Below you’ll find a post I created to go with a beatblogging presentation at BCNI Philly.
It’s a quick start guide on what beatblogging is, how to do it and best practices.
What is beatblogging?
Beatblogging is the practice of using social media, blogs and other Web tools for beat reporting.
To be a beatblogger, a journalist must engage in two-way communication. This mean interacting with people on Twitter, in the comments after blog posts and stories, through Facebook and other social networks, by conducting live chats and liveblogs, etc.
It’s important to point out that just because a journalist has a beat and a blog doesn’t make them a beatblogger. That just makes them a beat reporter with a blog. Two-way communication and user interaction are the cornerstones to beatblogging. Conversely, a beat reporter does not need a blog to be a beatblogger.
Two-way communication and interaction can happen on social networks and or during a liveblog, for instance. The key to beatblogging is not, nor will it ever be, about having a blog, but rather it is all about user interaction. We like to call beatblogging Rolodex 2.0, because it’s a way to expand the number of sources a beat reporter has.
In an earlier post Jay Rosen defined a beatblog as:
A beatblog in the expansive sense is any blog that sticks to a well-defined beat or coverage area, whether it is the work of a single person or a team, whether it is authored by a pro or an amateur journalist. A beatblog can be part of a large site, or it could stand on its own. Normally, the beat is explicit and obvious from the home page of the blog, but it is possible for a beat blog to have an “implicit” or unusual beat that isn’t immediately apparent to a casual user.
Content-wise, a beatblog presents a regular flow of reporting and commentary in a focused area the beat covers; it provides links and online resources in that area, and it tracks the subject over time. Beats can be topical (like dot.earth, which is about natural resources and the environment) or narrowly geographic (West Seattle blog) or both (Atlantic Yards Report) or activity-related (Family Life, which is about “raising a family.”)
- More sources — Beatblogging allows journalists to find more sources. This means better and easier reporting. Good beatblogging can allow a journalist to cover a beat easier and more in-depth. Many of these new sources will contact beatbloggers with info, documents and links. In today’s era of limited resources and cutbacks, beatblogging is a powerful way to get more out of less.
- Crowdsourcing — Beatblogging can be an excellent way to crowdsource stories and have readers help report. These days, reporters could use all the help they can get, and why not harness the wisdom of our users? Some beatbloggers even ask their readers to be their assignment editors.
- Conversation — Social media is really about having a conversation. Beatblogging can be a great way to get people talking, and this can become a big part of your product. Alexander Russo’s District 299 blog is all about “hosting” the conversation. His blog is designed to be a place for people to discuss Chicago education news and policy, and people come to the blog largely for the conversation. Yes, he has good editorial content too, but the conversations are a big part of what makes his blog special.
- Users add value – People add value to beatblogs. They help reporters report, they leave links and comments after posts, they share their own experiences — they become a reason to come to the site.
- More traffic – Good beatbloggers will generate more traffic for their content, because their content will have more around it. A blog that has a strong community built around it with lots of thoughtful comments will get much more traffic because people will be checking back several times a day to see the new comments. People will come to a blog just for the conversation, because comments add value.
Here are what some beatbloggers had to say about beatblogging via Twitter:
chronsciguy – It’s fun. It’s immediate. It makes me a much, much better reporter.
mneznanski Why I beatblog? Because it’s more fun than just writing for a newspaper. Because I know what people are reading. Because I do better, more informed journalism with it than without it.
saraneufeld It’s great source-building and an opportunity to tell stories I can’t in the newspaper. Plus, it’s fun.
Top notch beatbloggers
- Eric Berger — You can’t get much better than a Pulitzer Prize finalist, which Berger was this year because of his stellar beatblogging efforts related to his coverage of Hurricane Ike. This coverage from Berger included live, daily chats about the oncoming storm, continuous updates and coverage on Berger’s SciGuy blog and reports on Chron.com.
- Kent Fischer — Fischer (now out of journalism) was one of the best at using his beatblog to help him report and discover new stories. His beatblog helped him uncover an A1 (and later national in the WSJ) story. His readers routinely fed him stories, documents, etc. Beatblogging simply allowed him to be a better reporter. Listen to why Fischer thought beatblogging was such a useful tool for him as a reporter.
- Monica Guzman — Guzman is the master conversation starter and community cultivator. If you’re looking for ways to build a community around your beat, you can’t find much better than Guzman. Unlike the other beatbloggers listed here, Guzman’s main job is to start conversations with readers.
- Brian Krebs — Krebs is an excellent example of what can happen once a community is cultivated. Many of his readers are quite knowledgeable about computer security and really add to the conversation. In fact, blog posts often pick up once the comments start rolling in. Krebs’s users have added a tremendous amount of value to his blog. Krebs discusses the power of a strong user community in this Q&A.
- Cultivating a community — The best way to cultivate a community is to be A) active in your community by responding to comments and B) taking an active role in comment moderation. It takes work to cultivate a community, but it provides rewards. Berger discusses how to build a community in this podcast.
- Hoisting comments – Once a community is cultivated, a beatblogger will want to start acknowledging when people leave strong comments. Many beatbloggrs have begun hoisting comments with weekly “comment of the week” features. It’s a good way to pat readers on the back. Better yet, check out Jon Ortiz’s “blog back” concept. It’s similar to hoisting comments but more in-depth.
- Crowdsourcing — A good beatblog has a large network of sources around it. Many of these sources are experts in in certain fields and topics. Why not ask them for help? The Buzz Out Loud crew discussed how their users know more than they do in this podcast. BOL’s listeners are a big part of the show because they are so knowledgeable, they help report and they provide in-depth knowledge that the hosts often don’t have.
- Be accessible — Make it easy for people to contact you on your blog, Twitter, etc. Good beatbloggers are transparent. People want to interact, so it make it easy for them. Guzman even has weekly in-person office hours and meetups.
- Learn by example — Don’t be afraid to borrow someone else’s good idea. Each week we profile innovative beatbloggers and best practices. If you see something you like, start doing it yourself.
Great examples and lessons
- Blog readers lead to A1 story for Dallas Morning News
- Dispelling FUD on news Web sites and blogs
- Timing can impact traffic to a blog
- Tony Pierce, a “blogger gone pro” at the LA Times | Part 2
- Wired.com harnesses readers to produce better content
- Mortgage blogger Tanta, who saw (and wrote) it all, passed away but legend grows
This week’s Leaderboard is about users adding value to journalists’ content.
Good beat bloggers build strong communities around their beats. These communities not only can help journalists report news and stay up-to-date on industry news, but they can also add value with strong comments after posts. Slashdot in particular has made an art form out of having comments after posts be more valuable than the original posts themselves (not coincidentally, Slashdot has one of the best commenting systems around).
Just about all of the beat bloggers we follow have built strong communities. These communities help journalists report, but there are some beat bloggers who have built such strong communities that their users and their comments and links are just as imporant as the original content itself.
Kent Fischer | The Dallas Morning News
- We’ll say it again, Comment of the Week is a feature that every beat blogger should copy.
- So many journalists are worried about allowing comments on posts and other content. Want to know a great way to get great comments from users? Acknowledge when users leave great comments. That’s exactly what Fischer does, and his blog has some really good comments. It also has a strong community around it.
- Fischer regularly interacts with users on his blog, and this is a key to building a strong community around a blog. By interacting with users, Fischer also has fomented a stronger and more civil community around his blog.
- Many news organizations have done a wonderful job of creating comment ghettos, filled with inappropriate, acidic, banal and often off-topic comments. These comment ghettos represent everything that many journalists hate about user comments.
- Fischer and other beat bloggers have prevented comment ghettos from forming by being active in their communities. Acknowledging when users leave comments that really add to the conversation is another great way to prevent comment ghettos from forming.
Matt Neznanski | Corvallis Gazette Times
- Live blogging is a great way to utilize the Web in ways that print never could. Services like CoveritLive make it easy for journalists to cover live events in real time. Twitter is also another popular way to provide real-time coverage of events.
- Live blogging is much more than just providing instaneous updates. It’s also about allowing people to have a voice. CoveritLive, Twitter and other services allow users to submit questions and make comments. A journalist can take this real-time questions and ask city council members, for instance, their thoughts.
- A live blog also has value after an event is over. CoveritLive makes it easy to create an archive of a live blog for users to read.
- Neznanski shows the power and immediacy of live blogging when he recently covered a City Blog meeting on homelessness. CoveritLive is quickly becoming a big-time tool for beat bloggers.
Brian Krebs | The Washington Post
- We’re continually amazed by the quality of the community around Krebs’ Security Fix blog. Good beat blogging is a way to build a strong community. Security Fix reminds us of Slashdot but with better original content.
- Krebs routinely makes posts that his users add additional insight and links in the comments section. Krebs himself is also very active in the comments section, answering questions and helping users out. There is an incredible sense of community on his blog where people are there for each other.
- This past week Krebs reported on fake online shopping sites that were trying to spoof legitimate sites. The debate and discussion after the post is arguably better than the original post itself. Users are sharing more fake sites to avoid, ways to tell if a site is fake or has a good reputation and tools people can use to make e-commerce safer.
- This is what happens when you build a strong community of knowledgeable users. It’s hard to imagine Security Fix without user comments. Many journalists fear user comments, but Krebs and Security Fix show how comments can add a lot of value to journalism.
This week’s leaderboard is an eclectic bunch.
We’ve got a large newspaper represented and a new media blog in the same week. What this week’s edition is really about is finding innovative ways to cover beats. Some of those beats, like state government, aren’t new, but that shouldn’t stop us from finding new ways to cover those beats.
Other beats, well they are very new. And those kinds of beats can’t be covered by traditional means.
Jon Ortiz | The Sacramento Bee
- Ortiz got off to a blistering start this year on his beat blog thanks to his great coverage of the California budget crisis. Covering a crisis well is a great way to drive traffic. In Ortiz’s case, it was a great way to get people interested in his new beat blog.
- Ortiz is asking simple questions that help speak truth to power. In this instance, that power is the State of California and its workers who have access to loads of sensitive data. He wants to get a dialogue going about this issue and is using his blog to do so.
Matt Neznanski | Gazette Times
- Neznanski is using his blog to solicit reader feedback for future stories. He specifically wants to talk to users about economy related questions. Neznanski wants to hear from his users about how the economic crisis is affecting their lives.
- One of the great strengths of blogging and social media is the ability to interact with users.
- It doesn’t take a lot of effort to make a blog post asking users for their feedback. We do the same thing on BeatBlogging.Org. A simple blog post will result in several people e-mailing us, posting comments on our site and sending us messages on social networks like Twitter.
- Also, by being open about what you’re looking for, users will often suggest you look at other related areas as well.
Anne Laurent | The Agile Mind
- Laurent covers the mysterious world of virtual government. Yes, the U.S. government is active in online worlds like Second Life.
- And what better way to cover how the government is using virtual worlds for government purposes than to join those virtual worlds? That’s one component to Laurent’s coverage.
- She also blogs and uses multimedia to cover her beat. This is a difficult beat to cover, and Laurent does it very well by harnessing a variety of online tools. Her embedded YouTube videos on her blog are very helpful for explaining what exactly governments do with virtual worlds.