Profiles - by on Monday, March 16, 2009 11:00 - 2 Comments

Tony Pierce, a “blogger gone pro” at the LA Times – Part 2

Tony Pierce, Blog Editor at the LA Times

Tony Pierce, Blog Editor at the LA Times

Check out part one of our profile on Tony Pierce.

Tony Pierce, Blog Editor at The Los Angeles Times, is a master of reader-blogger interaction.

Take, for example, the means by which he was able to afford a Caribbean vacation several years ago. After discovering that readers of his popular personal blog would donate money to a good cause, such as Pierce’s desire for an iPod (which he successfully procured via reader donations), he set his sights a bit higher.

“One day I said, ‘Let’s see how fast you guys can get me a thousand bucks,’” Pierce recalled. “Only about three weeks later, I got that, and I went to Aruba.”

Through such monetary “experiments”, as he refers to them, Pierce realized the importance of interacting with readers and the possibilities available to bloggers who effectively utilize their audience.

“I just kind of showed people that you don’t have to be a beautiful young woman,” he said. “You just have to have interesting content and have a good-sized audience. If they liked you and trusted you, and you’re being honest with them, they would probably give you anything you want. The car I just parked right now was from donations from my readers.”

So, how does one blogger’s ability to obtain reader donations relate to journalists with beatblogs? Simple. At the LA Times, Pierce understands the value of reader feedback.

He uses the expertise he developed as a solo blogger who engaged directly with his audience in order to further the readers’ participation at the Times’ blogs. In addition to ensuring that every blog comment at the Times is approved prior to posting, Pierce has also created the Comments Blog, the subheading of which is: “because sometimes the comments are the best part.”

The Comments Blog is an aggregation of the most insightful or interesting reader comments posted to the blogs at the Times. As a result, the Comments Blog attracts its own readers and furthers the conversations occurring on other Times blogs.

The Comments Blog is similar to news-compiling sites like Metafilter and LAist (of which Pierce is a former editor), in that it assembles the most noteworthy comments into a single locale.

“Aggregating is definitely popular because we’re too busy to read everything,” he said. “So we need a computer or a human to tell us what the important stuff is out there.”

He warned, however, that some readers who leave comments have their own agendas. For instance, when congressman Ron Paul ran for the Republican presidential nomination, the LA Times blogs received many comments from readers voicing strong support of Paul. This trend, said Pierce, could have been easily misinterpreted, possibly leading people to believe that Paul had more constituents than he actually did simply because his campaign’s online organization was better than that of his competitors.

A barrage of biased comments can give a false impression that readers feel strongly about a particular side of an argument, when, in some cases, only the readers who hold a certain opinion are commenting.

“You have to be skeptical, especially when you see huge trends going one way or the other,” he said.

To weed out readers who use blog comments to further their own agendas, Pierce recommends being aware of where the comments are posted from.

“Sometimes they out themselves just based off their IP address,” he said. “If multiple comments are posted from the IP address of a business affiliated in some way with the topic of the blog post, it becomes clear that a small group of readers are dominating the comment conversation and do not represent the public at large.

On the other hand, Pierce noted, paying attention to what readers are saying in blog comments can provide journalists with additional sources or a new angle for a story. He suggested that journalists read not only the comments on their own blogs but also the comments at blogs with similar topics at other publications.

“When you get millions and millions of people all talking at the same time,” Pierce said, “you’re going to get an expert that will come out of that bunch.”

While a subject-matter-expert may not have a blog, he/she may offer comments that are informative and potentially useful to the blogging journalist — even if these comments appear on the blog of a competing publication.

Pierce advises that journalists value their readers’ comments and consider them — with an appropriately-sized grain of salt.

“Just take readers as one of the many sources that determine what gets blogged and what goes into print,” he said. “Like many major newspapers, the LA Times is evolving its online components, and connecting with readers is a key factor in the process. I think you’ll see that the LA Times is more open to reader feedback today than it’s ever been.”


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About BeatBlogging.org

BeatBlogging.org 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. BeatBlogging.org 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
Linda Leseman is a student at NYU.