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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


Daniel Rubin’s reporting career might fool you. Sure, he got his master’s in journalism from Northwestern. Sure, he’s spent a quarter of a century as a newspaper correspondent. Sure, he won a George K. Polk award for national reporting.

He’s covered cops, fires, courts and schools in Norfolk. Plus big investigations of the naval supply system, which forced Congress and the Inspector General to take a look. In Louisville, he covered schools and spent more than a year writing about a military charter plane that crashed. Metro reporter, feature writer, European correspondent for Knight-Ridder.

But talk to him today: Rubin doesn’t believe in objectivity, hears the Net calling to him at all hours of the day, and craves the freedom to talk about whatever the hell he wants to talk about—unfettered, unedited. Yup, he’s a blogger.

The cover story: trawling the blogosphere

Blue Plate Special sent me down to Philadelphia to interview him for a feature on reporters who have blogs. Rubin is unusual because blogging is all he does. He was named the Philadelphia Inquirer’s first full-time blogger in May 2005, back when there were still some who called them web logs. Blinq, named for the collision of blog and Inquirer, set out to “cover the blogosphere, trawling the millions of sites of vaunted wisdom and unvarnished pablum so you don’t have to.”

This was actually a cover story, so that Rubin could invent his own approach. He describes himself as “a hybrid, I fear, with the worst parts of each beast.” He admits to feeling resentment from both sides of the spectrum—his fellow bloggers, who see a co-opting of their terrain, and his newspaper colleagues, who envision Rubin sitting around at home in his pajamas all day.

He blogs “for” the newspaper, but not at it. “I’m a little detached from the newsroom and I’m at a different pace,” he says. “I need to go into work a couple times a week just to be part of it, to get ideas and to interact with people.”

While his job may not require a suit and tie, Rubin swears he does in fact get changed out of his PJs to blog. He’s at his computer by 6:30 each morning. Most of his day is searching the web, reading news stories, and checking up on one blog after another. He spends a lot of time pacing around the house from room to room, contemplating his next post. And—oh yeah—he also does a bit of writing.

Blinq posts have that “random, but not” quality that good bloggers show. Let’s take this week. NFL players lose millions investing in a bad hedge fund. New movie on Flight 93. A Barry Bonds book is out. Here’s a payola story. Bill Cosby’s lawyers go after a blogger. “My wife idiot-proofed the house before leaving.”

Asked where he went for inspiration before starting Blinq, Rubin recalled: “I read a lot, and interviewed a number of successful bloggers, entertainment bloggers, media bloggers, political bloggers from the left, right, and middle. The most portable advice came from Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit. He said to write about what’s interesting to me.”

Checking in on the blog on a regular basis, I’m pleasantly surprised to find posts on sites my friends only just started talking about. Rubin gives his take on (which lets you personalize radio stations and stream free music) and “Random Facts about Chuck Norris” (which, well you have to see for yourself to believe).

To Blog or Not to Blog…

It sounds like fun. But there is a price. “It’s always sitting there waiting, happy for you to go tell it something,” Rubin says about Blinq. “It’s all-consuming. To do it right takes everything I have. There might be people who are able to blog in addition to their normal jobs, but those are higher evolved creatures than I am.”

To do it right is the key phrase. What kind of traffic does the all-consuming Blinq earn back for The blog began May 16, 2005 with 62,000 users in its first month. Now it’s more than doubled that, acording to Rubin, with about 15,000 readers on his best day. “On average, visitors tend to spend more time on the blog than they do the entire site,” he says.

Across the country in Spokane, Washington, Ryan Pitts doesn’t share Rubin’s luxury. His job at The Spokesman-Review has left him less time for contributing to The Dead Parrot Society, the eccentric site run by Pitts and seven other bloggers from a range of locations and backgrounds. (“An epidemiologist in Seattle… an actuary in Arkansas…”) Pitts enjoys being able to “share cool stuff I find with my friends”— which means posts on everything from DVDs to sports to random angry rants in a section called HULK SMASH! But with responsibilities at work and at home, there isn’t always time to play.

“I used to be far more active on my personal blog than I am right now,” Pitts says. “It was fun, it was engaging, but it also became too time-consuming for me to justify. I’m slowly starting to post again, but I’m looking for the right balance. Some people want to be tied to their blog, and that’s great, but it’s not for me right now.”

New York Daily News reporter Derek Rose has found a way to balance blogging with newspaper writing—by not taking the blog too seriously. He says that he treats his self-titled blog as a hobby on the side, requiring only two to five hours of free time per week. He says the ability to be more opinionated is fun. So is the freedom from doing “serious” work.

“I write about dumb stuff, like dating and my recent trip to Vegas for a bachelor party,” Rose says. “Blogging is certainly more fun for me— no deadlines, no pressure. It’s great to be free from editors and the space restrictions of the newspaper.”

Occasionally Rose also uses the space to explain his newspaper pieces and the reporting choices he makes, but he knows to tread lightly when it comes to mixing his job with his blog.

“Editors have cautioned me to be careful,” he says. “They want to be sure I don’t write anything that tips off the competition or could lead to an accusation of bias against the paper. But I think they’ve been reasonable.”

Speaking his Mind

Fortunately for Rubin, his blog is his job. But that doesn’t mean he’s a mouthpiece for the newspaper to sing its own praises. In fact, on his site Rubin refers to the Inquirer as “the filtered, mainstream aggregator that pays me” and “the ivory tower on Broad Street.” And when the newspaper recently debuted its own editorial blog called The Fishbowl, he was the first to criticize it. Yet Rubin isn’t the least bit worried about upsetting the powers that be.

It helps that Amanda Bennett, editor of the Inquirer, was there at the blog’s creation and gave Rubin the green light. His posts are not edited; he reports to Michael Rozansky, deputy arts and entertainment editor, who edits Rubin’s Saturday column, a version of what’s already been in the blog.

“It’s part of the cost of setting me loose that I’m gonna have my own style and voice,” he says. “I’m always trying to counter expectations and that’s my personality, and you see it in the blog. To do this right you’ve gotta feel free and it’s gotta be unfettered. You’ve just gotta trust yourself.”

That kind of attitude is what landed Rubin on Philadelphia City Paper’s best-in-city list in 2005. Blinq was named Most Transcendent Blog:

Daniel Rubin’s Blinq — the webbed arm of the Inquirer, of all things — manages to outwit and out-entertain its peers by remaining refreshingly unhip and utterly panoptic in its interests. Yeah, he’s a blogger, so he often blogs about blogs, but Rubin’s professional attitude and personal touches make Blinq feel more like a column than a mere newsletter of the weird.

“It was a great compliment because it meant that I wasn’t trying to be something I’m not,” Rubin says. “So I didn’t mind it so much when a few months later they put me on the list of people who they wish would shut up.”

Actually it was a list of big-mouths and there was some mention of a ball gag… But Rubin hasn’t piped down and says that the blog itself is enough to keep him going.

“It’s a great confidence builder knowing you can do it,” he explains. “It causes you to be really at the top of your game, as fast as you’re working to be aware of not getting it wrong and still pushing it as hard as you can. Not being too conservative, too cautious, and that takes a lot of concentrating.”

Leap of Faith

Back at the Spokesman-Review, Pitts has his work cut out for him. As the newspaper’s online producer, he is not only in charge of site design and content production, but also the more ambitious task of converting a newsroom of reporters into blogging believers.

“When someone is hesitant about jumping in, we don’t try to do a hard sell,” Pitts says. “Usually we just offer to set up [a blog] and let them play with it a little. The interactivity is a big selling point, as well as the decoupling of their content from print-centric rules.”

One such successful convert has been Thomas Bowers, who covers food and drink for the newspaper and now online as well at his blog Taste of the Town. Bowers took to the blog because he says he enjoys the immediacy and the ability to constantly edit his writing from anywhere. But while he says he’s a huge fan of both blogging and newspaper reporting, he still doesn’t hold the new form in as high regard.

“One hopes that professional blogs are, or eventually will be, held up to the same journalistic standards of ethics as print media,” Bowers says. “But for the time being, the blog is a lax venue for unloading unlimited amounts of information. Relevancy is determined solely by the writer, without an editor or a copy desk to determine worthiness. As such it is, at best, a casually dressed younger sibling or even distant cousin to traditional journalism.”

Getting into blogging wasn’t any easier for his coworker at the newspaper, Dave Oliveria. The associate editor and columnist describes the start of his opinionated blog Huckleberries as “a monstrous change.” Oliveria is a newsroom veteran who says he has been involved in virtually every form of newspaper production “from the old linotype machines and hot metal presses to offset printing.” Blogging has won him over.

“I still enjoy traditional newspaper [journalism],” Oliveria says. “But it’s so slow by comparison. We can have a broad discussion about a controversial subject online within an afternoon or an evening that would take weeks in the newspaper—and have a better interactive discussion.”

While Oliveria says the blog takes up all of his free time (including lunch hours), he’s actually writing his weekly newspaper column, which is now a compilation of his online posts from the previous week.

“I thoroughly enjoy the blog because I view it as my personal online newspaper,” he says. “I’m realizing my dream as a young journalist of producing my own publication. I almost bought a weekly newspaper once to scratch that itch.”

Lax venue or the fulfillment of the newspaper dream? “It’s all just writing to me,” Pitts says. “The sooner we start recognizing that blogs are just a publishing platform, the better. I think we need them both.”

Rubin agrees: “Blogging is this incredible tool to go tell stories with. I don’t know how long newspapers will be around but I know that reporting will be around forever, maybe just in a different form.”

Say What?!

In crossing over to this new form, the biggest change for Rubin has been the overwhelming response from readers of his site. He says that newspaper reporters don’t hear much from readers other than the occasional complaints; as a blogger he spends hours sorting through and responding to comments. Rubin and Pitts agree that it’s important for news to be a conversation.

As Pitts explains, “One of the things I like about blogs coming from a newspaper perspective is that they let our readers discover that we are, in fact, real people—not just interchangeable pieces of a faceless institution. And once we build up those personal relationships with the community, it can’t help but make our reporting better.”

Will Bunch, who does Attytood for the Philadelphia Daily News, shares this general perspective. Now senior writer for the Daily News; he used to cover political campaigns. He does miss the old-fashioned newspaper scoop, but says journalists should be encouraged to blog.

“I think it’s exactly the kind of conversation that journalists can and should be having with their readers, rather than the stilted, one-way lecture we’ve been giving the public,” he says.

Attytood sets out to cover Philadelphia culture, sports, and “dangerously unbalanced” politics, so it’s no surprise the site announces itself as “the No. 1 place to rant in the city where ranting was practically invented.”

“I get much more feedback with the blog and I thoroughly enjoy it—even though a great deal of it is negative,” Bunch says.

Rubin is used to the tough Philadelphia crowd, and he likens receiving comments to being heckled on the job.

“It’s interesting to pour your heart out, to work for a couple of hours on something and have someone say ‘I’m not so interested in this,’” he laughs. “In Philadelphia especially it’s a contact sport. People are direct, they can be rude—they’re often hilarious. It takes a little bit of getting used to, to get rocked that often, and it toughens your skin.”

Not surprisingly, Rubin’s most commented-upon posts have been the ones that give Philadelphians a real reason to rant. Last summer Rubin wrote “Hip to be Square” when the New York Times described Philadelphia as NYC’s unofficial sixth borough.

Blinq readers came out swinging in defense of their city with angry posts about New York like: “screw those arrogant Yorkers. They really do think the world revolves around them.”

Some even attacked the Times itself, calling the Sunday Styles section “consistently retarded, ill-informed” and written “like eighth-grade merchant ivory.”

The Blinq post that stirred up the most noise was the aptly titled “Fight! Fight!” It drew more than 100 comments. Predictably, the topic at hand involved Philly sports and the issue was over a feud between two local talk radio personalities. Things got so heated on the blog that Rubin had to block one reader’s IP address after he posted homosexual slurs. Luckily, he makes a good referee.

“The comments keep me on my toes and I have to figure out which ones I want to respond to,” he says. “Do I want to let people fight among themselves or do I want to get in there with them?”

The answer is a balance of the two, and Rubin says he has worked hard to create a space where readers feel invited and comfortable to post comments. His efforts seem to be paying off because even in Philly the feedback hasn’t been all bad.

“My favorite is when I hear from readers who like the personal pieces or who appreciate when something is heartfelt. It’s really encouraging because if I never heard from anybody when I wrote something personal, I’d probably stop writing.”

Spoken like a true blogger.

Renee Alfuso (hometown: Oradell, NJ) is a Senior at NYU, majoring in journalism.

First among posts: Daniel Rubin's favorites from Blinq

Comments (6)

Appreciate the time you guys took with me, and quickly got over the “had the great reporting career” subhead. The tense made me tense. Is it over already? I was just getting started.

The part where you are only a reporter, and thus no opinion, color, personal voice allowed… is over. I think that is what the subhead meant. Thanks for cooperating with BPS, Dan.

Great stuff, Renee. A delight to read.

But I am curious to know what story (and when) Dan Rubin won the Polk award for?

Well…I have the when and the where and the with whom…just not the what.

1986: Andrew Wolfson and Daniel Rubin, Louisville Courier - Journal.

Guess what? Reporters are people too. That’s the feeling I get when I read these posts here at the Blue Plate Special. That’s the feeling I get when I read blogs written by professional journalists. I know I’ve said it before but blogging gives faces and personalities to the stories I read in the newspaper or on the newspaper websites. I know, I know, the pictures of the editors and columnists were always there in the paper but until they started blogging they were without definition. Even Daniel Rubin— whose paper I’ve never read— gets a face, a personality with his blog.

It was for a selection of articles from more than a year’s worth of coverage of the 1985 Arrow Air charter crash in Gander, Newfoundland, in which 248 Kentucky-bound peacekeepers and eight crew members died.