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.