Getting Bloggy – and Loving it

by Jeff Siegel

Blogs, apparently, are not just for right-wing nut cases, the Democratic political establishment, and moony teenaged girls. They are even something a cranky ex-newspaperman can love.

I attended Blog World, a new media trade show and convention, last week as part of my duties for a magazine group in Dallas that I work with. The magazine has had blogs for its various editions for a year or so, and we have been quite surprised at their success. Our readers love them (visits have increased significantly month to month since we started); the comments have been thoughtful and sincere, with almost no flaming; and the magazine has been able to play a role in the community that we would not have been able to play otherwise. Case in point: A recent referendum on a controversial highway, where our blogs were one of the leading forums for discussion.

Everything I saw at Blog World reinforced the value of blogs. This was not a show with a bunch of cyber-ether-nerds and geeks. Many, if not most of the people there, were adults who wanted to find out how they could adapt this concept and this technology for their businesses. One of the speakers, a respected internet statistics analyst named Avinash Kaushik, said that New Media companies that didn't embrace blogs were just as old-fashioned as any newspaper. "They're committing a crime against their businesses," he said.

Kaushik said that many Old Media businesses may realize that the way information is distributed has changed – websites vs. a print newspaper, for instance. But what they don't understand is that the way information is consumed has changed even more dramatically. Readers may not get their information from a website, but from a blog that links to the website, or a comment in a blog that links to a blog that links to a website. Those readers are consuming that information just like a traditional print newspaper subscriber, but the Old Media companies have no idea that they exist.

Also crucial, said Matt Colebourne of cocomment.com (which tracks blog comments), is that Old Media don't understand that blogs foster a sense of community, and the price for this is an open comment policy. Newspapers, even when they run letters to the editor, control the topic and access to the topic. If the newspaper doesn't want a discussion about the Iraq War, it doesn't run a letter about it. But in blog comments, the subject can veer from a local issue to the Iraq War quickly and easily. It's very difficult for a newspaper mind to grasp that difference, let alone see it as a good thing.

I'm convinced – and I never thought I would think this – that blogs are crucial to the future of the media business, as print and television evolve into whatever awaits them in the rest of the 21st century. This doesn't meant newspapers and TV will go away; rather, it means the successful ones will adapt to changes in technology and their readers' and viewers' habits. It's going to be exciting to help my magazine adapt to those changes.

Though, and this is the cranky ex-newspaperman in me, I do wish everyone in the blogosphere would stop using the word monetize. That's jargon at its worst, isn't it?

(Photo by Zanetta Hardy of Lebanon, PA via stock.xchng.)

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Frederick said...

Even my 60 year old dad reads blogs now...

Anonymous said...

What is interesting is the politics of internal company management.

When you have an established successful business like traditional print media, you also have long established long term profit centers and persons running them often for decades who are out of touch with reality.

Imagine someone in print media being asked to divert resources from his part of the newspaper so those nutty on line guys can make a free blog.
The manager who has to give up resources can easily block a visionary action because he has his hands on the purse strings.

In a nutshell, that is how many old line print media folks are getting themselves into the dinosaur stage....

Jeff Siegel said...

That's a terrific point about Old Media and diverting resources. In Dallas, for example, the same company owns the only daily newspaper, the top-rated TV station, a string of suburban papers, a Spanish-language paper, and a free daily aimed at young people. And each property has its own web site, which seems like a terrific waste of resources. Why not just have one incredibly functional web site, which the company can brand as the authoritative Dallas news source?

I asked around, and the answer I kept getting is exactly what Anonymous noted -- it revolves around profit centers. How are you going to expense a combined web site? Which company is going to pay for which bit? Since that problem can't be resolved, they waste effort and duplicate resources. And, as I blogged recently, the newspaper's circulation has declined 21 percent in the past couple of years. Somehow, I doubt that's a coincidence.

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