The kind of blog a newspaper needs

May 6, 2004
By

Last Saturday I saw the San Francisco Giants defeat the Florida Marlins. I knew the score but I had to read the Merc’s account of the game in Sunday’s paper. I’m habitually going to the Internet Movie Database or Rottentomatoes.com to read reviews on movies I’ve already seen.

I imagine most avid readers have similar tendencies; we read for the joy of translating and digesting the written word, but also because it validates our experiences.

Newspaper readers can find reams of stories validating just about anything except the act of reading the newspaper.

Blogs can correct that, if newspaper publishers are willing to let it happen.

If I were a publisher with a sneaky, underhanded streak I’d find a writer in my community — or maybe in my newsroom — who has a distinctive voice and a feel for blog writing, and hire this writer to create a blog devoted solely to attacking my newspaper on behalf of its readers. Ideally the blogger would be anonymous, with the identity known only to me.

My blogger would be smart-alecky like Wonkette — a sarcastic observer who nevertheless believes in the institution. Some reporters would become heroes, others would be goats. The whole enterprise, from headlines to sports agate, would be up for grabs, subject to journalistic scrutiny and good-natured ridicule.

You can see where I’m going here: the blog would provide those “yeah, that’s exactly what I thought” moments that people share over drinks. It would create buzz about the newspaper, get people reading it and motivate them to keep reading it.

With any luck, other blogs would spring up in response to my blogger and a community of believers — and non-believers — turns into hardcore readers of the newspaper.

I’m not advocating the sneaky, underhanded route — the blogger getting outed as a tool of the publisher would spoil everybody’s fun. But a publisher could be above-board about it; heck, the blogger could be hired by the paper’s marketing/promotions department. The trick is to find a blogger who can attract an audience in the best way possible: by poking fun at news people.

Devoted readers of a newspaper tend to have a deeply personal connection with it. But they don’t have much way of acting on that connection because there’s nobody “covering” their local paper.

There should be … and probably will be before long; the question for newspapers is whether they want to have a say in how that coverage plays out. If they leave it all to chance, there’s no telling what they’ll end up with.

9 Responses to The kind of blog a newspaper needs

  1. Jeff on May 7, 2004 at 7:06 pm

    You’re suggesting that a newspaper would engender more readers by… faking…
    uhhhhnnnn. head hurts… room spinning….

  2. tom on May 7, 2004 at 7:35 pm

    Pay attention, Jeff. I said later on that I didn’t actually recommend the sneaky method.

  3. The Sanity Inspector on May 7, 2004 at 8:38 pm

    Yeah, but who reads to the end of a story?
    >:^)
    Another good site for movie reviews is allmovie.com

  4. Patterico on May 8, 2004 at 12:53 pm

    Why pay when you can get daily criticism for free? The L.A. Times isn’t paying me a dime.

  5. tom on May 8, 2004 at 4:19 pm

    You should send them a bill.
    Every story you link to sends people to the Times’ site, and those eyeballs are not w/out monetary value. (good luck trying this!)
    Problem with being an overtly political site is you drive off everybody who disagrees w/your politics… not good for the traffic numbers; bad for business (also why newspapers maintain an official stance of neutrality) Also, you invite the creation of a countersite, which distracts from the original purpose.
    What I’m not entirely convinced of, after thinking about this idea some more, is that reading a newspaper creates the cathartic moments that demand validation like a movie or ballgame does.
    However: Any given day a newspaper has those “Hey Mable, Get This!” stories that people really identify with. Like the lady who sued over spilling coffee in her lap. A blogger on the company payroll would have the motivation, time and inclination to hunt out those stories, which are often buried deep in the paper or the Web site.

  6. Patterico on May 8, 2004 at 9:11 pm

    Kevin Roderick’s view notwithstanding, my site is not as overtly “political” as you might think — if you actually read it. I hardly ever engage in the partisan wrangling about Kerry and Bush, because I find it boring. While I think Kerry is a zero, I am not a huge fan of Bush’s either — you will never find me “blogging for Bush.”
    I have some leftist viewpoints. If I drive off everyone who disagrees with me on some issue, then I am probably driving off everybody. (Which is, I suppose, possible.)

  7. Mike Bawden on May 11, 2004 at 8:32 am

    Just ran across your blog today and enjoyed it thoroughly, especially the notion that consumers of media should be enocuraged to read/view it with a critical eye. I couldn’t agree more.
    I tire of hearing people claim they are defenseless against the media and the corporate marketing machines that sell through it. Do you think a voice (online, in print, on the air) asking tough questions and holding media accountable would help people realize that communications really IS a two-way process?
    I’ve worked with a lot of editors and publishers of newspapers and magazines as well as station managers and on-air talent. I’m not so sure they would be comfortable with the idea of a truly “engaged” audience. Then again, change is not supposed to be easy or comfortable – even if it is the right thing to do.
    Thanks again for your insights. I’ll come back and read more later.
    Regards,
    Mike Bawden
    Brand Central Station

  8. Curtis on May 12, 2004 at 12:53 am

    Since discovering your blog a few weeks ago, I’ve checked back almost daily. It’s been a big influence. On a Rotten Tomatoes journal, I’ve started writing about my work as a copy editor, in addition to writing about movies. I hardly ever received any comments about the films, but an entry called “I’m a copy editor” received an almost immediate reply. So I’m doing more of it. It’s a great outlet for frustrations.

  9. KP on May 12, 2004 at 10:34 am

    “You can see where I’m going here: the blog would provide those “yeah, that’s exactly what I thought” moments that people share over drinks. It would create buzz about the newspaper, get people reading it and motivate them to keep reading it.”
    Do people outside the news business really care about it/us?
    As we know, few read a story all the way through.
    I believe:
    Fewer still read bylines – making no personal connection to any particular writer or photographer.
    Fewer further make the cerebral connection that those who write the stories don’t usually write the headlines, cutlines, etc.
    Even fewer than that know there are people who edit these stories and photos.
    And no one realizes the true importance of the adverti$ing dollar (insert rolling eyes/sarcasm emotion here) in the whole scheme of things.
    So….
    Do I underestimate the current readership and the general state of ennui is in my head? (Quite possible, I know.)
    I care deeply, of course, and some of my friends outside the newspaper world care but I’m enmeshed in the biz, and I have been for a long time so it’s a part of my entire being. And I believe my pals only care somewhat deeply because they care about me and know that I care, so they care in support of me. Makes me wonder…
    I like this blog very much, but I am a “gimme a newspaper to read in any city any time, and I’m a very happy camper – I don’t need no stinkin’ computer” kind of person.