* This is the first of a number of posts I plan to put on here after attending the excellent news: rewired event, run by journalism.co.uk and held in London on Thursday just gone
In the race to be first to the “next big thing” online, or at least to be seen peers to be ahead of the game, the value of blogging sometimes gets a little lost.
This was brought into sharp focus by Kevin Marsh during his keynote speech, when he talked about how Robert Peston and Nick Robinson now don’t think twice about breaking stories on their blogs.
Of course, there are dangers packed within this. Following the traditional method of news production – in print or online – there are plenty of checks and balances before a story goes live. By its very nature, a big breaking scoop from a specialist correspondent will quite likely be a contentious one.
For example, how many newsrooms – apart of the BBC – would be geared up to break a story via a blog? “Big Media” newsrooms are emerging from a very difficult 18 months with very stretched resources, and probably would struggle to carry out the checks and balances – the newsdesking – of blog posts from writers.
Those writers themselves are probably stretched themselves, chasing a story to fill the next day’s paper. And then there’s the issue of the value of placing a breaking news story on a blog, compared to say, the front page of the next day’s paper or on the home page of the website.
Very few blog posts, we’ve learnt, will have the same impact on page impressions, unique users and so on as the content of that same blog being served up on the homepage of a website. The reasons for this can be multiple – blogs are often tucked away on larger news sites, they may not be served up on Google News and so on – but does that mean the BBC’s strategy only really works for the BBC?
I’d argue not. Although Peston may well have placed stories on his blog first, I’m sure it will only have been fractionally before Peston was repeating the story on Five Live or the News Channel – probably for the very same reasons that newspaper websites wouldn’t like a story to solely appear on a blog.
So if a blog as part of a news organisation isn’t the right place to break a story, and newsrooms are particularly stretched at the moment, what’s the compelling reason for doing it now?
To me, the real the benefit for Peston and Robinson’s blogs are that they help build the profile of the author, regardless of the medium people first discover them.
Most of us know Peston and Robinson from TV news, but those of us particularly interested in what either says can follow their blogs and join a community around that blog.
That’s what newspapers, particularly, regional newspapers, should seek as the main benefit from a blog – it builds the profile of the writer further.
Many regional newspapers already get that with football writers – look at Blog on the Tyne and Colin Tattum as examples here – but football writers have always had that sort of profile in the eyes of fans. Whether newspapers currently cash in on that enough to drive sales in print is probably a discussion for another time.
But by getting more specialist staffers – and by specialist, I mean location as well as subject – to blog, the online opportunity is for greater stickiness, providing those people who want to have context to the subjects they’re reading about with a place to discuss it.
For the hard-pressed staffer, being asked to blog, especially when numbers initially reading can be very low, can seem like an extra burden they could do without. But it’s perhaps the best chance to raise your personal profile – or brand – to a readership which wants to interact with you. That can lead to multiple opportunities in the future, not least because it makes you valuable to employers.
After the first wave of enthusiasm around blogging in newsrooms two or three years ago, many digital editors became disenchanted with staff drop-off rate – after all, it was an optional extra for many – and low user numbers compared with the SEO-driven headlines on a main newspaper website.
But several years on, and those who’ve stuck at it – and have been promoted in the right way – are the ones reaping the rewards. For most journalists, getting that audience on to the blog will be tougher than it was for Peston and Robinson, but those who’ve stuck at it now have a profile and presence online which an audience engaged in what they do.
Blogging may not have the “wow” factor – but it’s probably the most powerful multimedia skill for journalists and news organisations to benefit from.