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New & Noteworthy

In this issue

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  • Toli Galanis
  • Alexis Krase
  • Akshay Jain
  • Andre Henry
  • Emily McFarlan
  • Kaitlin Jessing-Butz
  • Kat Ocampo
  • Lauren Dzura
  • Patrick Akhidenor
  • Trisha Chang
  • Sami Osman
  • Sara Williams
  • Vanessa Fica
  • Will McLean
  • Renee Alfuso
  • Briana Mowrey
  • Apostolia Pentogenis
  • K. Paul Mallasch
  • Michael W. Andersen
  • Jay Rosen


Clicking on the Blogs section of the Houston Chronicle’s site, you see that a reader’s blog is highlighted. The Chron.commons is front and center, along with the invite to join up. (“We want to give you the chance to blog on your subject of expertise.”) Below that are blogs by members of the Chronicle staff.

And below that are archives of blogs that covered special events as they happened. There’s the Dead Zone, about a reporter’s journey with a research team to study oxygen depleted regions of the Gulf. Then DomeBlog started after Hurricane Katrina.

Silverman, the interactive editor, interacts

“The structure and approach will vary depending on the situation, said Dwight Silverman, Interactive Journalism Editor at the Chronicle. “In cases of fast-breaking news blogs that are temporary, we may have staffers blogging in them without being edited — that happened during the return-to-flight shuttle launch and during the hurricanes. They are probably more apt to have multiple authors posting and thus are less voice-dirven.”

Silverman’s duties include posting to his own Tech Blog (“Upgrade your geek with Dwight Silverman”) scouring other local blogs—which in Houston is quite a few— and attending local gatherings. That the Chron has such a position tells you why its blogs are doing well.

Silverman said the reaction from other local bloggers has ranged from intrigue to enthusiasm, with “very little of the ‘big media trying to horn in’ grousing, or at least that I’ve seen.” Chronicle blogs don’t pretend that bloggers outside the newspaper don’t exist. In fact, in addition to regularly linking to other local blogs, they keep a drop-down list of those they’ve linked to in the past.

Someone had to allow Dwight Silverman the room to do all this.

So I asked the boss of the newsroom some blogging questions

Scott Clark, Editor of, answered via email last week:

First Chronicle blog launched?

Our first blog was MeMO, produced by Deputy Managing Editor/Features Kyrie O’Connor in early 2004.

What spurred the decision?

Intially, our interest was in developing more original online content, building something that could become a daily habit for online readers and involving the reader more in the site’s content. As time has gone by, we’ve seen the benefits of telling stories in a different way through blogs and in having readers drive our coverage directly.

Who spearheaded?

Online news editor Dwight Silverman was intrigued by a daily, off-the-wall commentary on popular culture written by the features DME and distributed to her staff. He approached her about turning it into a blog, which became MeMO. It remains one of our most popular blogs and has garnered accolades for its clever, oblique angle on many topics. We have since expanded to a broad variety of staff, freelance and reader blogs. Dwight recently became our interactive journalism editor and will be driving further expansion of our reader-interactive content, along with other site editors.

Which departments were involved?

Today, every department of the paper is involved in our blogging projects, including news, sports, features, business and suburban. Our online technology group has worked with Dwight to provide a strong platform for those efforts.

I noticed you didn’t have comments at first - what made you decide to allow comments?

It was a decision dictated by the technology available to us at the time. When we began using Moveable Type for our blogs, we were able to offer comments, trackback and other functionality associated with “true” blogs.

Are they edited/moderated?

Some blogs are edited, some aren’t. All of our staff and freelance bloggers are edited – either by their newspaper editors or those online. That editing is very light – similar to what you would expect with a columnist. The bloggers themselves generally approve their own comments. Most of our reader/bloggers are not edited and are soley responsible for the content. We have about a dozen standing reader bloggers and others who have participated in news coverage on everything from the hurricanes to the World Series to the Enron trial.

What editorial process is in place?

Blogs get onto the site in a variety of ways. In some cases, online editors approach people in the newsroom who would make good bloggers or recruit freelancers on key topics. In others, someone in the newsroom has approached us about doing a blog. For news events, we’ve recruited bloggers from the community – a dozen people to cover Hurricane Rita’s arrival in Texas, fans in the stands of the World Series game, a UT student making a “road trip” to the game with his friends and a group of lawyers discussing the Enron trial. Recently, we began recruiting general public bloggers to the site on topics from guns to cats to poker.

Any benefits you’ve seen by having blogs?

First of all, traffic. During the hurricanes last fall, blogs accounted for about 3.5 percent of site traffic. Second, it has engaged our writers – and our Web site – more with readers. Third, it has enabled us to provide more perspective on topics than we possibly could with our own staff alone. Fourth, it has changed the way we cover news – for the better. With the Enron trial, we are telling the story minute-by-minute from the courtroom, enabling readers to feel the rhythm of the trial in a way they can’t with a story. Finally, it has enabled us to expand our coverage by engaging readers who know a lot more than we do about things they are passionate about: We have an ultralight aircraft blogger – can you image asking the publisher for a position to cover that subject?

Any way you can share specific traffic numbers for the blog sections of your site?

Our hurricane blog traffic was about 2.5 million per month.

Also, has the advertising dept used the space around the blogs any differently than other areas of the website - that is, are the ads around the blog content sold separately? Are advertisers attacted to that sort of content?

Today, our blogs have contextual link ads but most do not have general banner/sponsorship advertising. There are ads on selected blogs, such as Shop Girl.

Finally, what advice do you have?

Like many things on the Web the best approach is to start doing it, learn along the way and keep trying to do it better. Try not to think of a blogger as just a Web version of a newspaper columnist. (Posting only once or twice a week is not good. Nothing but linkless gray text is not good. Just spouting your opinions is not good.) Good bloggers have something substantive to say, with deep knowledge and context to support it. They aggregate information from myriad sources - from other sites to other bloggers. Those things are more important than purple prose.

Get the people who are motivated involved first and help them educate their colleagues. Don’t forget that among your readers you have a lot of passionate, knowledgeable people who can help you do more than you can on your own.

The Houston Chronicle’s early blogging efforts were scoffed at by some because their blogs were really online columns, not blogs.

In May of 2005, an upgrade to the Movable Type software allowed to start accepting comments on their blogs. It was then that the real conversation began. Looking closely at the Chron blogs, and watching the section over time, you see the staff, using real names, interacting a lot with readers. They seem to understand the public dialogue with those people formerly known as the audience.

Special Contributor K. Paul Mallasch describes himself as a journalist, poet, and a pilgrim (not necessarily in that order.) He's in the process of starting up kpaul media to oversee Muncie Free Press (his CitJ effort) Journalism Hope (a new media blog) and other websites.