A cutting edge beatblog, and the sites of highest interest to Beatblogging.org, are those using the two-way, social part of the Web, to cover a beat in a networked or user-assisted way.
Here we find information and newsy items, advice and ideas regularly flowing in from readers as the blog becomes a platform for extending the network of the beat outward until hundreds and thousands of people are helping to… cover the beat.
But — truth be told — there aren’t any beatblogs that get it all right. Mostly, this is due to lack of time and resources. Where one blogger spends time on original content, another blogger spends time on two-way communication with readers/commenters.
So, let’s say that it were possible to create the perfect beatblog; that time and resources aren’t an issue. And let’s say that we created this blog using only elements from existing blogs. In other words, a mash-up.
What would this blog look like?
First of all, it’s important to note that a beatblog does not have to be run by a large media company. It can be created by a single person or a team, a pro or an amateur journalist. The idea is that the creator(s) whoever he/she/they are, are people who care deeply about regularly covering a beat and focusing on content that is not only valuable to their readers who are interested in the niche topic, but also focus on content that their readers suggest be written or covered.
In other words, the creators “get it” — all of it. From the look and feel of their blog, to its subject to their linking ethics and social media leverage — they focus on truly becoming a “beatblog” and not just a blog that “happens to have a beat.”
It must be stressed that design goes a long way online. As much as “Content is King,” design can really change the way readers approach your blog and interact with it.
A beatblog that really hit the nail on the head in terms of theme and design is GothamSchools. It’s a blog focused on breaking news and analysis of the NYC public schools. If you take a look at the site, you’ll find that it’s header is properly tied in with the subject — it has the New York City skyline and the image of a public school.
The rest of the page is very minimalist and straightforward, designed to look like the pages of a notebook. What is great about GothamSchools is that there is no way anyone can get lost or confused with where to find more information, how to contact the creators or what the site is about. Everything is neatly organized and tagged, exactly the way beatblogs should be.
I’ve stressed before that many beat blogs fail to provide enough transparency and contact information on their pages. This is because so many of the best beatbloggers are attached to legacy news organizations, and thus, their pages are not stand-alone sites but rather limbs of the main news site.
I think the proper way to run a beatblog is to make it it’s own Web site, with it’s own contact information and “about” page. It shouldn’t just be a link from a drop-down menu on a news organization. Of course, if it’s affiliated it should have the proper attributions and links, etc.
But making the beatblog it’s own page can make it more comfortable for readers, easier to find and easier to interact with. Just as a news site’s Twitter feed or Facebook page is separate from the organization and more personalized, so should a beatblog be.
Properly running a beatblog can be difficult if there are time constraints or not enough helping hands. For example, Pharmalot, a beatblog run by journalist Ed Silverman about the pharmaceutical industry, featured really good daily journalism and link journalism. It was a beatblog that doggedly covered its niche.
But it would have been much stronger if had the same community building as the DISD Blog. Pharmalot might have been the best beatblog from just a pure content perspectiveve, but it always lagged in the two-way communication department. Silverman spent so much time delivering incredible content by himself that he simply couldn’t do more two-way communication.
Then you take Alexander Russo’s District 299 blog, and it has great two-way communication but could be stronger in terms of original content.
Again, if time weren’t an issue, what would the proper mash-up look like?
- Clear beat: GothamSchools
- High volume of commentary: SciGuy
- Harvesting of comments “Here’s what you said about this…”: Come Heller High Water
- Inquiries/questions asked to readers: Security Fix
- Daily roundup: The Daily Wrap
- Filtering and linking: Today in the Sky
- Comments or e-mails from readers run as posts/used for story ideas/improve stories: Central PA NewsVote
- Comments hosted in blog entries: Inside Ed
- Reader blogs: Seattle PI
- Hoisting Comments: Dallas ISD Blog
- Live blogging: The Caucus
- Frequent blog posts by author, i.e. several per day, updates: Glenn Greenwald
- Contact info/Transparency/Accessibility/Brand identity: Security Fix
- Good use of Twitter: Alex Roarty of PoliticsPA
- Quality writing/grammar/style: Slate.com
In the end, it’s all a time and money game. There’s not enough of either. And that’s okay — for now.
Beatblogs are still in their infancy, and it’s going to take time to evolve into something powerful and profitable. It’s always important, however, to keep fresh ideas in mind and constantly try to break the mold.
Be creative. Think outside the box. Learn from the best.
Run the best damn beatblog that the Internet’s ever seen.
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 article isn’t meant to be groundbreaking. In fact, its simplicity may annoy you. And yet, so many beatbloggers could benefit from the following words of advice.
Please, please, please be transparent.
A successful beatblog requires a way through which readers can contact the author. It sounds dumb to be even mentioning this to a group of professional journalists who “know this already,” but I can’t tell you how frustrating it has been to try to contact some beat bloggers.
A beatblog has to be sure to keep an open dialogue with readers. It’s the nature of the beast. Today, the blogs that interact most with their audience are the ones that become both economically viable, and help the author/s of the blog stay engaged and interested.
There are a lot of examples of blogs that follow the dialogue norms, but a problem arises time and time again. While commenting may be straight forward for the average user, sometimes private messages are important for all sorts of reasons. Many blogs do not have a straight forward way for people to email or message them privately.
Take for example Glenn Greenwald. An avid blogger and journalist for Salon.com, Glenn is world renowned for writing some of the most in-depth political articles out of there. When Glenn writes a post, if you blink, the post might be updated two or three or four times after the comments that readers leave, whether it be a typo or some news Glenn may have overlooked. But his Web site doesn’t make it straightforward on how to contact Glenn privately. Where’s his e-mail? In small text half way down the page.
Take a look at SciGuy, Eric Berger. He runs a fantastic science blog over at the Houston Chronicle. But scroll through the Web site or Google his name and I can assure it won’t be easy to find his e-mail. Same goes for Gene Sloan, Cruise beatblogger at USA Today.
Even Monica Guzman over at the Seattle PI doesn’t make it entirely straight-forward for readers to follow The Big Blog, with contact info buried between articles and cluttered content.
On the other hand, Brian Krebs, author of Security Fix at The Washington Post clearly posts his contact information at the top of his blog. Likewise, St. Petersburg Times’ Bay Buzz does a good job of stating what the blog is about and how to get in contact with Times editor, Heather Urquides.
I could go on and on.
You get the idea: There has to be a move to promote a private dialogue as much as a public one. And if you have a Twitter account that you use for work, make it prominent on your beatblog. It’s another easy way for people to interact with journalism.
If you’re a beatblogger and you’re not publicly allowing your readers — your audience — to get a hold of you, you’re missing out. Big time.
Beatbloggers, it’s time you start focusing as much on transparency as you do on content.
Expert community builder and comment cultivator Monica Guzman recently gave a talk where she implored people to be quality commenters and not trolls.
I would certainly recommend showing this to your Web site users. Maybe it will help spur some better conversations. But Guzman also says that news organizations and journalists have to take ownership of the comments on their site.
Guzman says this means providing the right tools for community moderation, having enough resources to police that community and recognizing that news is a conversation.
But you knew all that good stuff already. Right? The rest of Guzman’s talk is about how our users can make the whole experience better.
Some of the points that Guzman made:
- Choose your story wisely — Guzman says that no one cares what you have to say on a Britney Spears story or on a liberal/conservative debate. Those comments and debates always turn out poorly.
- Focus on what’s smart — Comment on something that’s smart in a story or something that you like about it. Pointing out accidental misspellings doesn’t forward the conversation along.
- Tell us what you think — But of course think first. You know, read the whole story first.
- Tell us your story — “Quote yourself.” Guzman wants you to tell your story in the comments section. And maybe you’ll become a new source.
- Tell us what you know — Post links, talk about studies, add to the conversation, etc.
- Ask a question — Ask a good question, and you might get a great answer.
- Introduce yourself — Own up to your ideas.
Yes, it’s really that simple (hat tip to Chris O’Brien for finding this video).
This week’s Leaderboard is a potpourri of different skills and examples.
That’s just the way I like it. We have strong link journalism, strong live blogging and strong community building. Each of those are important to journalism moving forward.
I apologize for the tardiness of the Leaderboard this week. We’ve been taking on a lot of new endeavors at BeatBlogging.Org and bringing students up to speed on the project.
David Brauer | MinnPost.com
- Brauer was nominated for this nifty bit of link-journalism. Curation is a big part of the future of journalism. Even if you’re not breaking every story, you can still act as a trusted source and filter for users.
- There is too much information to read on the Internet. It’s overwhelming at times. That’s what makes link journalism so powerful. Brauer combines great original reporting, with strong curation. His users get the best of his original work, plus the best work from around the Web.
- MinnPost.com is a non-profit journalism outfit that you should be following. They are experimenting with some interesting revenue models.
- Braublog is a kickass beatblog by them that covers local media and politics, and it’s a piece of new media journalism worth keeping tabs on.
Dave Levinthal | The Dallas Morning News
- This week features more CoveritLive goodness from a beatblogger. Levinthal used the live blogging tool to live blog / live chat during a contentious debate about a proposed Dallas Convention Center hotel. The debate featured Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and real estate executive Anne Raymond.
- This is a particularly strong example of live blogging. Before the debate started, Levinthal answered questions that were e-mailed to him about the proposed project. He also took questions from people on CoveritLive before the debate started.
- His analysis and links before the debate started helped give users background and answered many of their questions. They were then better able to understand what was happening during the debate.
- Live blogging is a tool that can benefit just about any beatblogger, and CoveritLive is one of the premier live blogging tools. Live blogging gives journalists, particularly print journalists a new ability to immediately inform users and connect with them during live events. A debate like this is an excellent example of when a live blog makes a lot of sense. This is one of the best examples we have ever seen of live blogging.
Monica Guzman | Seattle Post-Intelligencer
- This is an honorary nod to Guzman because her role at the new P-I will be changing. The Big Blog has existed as a conversations starter, linking heavily to the P-I’s content and great content from around the Web. Guzman has also pulled out interesting comments on other P-I stories and elevated them to their own posts. But the thing is, the P-I is radically changing. Most of the newsroom is gone, and so Guzman’s role will be changing.
- The Big Blog was an exemplary example of how a newspaper could use the Web for two-way communication and community building. Guzman engaged in gathering, moderating and analyzing conversations. That was the heart of what she did. Most news organization do not have someone like her on board. They need to fix that.
- The Big Blog was also a blog that worked well with traditional print content. This is the style of blog that every newspaper should look into. You can find our past coverage of the old Big Blog here.
- Now that the P-I no longer has print content, it’s clear that The Big Blog will be changing. What the new Big Blog and P-I will be like is still to be determined. Regardless of what the new Big Blog looks like, the old Big Blog was a beatblog worth emulating by other news organizations.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer announced yesterday that it was ceasing production of the print edition today, but that it was also forming a new team to run an online-only version of the P-I.
It will be a new site, with a new vision. About 20 editorial employees and 20 advertising employees with run this new operation. They will attempt to remake what the P-I is:
We’re going to break a lot of rules that newspaper Web sites stick to, and we are looking everywhere for efficiencies. We don’t feel like we have to cover everything ourselves. We’ll partner for some content; we won’t duplicate what the wire is reporting unless we have something unique to offer; we’ll continue to showcase the great content from our 150 or so reader bloggers and we’ll link offsite to content partners and competitors to create the best mix of news on our front page.
We wanted to ask one of our favorite beatbloggers, Monica Guzman, what these changes would mean for her and the new P-I. Guzman will be staying on at the P-I and keeping her popular blog, The Big Blog. I also asked my network on Twitter what questions they would like to ask.
“The editorial staff will all do everything – write, edit, produce, take pictures … it won’t be your typical newspaper newsroom,” Guzman said.”
Without further ado, here is our extensive Q&A on the new PI.
Q: First, what was it like today for the staff staying with tomorrow being the last day of the print edition?
A: It was hard. It was really hard. Speaking for myself here, there’s something clearly exciting about what we’re about to do, but to look around and see the people, the passion, the talent that won’t be with us as we kick it off was painful.
Q: I realize that the closing of the P-I has been a reality for awhile now, but what was it like today when the news finally came down? What was it like when people found out that print was ceasing but the Web was staying?
A: People had an inkling that the print would cease and Web might stay for more than a week, since news about provisional offers to Web staff broke early. So that wasn’t a shock. What today brought was closure, a deadline, an end to all this swirling uncertainty. I can’t speak for everyone, but once Oglesby made the announcement, my heart started to beat fast and didn’t slow down much for the rest of the day. There was a lot to process. It had been such an emotional roller coaster the last two months, I was sure I was all cried out. But at about 1 p.m., I burst into tears talking to my editor.
The site is exciting, no doubt – but there’s nothing easy about saying goodbye to all these people who have made the P-I so great. I still get nervous talking to some of them ’cause I’m such a small-time rookie runt next to so much talent. Why are they leaving and I’m staying? It doesn’t make sense.
Q: What was it like for those leaving?
A: You’d have to ask them. One person I talked to said she was glad to have some closure, and was on her way to a nearby bar to commiserate with other colleagues.
Q: Are all 20 editorial employees from the P-I and what are their backgrounds?
A: As far as I know, all 20 are from the P-I. A handful are columnists, another handful hard news reporters. A couple were editors. Cartoonist David Horsey is staying on through Hearst, and we have one photographer – Josh Trujillo
Q: This is an online-only operation. Do all these journalists have the necessary Web skills to thrive on the Web?
A: Does anyone have all the necessary Web skills to thrive on the Web? If anything, we come with different specialties, and we’ll learn from each other what we need to become more well-rounded online journalists. I’m pretty excited about being trained on a high-end camera to take high-quality photos.
Q: You mention that you’ll be getting new training. How will your role be changing? Will The Big Blog still exist?
A: The Big Blog will still exist, so my job will resemble what I’m already doing. I can’t say I know how it’s going to change otherwise. This is an experiment, and an evolving one, so I can only guess that my job will change quite a bit, by increments, as it goes along.
Q: Can you give us a vision of what this new, online-only Seattle Post-Intelligencer look like? What’s it new mission will be?
A: For that I have to defer to what its executive producer, Michelle Nicolosi, wrote about it today: http://www.seattlepi.com/business/403794_newseattlepi.com16.html. She puts it really well.
Q: What role will beatblogging play on the new P-I Web site? Will you have more beatbloggers on the new site?
A: Hmmm … good question. I’ve always advocated for more engagement with readers, a fuller use of what the online medium and the blogging format allows – so I hope some of that can happen here.
Q: Will staffers be utilizing social media and two-way communication like you do? Will that be required?
A: My sense is that that’s one of the tools staffers will be able to experiment with. Don’t know what the policy will be regarding use by each staffer.
Q: This brings me to a question that Howard Owens submitted. @howardowens asks do P-I staffers understand that the Web is different? Transferring newspaper journalism to Web won’t work.
A: Good question. I think so. I think a lot of journalists understand that, no matter where they are, more and more. It’s not just about mindset; it’s also about what your organization allows and enables you to do. Since the P-I site is in large part an experiment, innovation and new thinking will, I think, not only be tolerated but encouraged.
Q: I think that answer dovetails nicely with another question from Twitter. @lectroidmarc asks now that you’re not tied to a print product, how will the P-I change its approach to the web?
You’re completely free now that you don’t have the print product. What does this freedom mean?
A: I think the next couple months will be all about answering that question. We’ve never been in that situation, so we can’t know! The hope, I think, is that we take full advantage of that freedom where it serves our readers.
Q: When you go into work tomorrow, will you feel any more free? Will you feel different?
A: You know, I’m not sure it can be that sudden. What happened today hurt. A lot. Even though I knew it was coming. I can’t know for sure, but I’m betting it’s going to be a more complicated process. But I’m a special case; I haven’t written for the paper since June 2007, so I’m not as attached as other reporters. For them, the difference might be more striking.
Q: @mathewi asks what are some of the new things the P-I is planning to do online that are different than existing paper sites?
A: The site will have columns from people in the spotlight – like former mayors, governors, a former police chief, etc. It will also link to content from other news sites probably a lot more than newspaper Web site readers are used to.
Q: This next question from Twitter is one of the big questions: @eyeseast asks how will relationship with readers change? Are staff open to a changing relationship?
You have a chance to make a new bargain with readers. A bargain newspapers weren’t willing to make.
A: Very true. Again, I can’t say for sure what the plan is, ’cause this is new, and I don’t really know. I think it’s becoming more and more clear, though, that that’s one of the things readers want, and one of the things that can help make journalism better – forging a stronger, more engaged relationship with readers, thinking of them as active collaborators, not members of a passive “audience.”
“Are staff open to a changing relationship?” I guess we’ll find out.
Q: @rsylvester asks how will the P-I’s tradition of investigative reporting carry over with a smaller staff?
A: I really don’t know – but that’s a big question. One of the biggest. I have no doubt we’ll do the best work we can. Time will tell how it compares to what the larger P-I did.
Q: @jayrosen_nyu asks will Hearst management be sharing key data of all kinds with staff?
A: That’s something I’ll have to ask myself! I know it’s helped me plenty to see real-time data on my posts, so it’d be a great idea.
Q: I gather that Hearst’s ability to share data will be critical to the new PI. I think you need to know what users and advertisers like. You’re going down an unfamiliar road.
A: Indeed. Here’s hoping for the best!
Want to know what it takes to be a beatblogger? Not sure where to start? Who is doing it already? Here is your simple introduction to the new revolutionary practice that is changing the world of digital journalism.
A beatblogger isn’t just a blogger.
Twitter isn’t merely “Facebook Status Updates.” It’s much more. Likewise, beatblogging is more than just a journalist being assigned to blog for a major news publication. A beatblogger, simply put, is a beat reporter who uses their blog as a tool to engage their readers, interact with them, use them as sources, crowdsource their ideas and invite them to contribute to the reporting process.
When a beat reporter uses social networking with the community to create hyper-local and hyper-focused stories — that’s beatblogging. As a result, the beat is better researched because the community that is directly involved with the subject is actively participating in creating news.
Your readers are your new BFF’s. Get to know them. Invite them to dinner.
Okay, so you don’t exactly have to invite them into your home, but you get the idea. Beatblogging requires reporters to start conversations with their readers. But simply replying to a few comments doesn’t cut it. It’s the year 2009. You have to be way more active than that. This means asking questions, replying to comments, seeking out tips, using their story ideas and building stories upon their conversations.
More often than not you’ll be required to continue conversations on older stories even when you are already working on a new project. This can be tiring, time-consuming and hard work. But the trade-off is that much of the researching and source-chasing that journalists used to undergo is eliminated through the first degree contact with the community.
If you haven’t spoken to your audience, if you don’t know who your most loyal reader is, if you haven’t written a story based on a tip from the comments section of your blog and if you haven’t asked the crowd for help — you’re losing. You’re not using 2009 tools to be at the forefront of the digital revolution. And you’re certainly not a beatblogger.
Be everywhere. I’m not kidding.
Journalists in the 21st century can no longer hide behind their bylines. I can’t stress enough how important it is for bloggers to be accessible through all networks and social sites. Where’s your “about” page? Is your e-mail easy to find? Do you have a photo up? Even some of the most successful beatbloggers today have not been doing a good job of making themselves transparent.
It’s important to bridge the gap between reader and source and build a circle of trust. And the only way this can happen successfully is if both sides agree to be transparent. If bloggers are annoyed by snarky, anonymous commenters, then lead by example. Don’t hide information about yourself either.
Be accessible. That means I should be able to find your name, a photo, e-mail, Facebook page, LinkedIN account, Twitter name and possibly an e-mail. That’s it. It’s not too hard, and it will make your beatblogging experience world’s easier. (P.S. Want to be a top search result when searching for the term ‘beatblogger’? Then make sure to add the keyword multiple times in your various social profiles!).
Learn by example. It’s okay to copy practices. Don’t worry, it’s not plagiarism.
Journalists hate to copy. They don’t like anything that isn’t original or different. They like to be the first to report on a story or have a certain angle. But sometimes it’s okay to copy, especially in the case of beatblogging. What this means is that you should look at what current beatbloggers are doing successfully and emulate their methods to form your own beatblog.
Take a look at Kent Fischer from the Dallas Independent School District Blog, who is building a “blog on steroids.” Fischer’s blog is essentially a micro-site, a niche publication that covers the education system in Dallas, Texas by combining beatblogging with database reporting.
Learn from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Monica Guzman as she innovate with her weekly office hours for readers. Guzman connects with her users on her blog, The Big Blog, on social media sites like Twitter and in person. Guzman is a master conversation starter and uses her networks to get people talking about issues in Seattle and about the PI’s content. The Big Blog is all about cultivating conversations and there is no one better than Guzman at that.
Check out Brian Stelter from the New York Times who is beatblogging at “TV Decoder,” where he covers the day’s on-screen and behind-the-scenes developments, with insights into Nielsen ratings and the machinations of the TV industry. Stelter has found that it’s easier to share stories, ideas, links and be able to ask for advice, contacts, and sources. He is always opening himself up to opinions, more points of view and more sources. Likewise, users send Stelter feedback and actually like to contribute because they feel more connected. He is a real person they can interact with.
Watch Daniel Victor, the twenty-four year old reporter for The (Harrisburg, Pa.) Patriot-News. Victor is trying his hand at mobile journalism, and he’s convinced that community-building and crowdsourcing are the two biggest keys to journalism’s future. Victor experimented with a Ning network that ultimately didn’t work out, but it hasn’t deterred him from innovating. Victor’s latest venture is a blog where Victor asks his reader’s to be his assignment editor. Readers are, literally, his assignment editors — researching, contributing ideas and suggesting stories.
The most marked characteristic of beatbloggers is that they all took it upon themselves to pitch new ideas to their editors and take on radical experiments that had never been attempted in the world of journalism. A true beatblogger never stops trying to innovate and create new ways of using the community and social media tools to improve journalism. Don’t be afraid to use your own methods. And when you do, be sure to send us your work our way!
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Monica Guzman has been conducting meetups to connect with readers, build sources and find out what her readers want her and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to cover.
The fate of the PI is very much up in the air, but Guzman and her colleagues are still innovating and pushing the practice. Guzman in particular has been innovative with her work on The Big Blog, and her weekly meetups fit in well with her blogging.
Guzman began doing the meetups so she could get out of the office and meet her readers. Guzman’s job is to be a guide to Seattle and to help spur conversations on the PI’s Web site. A big part of her job is connecting with readers and cultivating conversations on the PI Web site, and it made sense for her to continue that in person.
“The way I thought of it was office hours,” she said. “If the point of my blog and the point of what I’m trying to do as a journalist is to find new ways to connect with people, why not do it in person?”
Guzman patterned her office hours after the weekly office hours that her professors had in college. She wanted a regular space for readers to be able to drop in and say hi. She also wanted to give people a forum to express their thoughts.
“I like that idea of being available often,” she said about why she decided to have the meetups weekly.
An average of about 10 people attend each session. She notifies readers about the meetups on her blog and on Twitter, and the meetups are at different venues around the city to encourage different people to attend. While there are regulars, the varying locations help ensure that the crowd is unique each week.
“The conversation is defined by the people there and what they want to talk about,” she said. “There is no secret formula.”
Guzman has begun bringing along special guests that her readers are interested in. These special guests can be prominent bloggers and community members that have stories and lessons to share. It’s great if a story comes out of the interaction with her special guests, but it’s not a requirement.
The meetups are casual without a set agenda. She doesn’t generate a story out of each meetup, but story ideas have come out of her interactions with readers. She also has written stories based on what readers say at the meetups.
Ultimately, connecting more with her readers has allowed Guzman to do her job better.
“It absolutely helps me get to know the city better,” she said.
Many journalists would balk at spending time on meetups, fearing that they would be too much effort for too little output. Guzman said she has not run into those problems. In fact, it takes very little effort to get a meetup going with Web tools like blogs and Twitter.
“It’s kind of astonishing how little time and effort it actually takes,” she said. “It just starts with, ‘I’m going to be here.'”
Some other topics discussed:
- What problems has she faced with the meetups?
- How do her editors originally feel about the meetups? How did she convince them to let her work on something that doesn’t always generate content?
- How have her editors and her coworkers’ opinions changed of the meetups?
- Do any of her coworkers also conduct meetups?
We thought we’d end this year with some of this year’s pace setters in the world of beat blogging.
These are some of best beat bloggers out there, and these people are constantly trying new ways to innovate. We do try to present a diversity of beat reporters on this blog, but on any given week, any one of these beat bloggers could be on the Leaderboard. Every week they are pushing the practice.
If you’re a journalist and you want to learn how to harness social media and other Web tools better, I strongly recommend you follow these beat bloggers every week.
DISD blog | The Dallas Morning News
- This award goes to both Kent Fischer and Tawnell Hobbs. They have produced one of the best beat blogs around.
- Who said that people don’t want to read about topics like education? The DISD blog is on track for more than 1,500,000 page views in its first year. That easily surpassed expectations. Just think of the page views that this blog could get if Fischer is able to build that blog on steroids that he is planning.
- Keep in mind that both Fischer and Hobbs also write for the print edition. This is a pretty impressive start for these two reporters, especially since their beat isn’t the easiest to get page views with.
- Perhaps the greatest success of the DISD blog is how active the community is around it. It has really spurred conversation and given people almost a public town hall where they can discuss the Dallas school district.
- You know how you surpass expectations? You provide in-depth coverage, including live blogging big events. You also provide a fantastic place for people to express themselves. And finally, you provide a community where people want to help you out.
- When you do that, your community can help you uncover big stories. They can also act as a truth squad by fact checking what public figures say.
- People will be more likely to be active in your community if you acknowledge when they write something smart. That’s why Fischer started hoisting comments.
Eric Berger | The Houston Chronicle
- The SciGuy is one of the most innovative beat reporters around. Some of the things he does aren’t exactly social media or Web related per se, but they rock nonetheless. He is the master at building a community.
- No, technically conducting random drawings for science books does not count as beat blogging, but it is one hell of a way to build a community and build user loyalty.
- Berger is sent many science books over the course of a year for review purposes. He thought it would be a good idea to conduct a random drawing for the five best books he received this year.
- Want to enter the drawing? All you have to do is leave a comment on his post about the book. So, not only is Berger finding a good way to recycle these books, but he also managed to get people talking about science topics. Check out all the wonderful comments left on that post.
- Plus, these posts might be a way to get people who have never commented before to start commenting. Why not do something like this?
- Berger does other innovative things, like asking his readers to be his assignment editor.
- Berger also understands that his users know more than he does.
Monica Guzman | Seattle Post-Intelligencer
- Want to know how to get a conversation started? Just follow what Guzman does. Her job is centered around getting people talking.
- One of Guzman’s core jobs is to analyze posts to cultivate conservations. She reads what her colleagues write and tries to find interesting jumping off points for discussion.
- For Guzman, cultivating conversations is a great way to build a community. Ultimately, building a community is at the core of beat blogging.
- We often call beat blogging a sort of Rolodex 2.0. It greatly expands the number of available sources that a beat reporter has access to. But the only way to meaningfully expand that network of sources is to cultivate a community.
- Guzman is also one of the most active beat bloggers on Twitter.
Jon Ortiz | The Sacramento Bee
- Ortiz has only been beat blogging for about six months, but he has easily been one of the most innovative and adventurous around. Perhaps because he is new to blogging he is more willing to take risks and try new things.
- Whatever the reason, The State Worker blog is a most follow. He has developed several distinct features that help break up the flow of his blog.
- His “Blog back” feature is something every beat blogger should copy.
- Ortiz has launched another new feature recently. This one he calls “From the notebook.” This feature is extra tidbits of information that don’t make it into columns or stories that Ortiz writes.
- This is another one of those features that Ortiz created that doesn’t take a lot of time, but it provides his users with something of value.
- Ortiz launched his blog early so he could cover the budget crisis in California as it broke. It turned out to be a momentous decision for Ortiz. Timing can have a big impact on the success of a blog.
This week we examine some new ways to get people talking.
You’ll see some familiar faces and a new one. All three are beat bloggers worth flowingly on a daily basis. They have so many lessons to teach us all.
We tackle cultivating communities and the wisdom of the crowd this week. Keep sending those nominees in!
Jon Ortiz | Sacramento Bee
- Ortiz recently launched a cool new feature, “blog backs.” It’s a great feature to spur better communication and conversations with users.
- This is how Ortiz describes blog backs: “review your thoughtful and provocative online comments, amplify points, answer questions, correct our mistakes and humbly accept your warranted criticism.”
- He takes good comments from users, elevates them and then responds to them. He also links back to the original post that spurred each comment.
- This feature is a bit like hoisting comments. But the added twist of responding to and clarifying users comments makes this a much richer feature.
Brian Krebs | The Washington Post
- Krebs runs the Security Fix blog. It’s a fantastic computer security beat blog. Almost any beat can benefit from the wisdom of the crowd, but a beat like computer security can really benefit from that wisdom. Slashdot has proven over the years that it takes a community of computer and technology experts and geeks to accurately understand many computer and technology topics.
- Krebs deserves making the Leaderboard for his work on exposing a U.S. Web hosting firm, McColo Corp., that security experts said was responsible for more than 75% of global junk mail. But this nomination goes beyond that.
- Because Krebs has cultivated a strong community, he is able to get first-hand accounts from users about how their network spam has dropped dramatically. Krebs and his community can tell a much richer portrait of this and other stories than either could do alone.
- Krebs has created a community of knowledgeable users that can help him report and share links and information with each other. He mixes it up in the comments after his posts with users and often provides more information and links. There are some really great conversations going on Security Fix.
Monica Guzman | Seattle Post-Intelligencer
- Guzman is one of the best in the business when it comes to cultivating a community. She had two nominees this week for the Leaderboard.
- This post (“Should civil rights be up for popular vote?“) probably didn’t take Guzman a lot of time to create, but it accomplishes two things. First, it links to interesting content from the Post-Intelligencer that has already been created and drives to traffic to that content. Second, it has been a major conversation starter. Proposition 8 has been a hot-button issue around the country.
- Her other nominee, “Spare some change for Starbucks?” is another fantastic way to get people talking and consuming more Post-Intelligencer content. This post was spurred by a story that said Starbucks’ profits dropped 97 percent, reader reaction to that story and a witty editorial cartoon. She used those three to get people talking some more. Part of cultivating a community is knowing what gets people talking.