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.
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.
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!
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.
Welcome to the inaugural Leaderboard. Each week we highlight the most innovative beat reporters. The leaderboard changes weekly, and we’ll have new nominees up on our homepage starting today. Continue sending in your nominees.
Kent Fischer | The Dallas Morning News
- Kent Fischer and Tawnell Hobbs (both work on the DISD blog) have taken their beat blog to another level ever since a budget crisis broke out on Sep. 10.
- The DISD blog’s traffic has spiked through the roof since this crisis broke out, largely due to the incredible coverage that Fischer and Hobbs have done.
- Fischer was put on the leaderboard this week in particular because of his coverage of recent layoffs. Before layoffs occurred, he got a hold of a list that had all of the cuts at each school. He redacted the names from the list, but it was still a powerful tool for people to see which schools would be hardest hit by the layoffs.
- What really took Fischer’s coverage over the top was not only his ability to report hard numbers before anyone else, but also his ability to provide people with a voice. His open letter to those laid off or affected by the layoffs received a lot of powerful and heartbreaking responses. On October 16th alone, the DISD blog received 343 comments, and that was with the blog software being down for about three hours.
Beat blogging lessons from Fischer:
- Beat blogging allows reporters to concentrate on core reporting
- Guest blogging from community members
- Audio interview with Kent Fischer about building a blog on steroids
- Kent Fischer debuts new feature to hoist user comments
- Blog readers lead to A1 story for Dallas Morning News
- Interview with Kent Fischer about his readers helping him uncover a major story
Eric Berger | Houston Chronicle
- Berger has long been one of the most innovative beat reporters. He is a master of user engagement.
- Recently he asked his readers to be his assignment editor and to tell him if there were any stories they would like him to cover. Berger got a lot of responses, and he took the best ideas and put them to a vote on his blog.
- Berger’s latest efforts haven’t required a lot of time on his part but have resulted in a lot of user interaction and engagement. His readers are actively debating which topic makes the most sense for Berger to tackle and why. People are even giving Berger tips for how to cover each story. For instance, “Also, since solar arrays are typically installed atop buildings, spread across vacant fields or built as parking lot shade structures, it might be useful to explore the maintenance requirements/costs that will be incurred to actually collect energy for many years beyond that needed to replay the initial investment.” Yes, Berger’s readers add a lot to his blog, and that’s because Berger actively encourages participation.
- Dispelling FUD on news Web sites and blogs
- Harnessing the wisdom of users at the Houston Chronicle
- Berger back at his conversation starting ways
- Audio interview with Eric Berger on building an online community
- Using a survey to take the conversation to the next level
Ron Sylvester | Wichita Eagle
- Sylvester is being put on the inaugural Leaderboard because of his use of Twitter. Not only is Sylvester one of the most innovative beat reporters with Twitter, but he also embeds his Twitter feed on his blog and on pages on the Eagle’s Web site. Not many of Sylvester’s readers are on Twitter, but a lot of people view his feed because of how visible he makes it.
- This one of the biggest lessons Sylvester has taught me. You don’t need the youngest, most tech-savviest audience to effectively harness a social media tool like Twitter. You just need to know how to put it in front of people’s eyeballs.
- Sylvester has used Twitter to revolutionize how he covers court trials. Readers can get continuous updates from trials in succinct 140-character bites. But Twitter also functions as a notebook that allows him to quickly write summary blog posts and stories. Not only has Twitter allowed Sylvester — a print reporter — to cover trials in real time, but it also allows him to write his print stories quicker too because he has found that Twitter makes a better notebook.
Monica Guzman | The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
- Guzman’s job is to foment user engagement, and unlike the other people on this list, she is an online only reporter.
- One of the things that stands out about Guzman’s work is her ability to draw people into other content, even print content. This past week Guzman highlighted a thoughtful letter to the editor from a small-business owner in response to a PI editorial that suggested the government may need to help create jobs. She used this exchange to get users interacting with each other by asking, “Seattle small business owners: Considering the fragile economy, should government stay out of the way?”
- It’s a pretty simply concept: Guzman highlights thoughtful comments from users and asks people for their thoughts on those comments. She actively looks for ways to get people talking.
The Big Blog has updated its design — specifically the middle sidebar — to encourage user engagement and conversation off the blog.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has embedded a Twitter feed into the sidebar, added links to The Big Blog’s Facebook page, made it easy for people to embed and get Big Blog headlines elsewhere and added other new features.
To some — particularly old-media types — this may sound counter intuitive. Why would you want people to have conversations away from your core product?
“I think it is important that you reach people where they are, instead of demanding they come to where you are,” lead Big Blogger Monica Guzman said.
On the Web, you can’t force people to come where you are. By reaching out onto Twitter, Facebook and other platforms, Guzman is hoping to build The Big Blog’s brand and user base beyond just the blog itself.
“There is always a venue to come back to The Big Blog,” she said. “As long as it exists, it doesn’t really feel like letting people leave. Or if it is linking or getting people off the site, it is with the knowledge that thanks to us, they got there. There is a sense in which you build the blog’s reputation and the blog’s usefulness on other channels.”
Guzman regularly links out to other content and doesn’t cling to outdated beliefs that sending people to other Web sites is a bad idea. Guzman wants The Big Blog to be the place to go to find out what’s going on in Seattle, and that can mean sending people to other places on the Web for more information. She acts as a guide, mixing in original content with links to other quality content.
The Big Blog utilizes two Twitter accounts. One for Big Blog headlines and alerts. Guzman has regular meet ups and office hours and she posts on The Big Blog account about these. The other account is her personal account, where she shares her thoughts throughout the day, which posts she is working on, etc. Her three most recent tweets from her personal account are embedded onto The Big Blog.
Another new feature is The Big Blog’s “Featured Comment.” This feature doesn’t send users off site, but it is designed to further foment engagement.
“Whenever I see a comment that, in my mind at least, really contributes to the debate, without further dividing the two sides, I put it up there,” Guzman said “Or when it shows a particular bit of insight from a reader. I hope that encourages better conversation.”
This time Guzman and I are talking about newsroom culture. She thinks many young journalists are looking for the door, especially in the Seattle area.
Seattle is filled with tech companies and startups. Those companies embrace change and failure
“Two things newspapers don’t do,” she said. “It can be really, really frustrating to have a good idea, or hear of another paper with a good idea, to propose to whomever and just be told, ‘it’s not important, we can’t do it right now,’ or, the No. 1 thing, ‘we just don’t have the staff.'”
That being said, she doesn’t think being averse to change is all about age. Many veterans journalists take to online quickly, while other young journalists just want to write in print.
“I think the main characteristic is just being open to change,” she said.
Guzman said her editors and her started with the “stupid assumption” that they could dictate what The Big Blog would be like and that it would be successful. She said that newspapers think they know everything about what readers want, and much of what they thought readers wanted was dead wrong.
“It’s 100 percent about the readers,” Guzman said.
Comments allow newsrooms to make better products. Guzman found out that the original idea for The Big Blog wasn’t what readers wanted, and with reader feedback she has changed the focus of the blog.
“Readers have opened the door to the clearest path [of success] every time,” she said.
Guzman said the No. 1 obstacle in newsrooms in today is attitude.
“Newsrooms are very sad places,” she said. “It’s hard to get people excited.”
“Despite what might happen to our industry, despite what form it will take, despite the business model, people will always want to know what is going on and will always want to have an intelligent conversation. They just need to be empowered to do so.”
For Monica Guzman, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s first online reporter, empowering people is a major way to cultivate comments and build a community. She runs The Big Blog, a blog dedicated to keeping tabs on what’s happening in Seattle and the Seattle blogosphere.
“I’m convinced that newspapers need to rise up and take responsibility not just for the quality of the news, but for the quality of the conversation,” Guzman said.
Guzman believes newspapers need to cultivate comments. She is a fan of hoisting comments and is working on implementing a comment of the week feature.
“It tells readers that you are listening,” Guzman said about hoisting comments. “You’re actually watching what they say. And it rewards readers for being smart and actually taking the time to make their comments useful and intelligent.”
Guzman is surprised about how much people care about the news.
“As soon as people are empowered with their own tools like blogging tools and a publishing platform like the Internet, [it’s amazing] to see how many people will take the opportunity to become reporters for their own blocks,” Guzman said. “And I just think that’s a beautiful thing.”
When she first started there were a handful of community blogs, but now a new one pops up every month. Part of what she does is link to other bloggers and keep tabs on the blogosphere.
Guzman knows that some of her editors are uncomfortable with the ethic of collaboration. Many journalists are still stuck in the competition mindset.
“I love the blogging ethic of collaboration and I hate the ethic of competition,” she said.
One time Guzman wanted to link to a Seattle Times story because her paper didn’t have the story. At first her editors didn’t want her to do so because that was the competition’s work, but she insisted. Her editors eventually said if the PI doesn’t have a story, she can link to the Times as a last resort.
“When it comes down to it, sometimes your competing paper will write a good story that you didn’t write,” she said. “I wanted to become a trusted guide for my readers for what’s interesting going on in Seattle. How can I be trusted as a good guide if there is some sort of curtain over our competitor?”
Can you imagine a blog without links?
Much more is tackled in part 1 of my interview with Guzman.