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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


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Newspaper journalist and press blogger Michael W. Andersen got in touch with us about contributing to Blue Plate Special. Kinsey Wilson of USA Today got in touch with us, offering to talk about his newspaper’s approach to blogging. We put the two of them together to figure things out. Here’s Mike’s report.

Kinsey Wilson, Executive
Editor of USA TODAY
Photo Credit: Coburn Dukehart, USA TODAY

The Houston Chronicle has Enron. The Spokane Spokesman-Review has Gonzaga basketball. The Greensboro News and Record has the latest retail bargains in central North Carolina.

But how do you do that when your paper’s audience really is … everyone?

This isn’t the first time USA Today has tried to answer that question. And Executive Editor Kinsey Wilson is hoping things work as well this time around. Wilson, who oversees online production within the paper’s newly consolidated newsroom, has rolled ten blogs onto his paper’s site. The topics might sound familiar: News. Travel. Sports. Tech. Weather.

Not exactly the tried-and-true

But “national” doesn’t have to mean homogenized or generic. On Sports Scope,Jeff Zillgitt and Beau Dure spent last month blogging from Turin’s Olympics. On Hotel Hotsheet, Meg Mueller posts a short item every day or two about suitcase life (which is national.) And for the new On Deadline, a pair of full-time bloggers (supported by a part-timer on the West Coast) do something no other newsroom seems to have attempted: They maintain a national breaking news blog, mashing must-read scoops against weird-news quirks at a feverish pace of 30 posts a day.

Political punditry? Dispatches on the duct-tape industry? Not in the nation’s newspaper—not yet. “I’ve tried to sort of stay away from some of the popular conceptions that have attached themselves to blogging,” says Wilson. He sees three editorial uses for blogs: “surveillance,” or “getting in front of our readers anything that’s important to them on an important topic”; personality; and breaking news coverage.

The most popular blog on falls into the second category. It’s also one of the paper’s oldest, and it’s the one Wilson talks about most eagerly. The author is Whitney Matheson, an entertainment columnist-turned-blogger who posts a few times daily on whatever bits of media culture attract her attention. It’s called Pop Candy. (Pop is national.) There’s also Boldface names, chatty delivery, and not much of a fourth wall. Readers like it, Wilson says.

But when blogs are engineered for general audiences, do they become redundant with the rest of the paper? “We have a lot of different audiences,” says Wilson. “Some of them come in once a day and some of them come in every half hour.”

Live blogging works!

He expects the once-a-day-ers to gravitate toward 700-word articles from the print edition, and the repeat visitors to find up-to-the-minute news from blogs without having to dig through the eighth rewrite of a wire piece. (When people say only a fraction of users will visit blogs—true—they sometimes forget: it’s the heaviest users.) Wilson is also enthusiastic about blogs used for breaking news. USA Today blogged the 2006 Golden Globes and Grammys live.

“We get a remarkable amount of traffic,” says Wilson. “What we surmise is that people are literally watching the show sitting with the laptops on.” Interesting. But such minute-by-minute blogs, he says, have to offer more than catty comments. Even in the heat of the Oscars, viewers are thirsty for news.

“What we’re not doing is simply riffing on something everyone can plainly see,” says Wilson. “We’re putting people backstage, on the red carpet.”

Wilson and company measure a blog’s success using not just pageviews, but as many metrics as they can find. “We watch traffic, we watch referrals, we watch the number of offsite clicks, we look at the number of comments, we look at the success we’re having in achieving distribution and traffic beyond what we normally garner from the site itself,” he said.’s monthly traffic, hovering around 10 million unique visits per month, continues to chase industry leader, though both national papers are dwarfed by Yahoo News, CNN, and MSNBC.

Ads sell onto the blogs in the same system as the rest of the paper, without being targeted any more narrowly than the section (travel, life, and so forth) from which they spring.

Controlling the comment flow

And then there’s that other side of blogging: interaction.

Wilson, who describes user activity as a “journalistic tool,” (not a user’s right) leans toward relatively heavy control over comments on his blogs. Bloggers screen all comments they receive, and remove any profanity, personal attacks, or off-topic posts.

“My goal is to, ideally, promote conversation that is both civil and on point,” Wilson explains. “That said, we’re not applying a heavy hand by any stretch.” So far, he says, the cultural tone on has been urbane. He has no qualms about about stifling wide-ranging debate. “There are lots of places that people can go for that kind of thing.”

This is a luxury smaller papers may not be able to afford. “At the local level, it really is a different issue,” he says. “The newspaper is, partially, the town square.” Even Wilson, though, can’t fully resist the idea of USAToday being a national town square. “We do anticipate broadening this out, and may very well provide an opportunity for readers to set up blogs on our platform,” he says.

For now, no readers blogs at USA Today. “There needs to be a compelling reason for people to do it,” he says. “We are not the first, logical place for people to set up a blog.”

“Can we provide an opportunity for exposure?” he speculates. “I think we would probably open it up really widely… make it clear that it’s a publishing platform, but not an editorially endorsed part of the site.” Now that’d be an interesting squeeze.

Michael Andersen is the inaugural online journalist for the Longview (Wash.) Daily News. He writes about small newspapers' future on the Web at