figured that Jay was up to something bigger; he always is. He then turned around and asked his crowd to help him refute Skube and his crowd (once and for all, one would hope) with examples of these damned bloggers doing what Skube did not do: report. This then yielded a stirring and well-documented defense of bloggers’ journalism — beyond Trent Lott — as part of the Times’ lame new Blowback feature (a very controlling effort to add just a little bit of interactivity to its content, instead of just opening up to the discussion that is already happening all around them — see the post below). Jay ends:

No one owns the practice of reporting or assigns the right to do it. It’s a democratic thing to tell others what’s going on and “show your work.” Some people will not be deterred from doing that. Most of them don’t care what you call them. They do care if their story stands up.

I’ve said it before and I hope we can stop saying it soon, but this is not a matter of ‘or’ but ‘and’: Rather than one tribe of reporters attacking the other, we can and should be working together to report more than ever.

Maybe if we just ignore the linkbaiters they will, like bullies, skulk away. Or maybe they’ll write books and we’ll be dumb enough to debate them and give them more attention. I prefer to just walk away from this game of Wack-a-mole now. I’ll consider Jay’s piece the definitive response to the professional curmudgeons and urge the rest of us to just move on and do something constructive. Like report.

Class dismissed

Neil McIntosh has damned good advice for journalism students, following up on a report about the state of j-schools and technology, below:

Again, for those at the back: if you think you want to be a journalist, I now don’t think there’s any excuse not to have a blog. The closer you get to looking around for jobs, the better it should be maintained. If you enter the jobs market without one, no matter how good your degree, you’re increasingly likely to lose out to people who better present all they can do, and have the experience of creating and curating their own site.