Ed Silverman, one of the original and best beat bloggers, is leaving The Star-Ledger and Pharmalot.
Silverman discussed both lessons he learned from Pharmalot and the reasons why he decided to move on in this week’s podcast. You can find more information about Silverman’s decision here as well. He spent two years working on Pharmalot, but it really took him a year to really become the efficient, prolific beat blogger he was.
“It took me a year to really get a groove going in terms of how to manage my time and to develop the best routine so I could be efficient and effective,” he said. “It’s the sort of work you have to immerse yourself in and learn the hard way.”
One of Silverman’s biggest lessons for would-be beat bloggers is his work ethic. Silverman doggedly worked his beat, often putting in long hours many days in a row. He completely immersed himself within the world of pharma, becoming one of the leading sources of information on the industry.
“To make the kind of site that I had going, I really had to read everything I could,” he said. “It takes a lot of time to really become so intimately familiar with a subject so that you know when something pops up you can say, ‘yeah that’s old.'”
Silverman believes it takes long hours to make a successful blog because there are so many blogs available. He said that if he just worked four hours a day on Pharmalot that the site wouldn’t have gotten nearly the traffic. Pharmalot was able to garner 11,000 unique visitors a day partly because it had so much news and information on it, and the site was updated throughout the day.
“If you’re going to be a go-to-site that’s going to offer more than just selective items and to do what I did and provide a wide variety of items … you have to put in long hours,” he said. “The site has to be constantly refreshed.”
The hours he worked were considerably differently than when he was a newspaper reporter. He said writing for print was more like working bankers hours, compared with the varying and sometimes long hours of blogging.
Despite the success of Pharmalot (plenty of visitors and page views), there was never any talk of adding additional staff onto Pharmalot. Unfortunately for Pharmalot, as the site was ascending, the Ledger was descending. The financial situation of the paper didn’t afford for an expansion of new media projects like Pharmalot.
“The paper took precendee and they had to do what they were doing to prop up revenue and keep down expenses,” he said. “The timing was both fortuitous and unfortunate. It’s sort of a sad irony.”
Silverman does believe that Pharmalot could be a viable entity on its own, without the backing of a major media organization like the Ledger. Pharma is a global beat that appeals to many people, and Pharmalot was able to capture a sizable audience in two years.
“The economic environment has to be conducive to that of course,” he said about a site like Pharmalot trying to go it alone. “Timing is everything, right?”
Silverman may be blogging again for his new employer Elsevier, a publisher of science and health information, but his exact role has yet to be decided.
Other topics discussed:
- The reasons why Silverman thought it was time to move on.
- Silverman’s role as an aggregator and how it made him more of an editor than a writer.
- Key tips for would-be beat bloggers.
- What is the fate of Pharmalot? Will the site be retired?
- Can you separate Pharmalot from Silverman? Would a Pharmalot without Silverman really be the same blog?
Ed Silverman was one of the original beat bloggers.
He was a shinning beacon of how to do the practice right. He doggedly reported his beat, often putting in 12+ hour days. And be built from scratch an online juggernaut that won awards, brought in lots of visitors and fomented fantastic discussions about the pharmaceutical industry.
Sadly, he has accepted a buy-out with The Star-Ledger and will be moving on from his popular blog Pharmalot. Silervman told me it was a really tough decision for him to make, but he felt it was the right decision to make for him and his family. The Star-Ledger offered a very generous buy-out in Silverman’s view, and there really is no guarantee that the Star-Ledger, let alone Pharmalot, will be around in a year or two.
For two glorious years, I have had the privilege and good fortune to run this site. Now, though, the time has come to walk away. This was a difficult decision, but one that is rooted in the turmoil engulfing the newspaper business.
Earlier this year, Star-Ledger publisher George Arwady threatened that the paper would be shut down if not enough buy-outs were accepted and not enough contracts were reworked (this is if a buyer couldn’t be found, and it’s hard to imagine anyone interested in buying a struggling large metro newspaper right now). The paper lost 40% of its editorial staff in 2008. Against this backdrop, it’s hard to fault any journalist for taking a buy-out.
The future of Pharmalot is up in the air. The Star-Ledger owns the rights to it and hasn’t decided what, if anything, to do with it right now. It’s possible it might become a footnote in beat blogging history.
If that’s the case, Pharmalot will go down as a case study in how to successful beat blog. Silverman attracted a loyal following with industry insiders, and Pharmalot was home to a lot of lively debate among users (often with links and citations). The site itself was wildly popular:
As of last month, we notched about 11,000 unique daily visitors and some 330,000 monthly pageviews on a 30-day rolling basis.
As for Silverman, he is moving on to Elsevier, a publisher of science and health information. Silverman may be involved with some blogging projects with the company. What form his blogging would take remains to be seen.
We’ll have an in-depth podcast with Silverman up shortly where he talks about the lessons he learned from Pharmalot and some of the reasons why he felt it was time to move on.
Silverman cultivated an incredible community of people with great knowledge of the pharma industry. They helped him report, and they also engaged in lively conversations amongst themselves. They’ll sorely miss Silverman and Pharmalot.
Here is a sample of the same the comments users left after Silverman announced he was moving on from Pharmalot:
“I began to regularly check up on this blog because of the quality of the information and writing. Some blogs are poorly designed, terribly written, and full of bad information. For me, Pharmalot has stoodout and has been an excellent source of news and commentary about the pharmaceutical industry. Thanks for the hard work and good luck in your future endeavors!” – G
“Congratulations, Ed, on the buyout opportunity. But a tremendous loss to the on-line health/pharma community.
Your content was timely and insightful, and became a must-read daily. While it is sad to see the fate of papers such as the Star-Ledger, sites such as Pharmalot are the prescription needed for the future of Newhouse.
Enjoy some time, but find a way back to us soon.” – C
“Ed, sad to see you and this website go. It was my go to site to find out the latest inside information on the big pharma. This does leave a tremendous hole on the web for accurate and up to the minute reporting on issues relating to the pharmaceutical industry. I wish you all the luck and let us all know where you show up again, because I know you will be back.” – Craig Niedenthal
This week’s Leaderboard features beat bloggers who know how to cultivate their online communities and who listen to the wisdom of their users.
Cultivating a community is the first step. The best beat bloggers create a community where knowledgeable people come to share ideas and discuss content. That’s what these beat bloggers have done.
The next level is then listening to what your wise users have to say. The best beat reporters know that in aggregate the wisdom of their readers far outstrips their own knowledge. Beat blogging gives beat reporters avenues to harness that wisdom.
In the case of one beat blogger this week, he asked his readers to be his assignment editor. You know what? His readers came up with some dynamite story ideas.
Ed Silverman | Pharmalot
- Silverman is one of the most prolific beat bloggers I’ve ever seen. He posts a lot of high quality content throughout the day, and his blog reaches far beyond The Star-Ledger’s circulation area.
- One of the most impressive parts of Pharmalot is the comments that are left after posts. Silverman has attracted a community of experts and industry insiders. He has actively cultivated a strong community, and Pharmalot is one of the strongest examples of why news organizations need to allow user comments.
- The beat model seems to encourage better conversations. Pharmalot is a blog dedicated to the pharmaceutical industry. Pharmalot doesn’t attract the same kinds of trolls that show up on general interest stories. Plus, Silverman is very active in the comments. That always leads to better conversations.
Jon Ortiz | Sacramento Bee
- Ortiz got off to a hot start by launching his blog early to report on the financial budget shortfall in California. The initial budget shortfall was solved, but the financial crisis is hitting California hard again.
- Not only is Ortiz providing great coverage of this situation, but he is also encouraging discussions on his blog.
Eric Berger | Houston Chronicle
- Berger asked his readers to tell him which stories they would like to see him cover. He took the best ideas and put them to a vote. Want to know what your readers think? Ask them.
- Berger’s beat attracts a lot of knowledgeable and educated people. The top story ideas they came up with all would make for strong enterprise stories. Berger is currently committed to doing at least the top two stories (both energy related) that his readers voted on. This has been a great way for Berger to hear what his readers think and also find great story ideas.
- Berger’s readers are always posting links and making suggestions. A blogger like Berger would be foolish to ignore all the knowledge that his readers leave on his blog.
This weeks Leaderboard is all about community building.
Some beat bloggers have built strong communities within the comments sections of their blogs. Others have become a part of a community by providing a level of coverage not seen before. Good beat bloggers are all about two-way communication and community building.
Here is this week’s Leaderboard:
Ed Silverman | Pharmalot
- Silverman isn’t always the easiest to see innovation from in a single blog post, but when one takes his blog in its entirety, it’s easy to see the strong Web property that Silverman has built.
- If there was one (daily) blog post that really shows innovation on Silverman’s part, it’s his daily Pharmalot… Pharmalittle link post. Silverman was one of the first mainstream media types to get into link journalism.
- Every day Silverman links to some of the biggest stories about his beat — the pharmaceutical industry — from other news outlets. I know this sounds heretical, but it works well for Silverman. He has built Pharmalot into the source for daily pharma news. Silverman is a posting machine, often writing about 10 posts a day. He then links to some of the best content from his competitors. It’s the combination of original content and links that allows Silverman to own his beat.
- Silverman has created a strong network on his blog, where users ask questions, interact with each other and help provide Silverman with tips and resources about pharma. The comments can be just as informative as Silverman’s posts, and they often contain links to valuable resources.
Tawnell Hobbs | The Dallas Morning News
- Hobbs works on the same beat and blog as Kent Fischer (Leaderboard member from last week). Together they are reinventing local education coverage on the Web.
- Hobbs and Fischer have provided not only solid journalism during the financial crisis in the Dallas school district, but they have also provided a public service. Hobbs has been posting about job fairs and other opportunities for displaced workers. These posts don’t require a lot of work, but they have meant a lot to readers.
- One of the benefits to forming a network around your beat is having people help you report your beat. Astute readers noticed that the DISD Web site had a listing of job openings, despite a massive layoff a week before. Hobbs took the information that her readers alerted her to and asked the district to clarify. It turns out the district didn’t expect so many employees to voluntarily retire and resign.
- This is a story that might not have come to light without the help of readers.
Eric Berger | Houston Chronicle
- Yes, Berger made the Leaderboard last week, but we have good reason to stick him on the Leaderboard again.
- Check out the second comment on this post on his blog. Berger regularly responds to user comments. In fact, Berger is one of the best I’ve ever seen at interacting with users.
- Many beat bloggers tried using Ning to build a social network around their beats. Many of those failed because it was yet another destination for users and yet another Web site to sign up for.
- It turns out that a blog itself can be a good social networking tool. Berger’s blog is part of the Houston Chronicle Web site. It’s a main part of his reporting, and it has been a great way for Berger to build a social network. He has done this by interacting with his users in the comments section.
- Look at how insightful many of the comments that Berger’s users leave. A big reason is that Berger is actively cultivating a community. He hasn’t left a comment ghetto, where people can say whatever they want unchecked. A lot of scientific debate happens in the comments section of his blog.
Ed Silverman discusses the transition from being a beat reporter in print to running the online site Pharmalot.
Silverman has been blogging his beat over at Pharmalot.com for about 18 months and has enjoyed considerable success. For him, moving his beat to the Web was a question of when, not if. Silverman is a veteran of the news industry for more than a quarter of a century, but he sees the Internet as the future of news.
Silverman talks about the struggle to get people to understand that just because he has a blog doesn’t mean he is just pontificating on it. Silverman reports on Pharmalot, just as he always has, and some people don’t understand that concept. Many people think of blogging as opinion oriented, when blogging really is just a publishing platform.
“I see my site as a news vehicle” he said.
Silverman talks how blogging is continuous. It’s not a standard job with set hours. He spends more time on his beat now and believes he is covering his beat better. It’s no longer about filling the news hole, but about covering a beat well.
“People with Blackberries can relate to that,” he said.
Pharmalot has allowed Silverman to expand his beat. It was once a beat primarily focused on his geographic region around Newark, but the Pharmaceutical world is interconnected. Only 20% of his site’s traffic comes from New Jersey these day.
“I have readers from India to Indiana,” he said.
Thanks to the hard work of Hassan Hodges, we launched a redesign and a few upgrades at our pharmaceutical industry news site Pharmalot
over the weekend. The changes focused on a few key areas, and they were
geared toward improving the overall experience for the site’s growing
community of users:
Search engine optimization
>Reduced duplicate content.
>Better search terms to organize content.
>Better content in those oh-so-important H1 and H2 fields.
>Reduced homepage HTML size from 67KB to 46KB.
>15% fewer requests for external files.
>25% fewer database calls to generate a page.
>Total homepage load reduced from 266KB to 188KB.
>Total load time cut in half from 3.7 to 1.9 seconds. Individual
results will vary, but we’re processing fewer components on the back
end and serving everything in a leaner way.
>Better support for printing pages via a print stylesheet. (This was our most requested new feature.)
We’ll keep rolling out improvements and responding to suggestions
from users. If you have any thoughts about how we can make the site
better, please drop a line here or in the comments below. You can also see the archived Cover It Live chat Hassan held today with users on the site. And of course Ed Silverman, the grand poobah of Pharmalot, always welcomes your input.
My last post was about Seesmic, a new tool that I continue to think has potential for beat blogging.
I highlighted a thread started by Paul Bradshaw – and it has yielded some fruit.
Obviously journalists can do video responses to EVERY single reader question – but Seesmic is very… echem… seamless. It isn’t hard to do several videos a day.
Their first Tweet is a call to action: Should Pfizer Dump Dr. Jarvik? Tell Us
The related blog post has 34 comments.
At this point it’s safe to say that Twitter has played little role in getting any of those comments: The Pharmalot Twitter is only following 14 people and all are fellow journalists.
But Ed Silverman has the right idea – that’s a good way to use Twitter. Next he needs to find out if people in the Pharma industry are also using Twitter and start reaching out to them.
In a blog post today
Question: Should Pfizer Get Rid of Dr. Jarvik?
Yes – 218 votes, or 69 percent;
No – 98 votes, or 31 percent.
Number of respondents – 316
Ed is creating a live social network of 316 people. By the act of letting others know where they fit in – they are getting a sense of who the others are. This is just one small step in that direction – obviously the 316 respondents are strangers to each other still, but one can see how continuing to do quick hits like this bring value to the reader and create a sense of community.
John Hassell: Pharmalot – “It’s the Wisdom of the Crowd Around Him…How Do You Take that to the Next Level?”
Ed Silverman, editor of Pharmalot has the luxury of working only online. But don’t think that means he slacks off. One look at the blog and you’ll realize that Ed is "a machine," as his editor John Hassell noted.
John and Ed are looking into different ways to utilize social bookmarking sites or social news sites to tap into the wisdom of the crowd that has grown around Ed’s blog. Below is an edited version of our conversation.
So what do you want to accomplish?
Ed has been blogging for a little over a year, Pharamlot just had its birthday, and in many ways he has approached doing this with a lot of the same thoughts that are driving the beat blogging project. He wanted this to be a collaborative experience and to develop relationships with his sources.
It seems to us that there are other opportunities, using various new technology platforms and services to find other ways for Ed to connect with other sources. He would be the first person to tell you it’s the wisdom of the crowd around him that makes the blog work. The question is, how do you take that to the next level?
What are the realities you face in the newsroom?
Ed is covering an industry in and around people in the industry. The trick is to have a relatioship with sources, understanding that many people in any industry are not always free to speak publicly about what they know or think. So how do you harness the wisdom of the crowd that can’t always speak publicly to other members of the crowd? That’s what we have been wrestling with.
Step one to go in that direction is to come up with some kind of a network of people who know this stuff inside and out who can share what they consider important — either by name or not.
We will also set up a Twitter feed of headlines from Pharmalot and Ed will interact with readers that way.
I’m not sure that we need a full social network. I don’t want to be closed off to doing a full fledged site if it makes sense, but at the moment I don’t see that as the best way to approach this. Between the RSS feed and emails Ed has a long list of sources and people he can tap and direct at any time, so the network is there. He has the ability to throw questions out there and get responses.
The really simple thing to do is get a group of 30 people and put them in a forum, but I don’t want to do that.
We want to give readers access to what some group of knowledgeable people believe to be important at any moment of time – and we are looking at various tools in the social recommendation, social bookmarking realm to accomplish that and we are hoping to move on that soon.
What is the technical support like?
Whatever we decide to do with the blog we can do. Pharmalot is hosted externally, we do all the design and development. It’s really one guy who does it all – and works closely with Ed.
As soon as we are ready to something — it will happen really quick. If we were doing this on another project we might not have that same flexblity or freedom – but we are very lucky.
Note the levels of engagement that John Hassell denominates. A beat blogger has so many choices and variables – each network truly is individual.