It is, I’m horrified to report, a direct quote: “We gotta get into that blogging thing if we want to get snaps from younger readers…”
Now, if you happen to hear these words coming from a very senior, 50-something editor at a well-known American newspaper I’m sure your reaction will be exactly like mine, namely: “uh-oh, I’m going to have a grand mal seizure now…”
For the record, I’ve never had a grand mal seizure. So I was worried about that whole swallowing your tongue thing.
But stepping back from one’s own mortality and taking the long view, swallowing your own tongue might be better than living on a planet where aging white male editors utter, without a trace of irony, “if we want snaps from younger readers” and nobody puts them to sleep for saying such things.
“… I’m serious Bob, we’ve just gotta get some blogging going if we want cred…”
In a just world, secret doors would open and people in lab coats and goggles would jab said editor with electrified barbs and cart his body off to study his atrophied brain. As the lab guys vanish again you would sit there stunned and feeling newly safe and thinking, “wow, that was close.”
No such luck. It is, after all, Our World and no secret doors opened and no people in lab coats and goggles came and you know… you just know… that somewhere in the towers of mainstream media this editor is getting snaps from aging publishers for getting jiggy with the youngsters by jumping into that blogging thing to snarl hella amounts of heinous cred, dude…
Thus, the only sane alternative for me was the grand mal seizure.
And then, as the twitching started and I realized this was it, I looked into his incredibly clueless – and yet oddly hunted – eyes and a comforting thought swept over me.
The apocalypse is nigh.
It’s all going to be OK. A feeling of well-being swept over me. The great media sorting out has started and this editor, too, shall pass.
In fact, while the “getting snaps” stuff caused my near seizure – and neatly sums up why newspapers simply can’t attract young readers – it’s the first part of the statement that remains the most troubling: “we gotta get into this blogging thing….”
Memo to mainstream media: You don’t get to blog.
You have a publishing apparatus. So you don’t get to blog. You have a broadcasting apparatus. So you don’t get to blog.
In case you missed this the point while you were reading up on youth slang, I’ll repeat it for emphasis. You. Do. Not. Get. To. Blog.
Not that you won’t try. Currently, there’s a rush among traditional media outlets to get into that wicked bitchin’, snaps inducing “blogging thing.” Almost all of these efforts are agonizingly misguided.
Buzzword compliance is a big deal in traditional media. Unfortunately, in America, media leadership is marbled with mediocre minds. And, like loneliness, mediocrity craves company.
Publishers, editors and broadcasters feel precisely naked if they are not participating in the trend of the moment. They yap about innovation and then simply shamble along, following the lead of others. That’s why editors love editorial fads. If one person makes a mistake he or she gets blamed for it. If everyone makes the same mistake, it’s an industrywide experiment. No blame. Safety in the mind-numbed crowd…
In the late 1970s, the “reporter’s notebook” was a hot buzzword. Every news outlet worth its salt had to have one.
There was a romantic vision of American newsrooms abloom with little tidbits of info. Lovely little items that were interesting but couldn’t quite support a full story.
Why not gather these items up, the reasoning ran, call it a “reporters notebook” and publish it? Individually, the nuggets weren’t worth much, but stack them in a big pile and they would reach critical mass and be great…. Or, it could just be a big stack of trivia. Whichever. But everyone was doing it, so….
What this ignored was reporters are already all too adept at taking a tiny tidbit and turning it into a full story, whether it should be one or not.
Because of this, reporters kind of resented the whole notebook idea. Of course, the reporter’s notebooks did give them a chance to mention their granny or cousin Jethro or some such and they thought that was fun at least.
Despite these slender delights, reporters quickly ran out of exciting little tidbits. And their personal musings over said tidbits were not exactly profound. And the notebooks became little more than half-hearted columns featuring references to family and friends. So, after the first wave of notebooks hit, it became clear that – outside of gossip columns – any tidbit worth publishing at all likely merited a real story.
Readers didn’t care much for this reportorial dim sum either. They quickly sussed out that the notebooks were embryonic journalism stripped of context and, in a weird way, kind of insulting.
By the mid-to-late 1980s, the whole “reporter’s notebook” fad pretty much died except for the odd holdout in Sunday papers. On to other buzzwords…
But wait! “Reporters notebooks” are back from their deserved oblivion. They’ve been slapped up on the web as media company blogs.
It’s happening all across the country as newspapers and broadcasters rush to add their imprint to the blogscape. Mark my words, references to people’s grannies or their pets aren’t far behind.
And reporter resentment shall follow too. Just yesterday, Variety’s Brian Lowry wrote a scathing piece about what a pain in the ass it was to try to blog something like a press tour just because some goon with a title has inter-generational aspirations.
The point from inside the newsroom is: a seasoned journalist like Lowry is already telling us everything he feels needs to be said. The point from the readers perspective is: why are you giving us more of the same old crap all chopped up and calling it pate?
I’ll resist the temptation to unleash a list of silly newspaper and television station blogs at this point. There are lots, some run by operations that should know better. Besides, we only need to use one to illustrate the obvious: media blogs simply further expose the staff members who are already well exposed to the public.
If you’re curious for an example of why mainstream media blogs are goofy, check out the Miles O’Brian shuttle launch blog at CNN.
Here we find O’Brian plastering the web site with a couple of extra paragraphs of items that might normally appear as color in a real story. It’s all spiced with the random, token stab at personal flavor: I kept waiting for him to write, “Wheee!!! Lift off!!! God Bless America! Take that, Fox! You hear that? I said God Bless America before you did!!!!”
I mean, there’s just NOTHING there and yet, CNN puffs itself up by playing the “blog” game. Gotta get those snaps, right?
And that’s the fundamental failing of media company blogs: they aren’t blogs in the proper sense and they utterly misapprehend what is fascinating about blogging.
The majority of the time, media blogs deliver more staff voices that are already published and broadcast ad-naseum. Occasionally, you might hear from, say, a copy editor or section editor or librarian who otherwise does not make it into print or on the air. And yes, that can have marginal appeal. But it scarcely registers in the big picture because media company blogs adhere to the old top-down, we-talk-you-listen-punk publishing model.
Furthermore, one wonders if spending any staff time writing blogs is a prudent use of resources when American newspapers and broadcasters should be throwing all their energy at fixing the creaky mindset that is losing them audience every day.
Fact: Most major media players couldn’t lose their audience faster if they were chasing them with a stick. And rather than reform and transform, major media – in some kind of manic pratfall – responds by further exposing the public to the very same cast of characters that the audience has already rejected. Staff blogs. Wow.
Goddamned brilliant, that.
There is a deeper issue that mainstream media doesn’t comprehend here.
The DNA of blogging is a complicated matter that touches on being outside voices and taking personal control of the media. But at minimum the DNA of blogging has to do with distributing the conversation. Contrary to that, the DNA of mainstream media – to date – is all about dominating the conversation.
Bloggers are, for all intents and purposes, the pamphleteers of the 1700s all decked out in modern livery. Some are crazy. Some are geniuses. Some are vile. Some are heroic. Some boring. Some cooler than cool. In other words, they’re us.
Like those pamphleteers, at this point blogging tends to be more about opinions than facts. Also like those pamphleteers, bloggers are in the process of laying the groundwork for very important journalism going forth from here.
It’s early in this cycle for new journalism. Early, but exciting. In some cases it reaches beyond blogging and into citizen journalism to cover stories the mainstream press can’t or won’t — for instance consider the grand sweep of Indymedia.org.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, it can be remarkable and intimate blogging, such as when Scott Cutshall noticed that a golden age of handmade craft bicycles was upon us and, on his own, undertook to interview the framebuilders because no one else was doing it.
For some reason, most of mainstream media doesn’t understand that blogging happens when you don’t have a printing press or a broadcast booth available, but you do have something to say. Nor do they understand that distributing the conversation is one of the most important forces alive in media today.
The notion that a media company should populate its blogs with with staff writers comes directly from the Academy of Stupid Old Ideas.
The real opportunity doesn’t involve spewing more of the same on the street, it involves inviting the outside voices to come inside.
A smart media company should become a hub for allowing outside blogs to get attention and an audience.
In my hometown, San Francisco, there’s a good example of someone smart behind the wheel at KRON television’s web site. Dubbed The Bay Area Is Talking (tagline: You Blog, We Listen) the blog contains some (apparently) staff content.
However, it also provides a daily directory of updated content from several of the Bay Area’s better blogs, such as the very tasty sfist.com. These are not just static links. Someone at KRON is looking around the Bay Area and picking the best blogged contributions of the day. Those outside links – a guide to other voices – is what matters here. KRON is taking the bold step of reaching out to other fresh ideas.
The LA Times too, has gone about blogging in way that is not entirely stupid. Its Op-Ed blog invites outside experts to discuss topics of the day.
OK, that’s not as as refreshing as the KRON approach and it has a “round up the usual authorities” gestalt, but it does have more gravitas than KRON’s efforts. On the same day that KRON was linking to a blog discussing cool birdhouses, the LA Times was blogging Roe V. Wade with some of the deepest legal minds in the country. Their comments were quite interesting.
Of course, gravitas is a tricky thing: you sure as hell want it some of the time, but you run away screaming if you get it all of the time. The way today’s “serious” newspapers wield gravitas is about as pleasurable as taking a 16-ounce ball peen hammer upside the head.
Who among us does not want to vomit when you hear newspaper editors talk about being The Authority(tm) in their community. Isn’t better to focus on being Part Of The Community(tm)?
And besides, sometimes, cool birdhouses are just what you’re in the mood for, you know?
Nonetheless, the LA Times effort is worthy if only for the fact that it doesn’t play to that exhausted screech of “listen to us MORE, damn you!” we’re hearing from most staff written mainstream media blogs. At least they invited other people to speak.
While the angles taken by the LA Times and KRON have merit, even smarter approaches are out there.
Some clever players in this space are already aggregating substantial original content – look at Corante itself as an example.
Meanwhile, the brilliant sites of Gawker media (look at the right hand side of the main page for the full list of Gawker sites) clearly illustrate that the goal there is to create, essentially, a portfolio of “magazine” titles without the burden of generating almost any original content.
Gawker media sites link to the content of others. Gawker is content to provide the editing function of selecting/organizing the links each day and introducing them with a paragraph or two of wickedly amusing writing.
Of course, Gawker didn’t really invent anything – clearly the cues for the Gawker sites exist in best-of-breed sites elsewhere on the net (boingboing.net, Slashdot.org, etc.). But by combining the sites into a suite – and creating the truly guilty pleasures of Sploid.com and Defamer.com in the process – Gawker is innovating in one respect. It points to way to a new model for “publishing” houses.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, preventing a mainstream media site from doing as Corante and Gawker have done. Nothing that is, except for creativity and a willingness to distribute the conversation.
That said, one old-school media group not only gets it, but it gets it more deeply than a lot of pure-play new media operations. Venerable Morris Communications out of Georgia has gone to Bluffton, South Carolina (population about 15,000) and launched one of the most important media experiments in the nation.
The BlufftonToday.com web site places local blogs and citizen journalism right at the heart of an online newspaper. There are staff writers – a few – but the vast majority of the stories and photos on the site come from local residents. And the content is good – it’s a demonstration of the power of the new media when clever people slide good tools into the hands of an active community.
In this new world, the media provides the focus and the encouragement and, where essential, the necessary professional talent. The community does the rest.
For the purposes of clarity, Bluffton Today makes sure that readers know what is a staff written piece vs. a blog vs. a bit of citizen journalism. And yet, at no time does one get a sense that Bluffton Today feels the staff written pieces are more important than the blogs. Quite the opposite, a sense of harmony and equality exists amongst them.
In a fascinating twist, a weekly printed newspaper was born from the web-site content as well.
What you have here is a media company behaving in a fresh way: as the platform upon which the stories of a community may be told. The people of the community blog and recite their tales. The staff of the newspaper tells stories too. Both are equally important.
And of course, this means that the community has a deep vested interest in the success of the media company’s endeavor. That interest, though, only lasts as long as the media company is a fair and reasonable partner. In this way, a virtuous cycle is created.
The Bluffton Today effort shatters the hierarchal model in which the media dominates the conversation. With eagerness and good will, the Bluffton team receives its guidance from the very community it serves.
It’s not clear at this juncture how this would scale to a large city. It’s one thing being civil in a small town where people see each other, another thing in a big city where anonymity rules. Nor is it clear how well the model works if the community were to find itself embroiled in a major dilemma or controversy. It’s easy for everyone to get along while life is good, after all.
One assumes that when the going gets tough on certain issues, that’s when the staff of Bluffton Today steps slightly forward to apply professional standards to the coverage.
Sure, a cynic could poke holes in the Bluffton project – it could fail in a thousand ways – but to be cynical about this effort would be wrong.
Bluffton Today is one of the most hopeful events to happen in media in a generation. It’s a profound piece of work and Morris Communications’ intentions in this regard show a sincerity that borders on nobility.
On one hand we have a scrum of media pinheads in major markets throwing their own staff work on the web and calling it a blog. On the other, there might be an 18-year-old kid in South Carolina fixing to alert neighbors to a problem with a city park in Bluffton. Which one is the real revolution?
Perhaps, once they’ve tired of losing ever more readers and viewers even as they beat their chests about their “authority,” mainstream media will wake up and genuinely (no fake gestures, now!) invite their audience in…
Hell, even I would give them snaps for that.