Category Archives: In defense of bloggers

Apparently I look like a blogger

If you follow me on Twitter — which you should be doing — you’ve already heard this story. But for everyone else:

After covering a speech Howard Dean gave to an SEIU conference in Hershey, Pa., I had a one-on-one interview scheduled with him. Since he was short on time, I ended up teaming up with two other print reporters for the interview.

As I walked in to greet him, he takes one look at me and says:

“You look like a blogger.”

I laughed, not particularly offended. “Is that a compliment or an insult?” I asked. He said it was a compliment.

Little did he know I’d actually be blogging about the exchange later on. Or maybe he did know.

So this all begs the question: What does a blogger look like?

I posed that question on Twitter, and there seems to be a near-consensus out there.

Elaine Helm came up with one word, which was surely the codeword Dean was actually going for: Young (I’m 24).

Andy Enders expanded the definition to include glasses (Yep, I’ve got those too).

Jared Silfies added “nerdy or geekish” to the picture (As for me…that’s debatable. At least let me think that).

Frances Civello said bloggers have a pasty complexion (Finally one that doesn’t hit me…I’ve got a decent tan).

Chuck Simmins said it’s a must to be wearing pajamas (Nope, had a blue button-down and khakis).

Davis Shaver said “their looks fall somewhere between Julia Allison and Robert Scoble” (Umm…sure, that’s me?).

Basically, anyone who’s seen me would probably agree that I look like a blogger, and this exercise seems to support that conclusion. Anything else to add to the list?

Meet a blogger: Run up the Score

Run up the Score, in my humble opinion, is the best of the many Penn State football-themed blogs out there. Though my particular newspaper, in my humble opinion, offers the best Penn State football coverage out there, RUTS has become required reading.

I swept the pigeons away from my typewriter long enough to e-mail the author some questions. He was kind enough to answer those questions, mid-air, while doing some kind of trick on his skateboard. (Try Fire Joe Morgan or Deadspin for an explanation of that ridiculous image.)

It was an effort to show that bloggers aren’t the inherently evil, newspaper-reader-stealing, ethics-depraved leeches that some newsroom dwellers paint them to be. A lot of thought and passion goes into their craft, and the sooner journalists understand that, the better.

(Any italics are my own, to emphasize what I believe are key points. I cut out parts of his answers just so it wasn’t too long; if anyone is interested in reading the full Q&A, I’d be happy to forward it to you.)

BDV: At what point, and why, did you decide you wanted to blog?

RUTS: Personally, Run Up The Score started as a general sports blog with a moderate concentration on college football. It didn’t take long for it to become a college football blog with a heavy Penn State concentration. Now it’s a Penn State blog that occasionally dabbles in other areas. Nobody succeeds with a blog, certainly not on a personal satisfaction level, if they only passively care about the subject. That’s why so many blogs pop up and disappear after a month. The writer finally says to himself, “wait, why the hell am I doing this?” and quits.

I think anyone who takes the time to start a blog and maintain it on a consistent basis feels that the entire story isn’t being told. It doesn’t matter if the chosen topic is college football, politics, or baking. Blogging gives a potentially loud voice to people who don’t have access, and there’s certainly a place for writers who don’t get too intimate with the people and subjects they cover. The best blogs fill in the gaps that newspapers, television, and radio can’t always cover for whatever reason. They can’t be everywhere. The Associated Press is never going to pick up a Joe Paterno road rage story unless he kills somebody. Why would they? But if you type “Joe Paterno road rage” into Google, I guarantee that 95% of the stories on the topic are written on blogs, and they did it with an informality and sense of humor you can’t get from traditional media sources.

That’s also part of why blogs published by established news outlets are often so awkward — there’s often an editing process and the writer doesn’t get to write stories predicting Anthony Morelli’s performance on the Wonderlic Test at the NFL Combine. They’ll state that he’s in Indianapolis with three other players for the NFL Combine, which is something that 80% of Penn State fans already knew. Newspaper blogs usually end up being exactly what they shouldn’t be — another source of the same news found elsewhere, not to mention there’s hardly ever any evident joy in the writing.

Credibility issues iron themselves out in the blogosphere, especially because the best bloggers are sensitive to the constant, uninformed criticism that all blogs are written by people with no regard for fact (especially because newspapers so often bungle or conceal significant parts of a story). Sure, some sites are like that, but who reads them on a consistent basis? If I posted tomorrow morning that I had an inside source in Old Main stating that Joe Paterno will resign on Thursday morning and Jay Paterno will take over as head coach, it won’t take many more of those mistakes before I squander whatever readership I’ve built up over the past two years. In a weird sense, this is my baby. If I blatantly plagiarized or fabricated something, I’d eventually be called on it in a very real, public fashion. Consumers of traditional media don’t often get the opportunity to lash out at reporters, at least not for the whole world to see.

BDV: You give a great definition of what newspaper blogs shouldn’t be. So what should they be? What do you think reporters could learn from the best bloggers?

RUTS: There are any number of ways a newspaper can go if it wants to get into the blogging game. Blogs can be heavy on opinions, or play a straighter role. They can be text, audio, or video. They can be live-blogs of the game as seen from the press box or a couch somewhere in Scranton. Really, they’re all just different forms of supplementing the newspaper’s usual processes.

Sometimes, the blogs can be completely independent of what’s happening elsewhere on the site while still being a complement to the traditional coverage — Dan Steinberg’s “D.C. Sports Blog” is a great example of this. Sports fans have a thirst for intimate details of their favorite teams, even if those details aren’t something that would normally work their way into a Michael Wilbon column.

PennLive actually does a very good job with their bloggish coverage, especially with regard to the press box videos and weekly preview videos from the office. That’s something that no other media outlet has provided with respect to Penn State football coverage.

Using a Penn State example, we know there are a number of stories that will come out of any game. There’s the standard game recap, and a handful of stories that are dictated by the smaller events within the game — individual performances, coaching decisions, all that stuff. A live-blog of a Penn State game could include descriptions of the parking lot atmosphere, the excitement within the stadium, emotional swings within the game, an ability to immediately post analysis, pictures, and video. Reporters who venture into blogging have to realize it’s a different medium that opens up innumerable opportunities to infuse technology into the reporting process. Happy Valley Hoops is a tremendous example of that.

This is all just an unnecessarily wordy answer to a simple question, though. The very nature of blogs and the internet allows news organizations to augment their traditional coverage however they see fit. Some are more entertaining and informative than others.

BDV: How did you go about growing readership? Have any stats to share?

RUTS: Growing readership is a tricky business for a blog. The art of “blogwhoring” — posting links to your site in comments of other sites and message boards — is universally frowned upon. Some people attract readership by sending in tips to bigger sites like Deadspin or Every Day Should Be Saturday. That’s a good way to solicit extra attention, because it allows the owner of the bigger site to decide whether to link to your tiny blog, instead of you clogging up someone else’s comment section with what is essentially an unpaid, unwanted advertisement.

As for my stats, they’re modest. RUTS usually attracts around 2,000 readers a day during the work week, give or take a thousand depending on incoming links from other sites and Google searches. It tapers off during the weekend, and of course, during the off-season. More importantly, the quality of the comments has increased, which naturally leads to higher interest and return visits. And hey, 2,000 people stop by to read my thoughts on Penn State football. That’s more than I’d get shouting at passing traffic on Front Street in Harrisburg! Again, to compliment the PennLive.com folks, they added links to what I suppose could be considered the “big three” PSU blogs — Black Shoe Diaries, The Nittany Line, and RUTS — and eventually added a few others to their main PSU Football page. That’s been a great help, especially because none of us really asked to be linked. PennLive totally did that on its own, which I believe is extremely rare (and quite frankly, gracious) for a newspaper site.

I could pepper Deadspin, The Big Lead, EDSBS, and other sites and plead for links on a daily basis. With the exception of sending a tip to EDSBS once a month, I try not to beg. I don’t like to get too caught up in site stats, though. Anybody can tailor a site to attract readers without necessarily providing quality content. Lots of people do it, and can generally carve out a nice secondary income in the process.

Is Mark Cuban reading his blogs in binary?

Really, I won’t dwell too much on Mark Cuban in the future. I only pick on him now because I normally enjoy his blog and he’s written two blog-themed entries lately, and he sounds eerily like a lot of misguided journalists in writing them.

So normally I’ll leave him alone, but his follow-up to his previous much-discussed post needs to be picked apart, too. And I’m in a snarky mood, so I’m going to channel Ken Tremendous and go Fire Joe Morgan style on this one.

Whaddayasay, Mark?

Much is being made of my decision to ban bloggers from the locker room. To me its pretty amusing. In particular I find it amusing that there is a presumption that if a blogger works for a big company, they must be better. The logic extends to the conclusion that if only I would evaluate the different blogs and make a qualitative selection, then big newspaper bloggers would be chosen as among the best. Let me just say, that should I go that direction, that I find quite a few individual bloggers to be far better than those earning a salary to blog . In fact, some of those blogs are written anonymously.

Let’s rename “newspaper bloggers” to “journalists hired by news organizations with long-established credibility.” Then you can realize that it’s none of your business to decide in which medium we’ll report.

Which leads to my firm belief that newspapers having “bloggers” is easily one of the many bad decisions that newspapers have made over the past 10 years.

This should be fun. Oh boy, he’s about to say something in bold. I bet this is the money shot:

Never, ever, ever consider something that any literate human being with Internet access can create in under 5 minutes to be a product or service that can in any way differentiate your business.

I just drew a picture of some mountains. Metropolitan Museum of Art, you’re screwed.

Then I made myself a sandwich. All restaurants within 20 miles of me immediately closed down.

A blog is a blog is a blog is a blog.

No it isn’t.

If I worked for the NY Times, or any other media company with any level of brand equity, I would have done everything possible to define the section of our website that offers ongoing as anything other than a blog. I would make up a name. Call it say…..RealTime Reporting.

And the motto could be: “Journalists: We’re so much better than you. We’re going to do the same thing the rest of you lowlifes do, but we won’t lower ourselves to your level by calling it the same thing.”

RealTime Yankees: Catch in depth, up to the minute reports on the Yankees as only the NY Times world re known staff of Sports Writers can bring up

RealTime City Hall: The NY Times has more journalists covering the action at City Hall than anyone else. Catch in depth, up to the minute reports on NYC politics as as only the NY Times can.

Brand it RealTime. Brand it anything. Make sure you market it as having the characteristics unique to your staff that NO ONE ELSE on the net can bring.

I’ll almost sort of agree with that. There are plenty of newspaper blogs out there that have truly unique content, but they don’t do a good job of showing why it’s unique, or marketing itself as such. I’ve seen way too many newspaper Web sites where the staff blogs are jumbled together with the community blogs. Credibility is the most precious commodity a newspaper reporter has in any medium, and it ought to be fully leveraged.

So now we’re on the same page, Mark. It’d take something really stupid for me to start critcizing you again…what’s that you say?

If I were marketing for them, I would be doing everything I could to send the message that “The NY Times does not have blogs, we have Real Time Reports from the most qualified reporters in the world. Like blogs we post continuously , 24x7x365 to keep you up to speed, unlike blogs, we have the highest level of journalistic standards that we adhere to. A copy of which is available at…..” You get the picture.

“Journalists: It’s ridiculous how much better than you we are. We talk, you listen, and you’re gonna freaking like it. We wouldn’t even let you read us if we could figure out how to make money without you.”

I would also market it as an extension of the print version. All the news that cant fit in print. In the sports world, I think this is where main stream media really has dropped the ball. There is no shortage of speculation and opinions on the net. There is an incredible lack of depth when it comes to game and team coverage.

Having a blog with depth = good. Having a depository for all the crap that wouldn’t be interesting in the paper but for some reason would be interesting online = bad.

When I see content branded as a blog, I’m probably not going there unless its via a link from some other source. If I happen to find my way to a given blog multiple times, Im probably going to subscribe to the RSS feed. Even the, I don’t ever consider a blog an authoritative source. I don’t ever expect that all sources were confirmed and facts were check. Regardless of who hosts it. That’s not a good thing for newspapers.

And here we get to the core of Cuban’s fundamental misunderstanding of blogging.

Blogging is a medium. There is no inherent set of rules, or lack thereof, in blogging. Blog A is very different from Blog B and Blog C. You just can’t make any kind of assumption about blogs as a whole.

Cuban seems to be reading blogs as though they’re written in binary; apparently, they all look pretty much the same to him. He has apparently not taken the time to evaluate how one could be more credible than another — a skill all the more important when you’re reading blogs.

Ooooh, a final burst of boldface:

They still have a chance to assign some level of authority to what they produce for their websites and calling it a blog is a huge mistake.

Separating newspaper Web sites from where the rest of the conversation is happening on the Web would be a much bigger mistake. Not embracing the overwhelmingly dominant medium for conversation on the Web would be a huge mistake.

A better idea would be to lend what newspapers do well — credibility, accuracy, unceasingly high standards — to the medium that the people have chosen.

Sorry Mark Cuban: A blogger is not a blogger is not a blogger

Mark Cuban’s consistently thought-provoking Blog Maverick had a doozy yesterday.

He wrote about the situation that arose when he realized that one of the Dallas Morning News writers who was covering the team was — gasp! — a blogger. When he discovered this, he tried to revoke his credentials:

Not because I don’t want this blogger in the locker room doing interviews. What I didn’t like was that the Morning News was getting a competitive advantage simply because they were the Dallas Morning News. I am of the opinion that a blogger for one of the local newspapers is no better or worse than the blogger from the local high school, from the local huge Mavs fan, from an out of town blogger. I want to treat them all the same.

Later adding:

(I)t comes down to something very simple. A blogger is a blogger is a blogger and there are millions of us. . The name on your check, if you get a check, is irrelevant. BlogMaverick, Belo, xyz.blogger.com, we is what we is, and as long as there is limited space in our locker room, we is going to be outside in the Press Interview room getting comments.

It’s a fascinating topic, and worth reading the entire post.

At first I found myself agreeing with him. Then I started to disagree. Then I was thoroughly confused.

I still don’t know what I think Mark Cuban should do about the bloggers in the locker room. What I do know, though, is that Mark is wrong about blogging.

And he sounds like a lot of mistaken journalists in his opinion of them.

NBA teams let newspaper reporters into their locker rooms because they have the highest reach, not because they have an affinity for paper. It’s all about eyeballs, not the medium.

So let’s strip away the medium and put bloggers and newspaper reporters in the same bag. They’re all just collecting information. Now can you say that an “information gatherer” is an “information gatherer” is an “information gatherer?” Of course not. From a business perspective, the Mavs would be insane to give press credentials to Johnny Highschool Blogger, with a readership of a few dozen, over the Dallas Morning News, with a readership of several hundred thousand.

If you were to remove newspaper reporters from that discussion, why would you use the same logic with the remaining bloggers? Why should Johnny Highschool get the same access as a popular Mavs blogger who has built a steady readership over several years?

People treat information sources like a democracy, and page views are the votes. The mindset that all blogs are created equal is insulting — and it’s shared by a lot of people in journalism. It’s that attitude that prevents journalists from seeing the value in blogs, and why we need to understand them to see why we’re losing so many votes.