Analysis, Audio interviews, Lessons from Reporters - by on Thursday, July 10, 2008 12:17 - 4 Comments

Audio interview with Eric Berger on building an online community

Eric Berger, the SciGuy over at the Houston Chronicle, has had success building a blog with a strong community around it.

Building a community requires hard work and dedication. It takes a blogger who embraces two-way communication. Just writing print stories online won’t build a community, but it doesn’t take crazy ideas to get people interacting on a blog.

“Simple things like ending a post with a question,” Berger said. “Once you get people commenting, they feel compelled to come back.”

Building a community involves a lot of reader interaction. Berger gets a lot of reader comments on his blog, and he moderates the blog himself. Plus, Berger tries to respond as much as possible to comments on his blog.

Moderating comments can take a lot of time, especially with contentious issues like global warming, intelligent design and others.

“It does take time to moderate, but it makes for a much better community,” Berger said.

His paper has unmoderated comments on stories and the discussion and community isn’t the same. Often the comments on stories quickly devolve into banal arguments. Berger believes interacting with users keeps the discussion more on topic and less inflammatory.

“If people know that someone is going to read what they’re writing and perhaps judge them, they’ll be more careful with what they write,” Berger said. “It’s good in the sense that people recognize that there is going to be a presence of someone in there.”

What hasn’t worked for Berger: podcasting and video. He could do 3-4 blog entries in the same time he could do one video, and more people would look at the blog posts. Podcasting was a lot of effort for a few hundred people to listen to.

His blog, on the other hand, usually generates 100,000+ page views a month.

Berger also gives advice on why you should blog.

“It really does improve your reporting of the beat,” Berger said.

But he cautions that if you don’t want to blog and build a community, you won’t be successful. Building a community takes time and effort. You have to want to do it.

Check out the full interview for Berger’s thoughts on building an online community around a beat.

Click here to stream the interview. Or click here to download the MP3.

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  • Yuri Victor
  • Patrick Thornton

    What an embarrassing oversight. Fixed. Thanks for the feedback.

  • TR @ WSB

    True about video – only a fraction of readers will hit “play” unless they have reason to believe it’s incredibly compelling. However, the mistake that I see people making (and I am a former TV news manager, btw) is thinking they have to produce/package video, TV-style. WRONG. If you want to include video, go with unprocessed. We were moving that way in my tv time, in fact, and it’s much more interesting. Shoot in a way that all you have to do is trim and upload; that enables you to include video AND keep producing a lot of copy too.

  • Pingback: Breaking news online: How two Pulitzer finalists used the web » Nieman Journalism Lab()

About was a grant-funded journalism project that studied how journalists used social media and other Web tools to improve beat reporting. It ran for about two years, ending in the fall of 2009.

New content is occasionally produced here by the this project's former editor Patrick Thornton. The site is still up and will remain so because many journalists and professors still use and link to the content. offers a fascinating glimpse into the former stages of journalism and social media. Today it's expected that journalists and journalism organization use social media, but just a few years ago that wasn't the case.

About the Author of this post
Patrick Thornton is the editor and lead writer of BeatBlogging.Org. He is @pwthornton on Twitter.