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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


Glenn Reynolds, a law professor whose blog Instapundit is among the Internet’s most read, argues in his newly released book An Army of Davids that technology is enabling ordinary people “to beat big media, big government, and other Goliaths.”

If citizen bloggers are Davids and big media is Goliath, then where do local newspapers fit in? In the U.S. roughly 1,350 dailies and thousands more weeklies report 100,000 circulation or less. Their content attracts more eyes than the vast majority of blogs but fewer than the most popular. Perhaps local blogs are a grave threat to these newspapers: a consortium of citizen bloggers might steal enough readers or advertisers to make the local broadsheet unprofitable or irrelevant.

Or perhaps blogs will help local newspapers to improve their product, attract younger readers and even to compete with regional and national newspapers as never before.

The innovation of choice…

My incomplete survey of small newspapers throughout America suggests that among those trying to innovate blogging is the innovation of choice (pod casting is also gaining popularity). If you wander onto newspaper Web sites at random (the Yahoo directory and Internet Public Library provide links) it seems that a majority of newspapers under 100,000 circulation lack blogs, though a sizeable number have them.

While a precise count is unavailable, the spread of blogs at smaller newspapers is well underway. Wherever editors or journalists gather blogging is a topic of interest. As an experiment startup costs are negligible. Newspaper staffers want to blog, too. Among my peers in journalism I know many who keep personal Web logs, and when I attend strategic planning meetings for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, a consortium of LA area community newspapers, staffers from blog-less newspapers assume the form will be part of their future.

Among the smaller newspapers already blogging the innovation is a recent one; most blogs I visited were created since 2004. It’s a safe bet that if a smaller paper near you doesn’t have blogs yet, it will soon.

Broadly speaking dailies are more likely to have blogs than weeklies, and bigger newspapers are more likely to have blogs than smaller newspapers. It’s easy to understand why: blogging requires staff resources more available at bigger news organizations.

Yet I can’t help but think that the smallest newspapers have the most to gain from blogging. Consider the Daily Pilot (30,000 circulation), a community paper published by the Los Angeles Times that serves Costa Mesa and Newport Beach, California. It competes with the Orange County Register (356,970 circulation), a newspaper that steals Orange County readers from the Times by providing better local coverage.

With significantly fewer reporters, columnists, news holes and other resources, you’d think that the Daily Pilot would embrace blogs as a way to level the playing field with the Register—a staff blog, an editor’s blog and a columnist blog would generate feedback and news tips from readers, eliminate space constraints, get more news to customers and cost next to nothing. Yet the Pilot hasn’t a blog, at least as far as one can tell from their Web site, while the Orange County Register has 16 blogs.

If I’m right that the smallest dailies and all weeklies have more to gain from blogging than anyone, we might think of them as Davids who’ve yet to appreciate how powerful a slingshot blogs can be.

Some pace-setters…

Let’s turn our attention, however, to those many newspapers under 100,000 circulation where editors have seized the slingshot and asked staffers to start firing rocks. A comprehensive survey is impossible. But we can at least shed some light on the state of blogging at smaller newspapers.

The Roanoke Times offers two staff blogs—one on Western Virginia’s medical industry and another on college life.

Since October 2005 reporter Jeff Sturgeon has written Chat Scan, the medical blog.

“I’ve covered Western Virginia’s health care system for this newspaper since 2000,” he wrote on the blog’s first post. “It’s what the paper calls my ‘beat.’ This blog is an extension of that work, a place for me to tell you more about what I’m hearing and finding out.”

The next few paragraphs are interesting because they tell Roanoke Times readers more about their beat reporter—and his perspective on the topic he covers—than five years of casually reading his beat coverage.

This blog is not about staying healthy and avoiding sickness. I don’t have health advice. I will tell you my personal health story is positive. After outgrowing childhood asthma, I am in good health (though I recently underwent foot surgery to address an inflamed joint). My family is in good health (though the family dog is chronically ill with diabetes and blindness). My parents and in-laws are in their 70s and healthy. In my grandparents’ generation, we’ve seen some cancer. My grandfather died in a farming accident.

This blog is about the business of medicine. People experience “health care” as doctor visits, prescriptions and procedures. But, behind every caregiver are strategists who track “patient encounters” through a business filter, their focus squarely on the payment, the market strategy and the efficient pursuit of quality.

Focused on the business end of medicine, I’ll seek to tell you their stories. The miracle cure may become germane, but these stories are mainly about power, ambition, greed, success, dedication, innovation, fun and, often, survival.

Return here time and again, and you’ll read about health care executives, doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, charities, insurers, home health agencies, specialized MRI centers, pharmacies, schools and medically-focused biotech companies with products on the market and products in mind.

Campus Watch, the higher education blog, is also written by a staff writer—it’s been updated more days than not since November 2005, touching on local and national news, and often adding after-matter to print stories filed by its author, Greg Esposito.

The Roanoke Times also links to 15 citizen blogs from a Web page detailing the focus of each one. A local dj blogs, as does a recent retiree, a trial lawyer, a husband and wife photography team, and an evangelical missionary.

The newspaper doesn’t seem to do much here—the blogs are hosted on different servers, run on different software platforms and boast different designs. Give credit to the Roanoke Times for aggregating them: the staff time necessary to find the blogs, write teasers for the aggregation page and upload mug shots of the bloggers pays tremendous dividends in the quantity of niche content available to the paper’s online readers, and the added traffic for affiliate bloggers.

Press Think readers are already familiar with the Greensboro News-Record, where blogging editor John Robinson—profiled at Blue Plate Special— has shaped an online edition that integrates blogs into the product as well as any newspaper, big or small, in the country.

Go to their Web page. Scroll down just a smidge and you’ll see all their blogs aggregated in an easy to navigate list. Visit any one blog—editor John Robinson’s is a good one—and you’ll see a header particular to that blog that distinguishes it from the rest, links to all the other News-Record blogs and the navigation bars for the entire News-Record online edition.

The newspaper’s blogging strategy is decidedly local. While events outside the News-Record coverage area are discussed it’s difficult to imagine a significant audience outside the newspaper’s coverage area for most if not all of the blogs, and all of the blogs seem as though they’d be a lot more interesting if I lived in Greensboro.

The purpose of the blogs is partly to supplement the newspaper’s print coverage.

“The line between what we offered in the paper and what we offer online is blurred in a good way,” Robinson wrote. “More people know that they can get a different take by going to our site online, reading and responding to our writers and others on the issues of the day.”

But the blogs are also meant to improve the print product.

“Our goal is to take the more accessible, more informal, more open style of writing for a blog and move it into the newspaper,” he explained in an e-mail to me. “Like most papers, ours is written with an institutional, authoritarian tone. If you read the blogs, they take on a whole new life, with a liveliness and conversational style that make them more readable and easier to respond to. We’re slowly shifting that into the paper, but it’s hard to do. We’ll get there.”

Has blogging caused any problems? Here’s Robinson:

Before they started I told the bloggers that they represent the paper and that all the professional ethics, standards and courtesies exist in the blogosphere as they exist in the paper. I didn’t want the blogs to be edited because I wanted the bloggers’ voices to come through. At the same time, I encouraged the bloggers to use the benefits of the form - links, transparency, feeling, the first-person. I told them that if they had any doubt about a post to run it through an editor or one of their peers nearby. I also told them that if they were spelling impaired - yes, we have a few of those - then they’d better find someone to check their spelling because we wanted it to be right once it went up. But we’ve had no issues with irresponsible, embarrassing or libelous posts.

The Spokesman Review has 30 plus staff blogs. Its blog directory also includes this note: “Looking for bloggers from the Inland Northwest? We’re keeping a list, as well as some featured bios. If you live in the Inland Northwest and are a regular blogger, email us and tell us about yourself.”

All told these blogs make it among the most prolific blogging smaller newspapers.

Another blog headlined “Recent entries from our bloggers…” jumbles together posts from individual staff blogs. A sports post is followed by a post on state politics is followed by a hyper-local post… and readers who like what they see can click through to the mother blog for more. Self-aggregation.

Video Journal is one of the most unique blogs published by The Spokesman Review—every entry includes streaming video or a multimedia slideshow, a rare feature among blogs at smaller newspapers (and bigger newspapers, for that matter).

Other Spokesman Review blogs: Ask the Editors (self-explanatory); the Daily Briefing (Covering The Spokesman’s daily news meetings, discussing today’s paper and tomorrow’s coverage); Huckleberries Online (D.F. (Dave) Oliveria is a recovering flamethrower with conservative tendencies who dominates the center ring of this online circus); Wheel Life (Julianne Crane exchanges information about the ever-growing recreational vehicle lifestyle)… and many more.

I’m not just an observer…

My own employers, the San Bernardino County Sun and Inland Valley Daily Bulletin newspapers, provide a contrast to the efforts of the News-Record. We’ve just begun blogging, for one thing, and how it happened is instructive.

When hired as a beat reporter at the Daily Bulletin in 2002 I couldn’t imagine a staff blogger in the newsroom. Managing Editor Frank Pine is tech-savvier than most people in his position. Often he talked to staff members, myself included, about how to improve the newspaper. Yet staff blogs never came up, even as late as October 2004 when I left the paper and spent 10 months living in Europe.

Upon my return everything had changed. By summer 2005 Executive Editor Steve Lambert and Pine both wanted to launch a blog about immigration politics and policy to complement Beyond Borders: A Special Report on Immigration, a multi-part series published by the Daily Bulletin and its sister paper, the Sun.

“We knew we wanted to make a major commitment to the issue, but there was just no way we could print everything relevant in the paper every day,” Pine wrote. “The blog renders the concept of finite news hole moot. Also, we were looking for an opportunity to promote public discourse, and this seemed like a good way to achieve that.”

As a former employee whom the editors trusted, I proved an ideal fit to fill the new staff blogger position—a new hire would’ve been a hard sell for both Lambert and Pine, both unaccustomed to staffers publishing without an editor signing off first. Nor did they know whether to expect success or failure: I began blogging with the understanding that we’d try out the arrangement for three months, I’d work mostly from home, and if it didn’t work out for either party at the end of the trial period no hard feelings.

Beyond Borders Blog quickly gained readers. Within a week it attracted 250 page views daily, mostly due to refers in the print newspaper and a twice-weekly print column on immigration that I sold to editors as a way to draw print readers to the blog and blog readers to the newspaper.

Soon, however, readership began to grow beyond our coverage area.

Seven months after its launch Beyond Borders Blog counts more than 1,000 page views daily, it has more readers outside California than inside it, and it is viewed daily by people on four continents.

How does it differ from the News-Record blogs?

For one thing, it isn’t integrated into the Web sites of its parent newspapers. Why? Frankly, if we’d have waited until we had the staff time and technical know-how to integrate the blog into the site it’s possible we wouldn’t have launched it even now. It’s on the to-do list, though. “We really need to integrate the blogs into the newspaper’s main Web site, and there are lots of things we can and will do to make them easier to navigate and stronger in content,” Pine writes.

For another thing, I aggressively target readers beyond the coverage areas of the newspapers for which I write. After all, my topic is immigration—the same information, commentary and analysis that broaden coverage of that topic for our readers are relevant to people the world over. Thus they’re potential readers for my blog. If you read it regularly you’ll know far more about immigration than if you regularly read any newspaper in the country.

Hence I submit posts to blog carnivals each week, engage other bloggers who write about immigration, comment whenever (for example) The New Republic enables a reader comment thread after an immigration related article, and generally try to attract readers all the ways a regular blogger would.

Now when the Daily Bulletin breaks an important story on immigration or runs another installment of its Beyond Borders series I direct my many readers to our Online edition and other immigration bloggers are made aware of our work. Our reporters also benefit—I pass along occasional news tips offered by my blog readers, forward them feedback on their articles and generally put their work in front of more eyes.

The interplay between my blog and my twice-weekly column is also complementary. In the course of blogging I get dozens of column ideas. Without the blog I’m certain I never could’ve written two columns a week on immigration for 8 months. And my columns all become blog posts, generate comment threads and get my views into the national discourse on immigration in a way that wouldn’t happen if they only appeared in our online edition.

I’ve recently launched a new blog, The Missing Link, meant to address matters other than immigration. (Its guiding philosophy is here.) It too aims to attract readers locally and internationally, and to creatively engage topics whether gravely serious, relatively frivolous or just plain cool. During the recent Danish cartoon affair the blog, just days old, attracted 1,000 unique readers daily, thanks in part to trackback pings sent to Brussels Journal and generous links on Real Clear Politics blog coverage.

With that wave passed I’m back to the slow business of building readership and trying to cultivate a comments section where robust and respectful discussion occurs. My ambitions are great. My first duty is to our subscribers. I feel certain, however, that among the features that will ingratiate them to our newspaper is a general interest blog that notes local matters of importance but doesn’t so limit itself.

Here’s how I think of it: small to mid-sized newspapers like the Sun and Daily Bulletin can’t compete with the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal when it comes to international and national breaking news. We can’t break the budget chasing Pulitzers by contriving extravagant, resource intensive stories. We can, however, publish the best blog on the Internet, and we ought to aspire to nothing less. If a general interest current events blog is one thing our readers want, why wouldn’t we use this David friendly medium to establish ourselves as the blogging equals of bigger newspapers (and successful independent blogs), competing for readers and one day soon for ad revenue generated by blogging?

Of course, I see the need for purely local blogs too—a third blog I managed is Troubled Town, an effort launched after a little girl was murdered in San Bernardino. It requires very little—I simply repost all the Sun’s stories related to crime. While the content isn’t new, the medium allows a forum for reader comments and discussion that we wouldn’t have otherwise.

Ultimately commenters on the blog met in person, founding a community group geared toward reducing violent crime. In the future I suspect the newspaper will have a discussion board to facilitate that need—the format would certainly be better for discussion than a blog. But we could launch a blog in a few minutes, and without it the community group never would’ve coalesced. I’d call that a blogging success story, and I expect there will be many more blogging success stories, most of them tied to hyper-local blogs, in the future of our newspapers.

And elsewhere…

The Bakersfield Californian has 14 blogs.

“There are about 85 newsroom employees,” Citizen Journalism Editor Ray Hacke writes. “We have one employee, Steve Swenson, whose job specifically involves blogging — he does 1-2 a day, if not more. Davin McHenry, our Web editor, chimes in on occasion… In my case, I’ve simply blogged as I felt so led — be it about music, movies, sports, religion, whatever. We have other reporters who blog on occasion if there’s something big on their beats or if they just plain want to.”

Hacke says blogging is one of the most enjoyable parts of his job, though it has caused some trouble for him. His experience is worth quoting at length:

Without getting into specifics, one particular blog post I put up was considered outside the bounds of good taste — it created some workplace issues that I didn’t anticipate, and it was promptly removed. Another was perceived as an attack on another group, which is why I had to send all my blog posts through our Web editor — and to the managing editor in his absence — from that point on. I would strongly suggest that a) any blog posts go through editors so they can screen out anything that might be of concern, and b) specifically defined boundaries be set. Part of why my supervisors asked me to focus on other things for three months was that no one ever said, “Don’t do this or that,” and I did this or that without knowing what the rules were — in other words, they just knew what they felt was appropriate when they saw it. That doesn’t help bloggers like me who are open books and unafraid to be brutally honest. Should that happen to one of your bloggers, it could be a major source of frustration for both the blogger and his or her supervisors.

The Daily News of Longview, Washington has three blogs. Staffer Michael Andersen says that among the newspaper’s roughly 30 editorial employees there are grizzled veterans who mostly aren’t interested in blogging and right-out-of-school rookies who mostly are. He writes:

The stressful thing about our blogs is that all comments must be approved, because our editor (prompted by orders from his bosses at Lee Enterprises) is worried that we’ll be liable for any libel. So in order to send people’s comments up in something approaching real time, the five reporters and our ME all get emails whenever anybody posts anything, and we’re supposed to read them all as soon as we see them. I’ve set up a rule to redirect my emails, but my colleagues’ boxes are pretty much constantly black. We’re trying to develop a formal standard for what to approve, but at the moment it remains sort of a gut thing—slightly less attention than a letter to the editor, but not much less. At the moment, we have a tough call along these lines once or twice a week.

(I approve comments pretty much exclusively at my paper; I’ve been unsure about whether to approve or not and consulted an editor just twice.)

The Times Union (99,242) in Albany, New York has an impressive blog page. The range of topics? In one blog a woman who served in Iraq returns as a civilian and blogs about her experience. A recent post: a passionate argument about why the United States should stay there. In another, the “Diet Challenge” blog, reader teams compete to lose weight and post their experiences. The newspaper has also invited local high school athletes to blog; a range of sports are covered.

The Fresno Bee dutifully teases its stories in the Beehive blog.

The Vanguard News apparently launched a blog on May 4, 2004 and never went back.

The Chico Enterprise Record wins the award for most blogs that cling to the Movable Type default template. Someone needs to tell them about Style Monkey.

And there are so many more blogs at so many small papers I’m unable to visit, innovating in ways I’ve been unable to imagine. Perhaps there ought to be a blog carnival for newspaper bloggers at smaller papers. Or a blog where newspaper bloggers share their blogging experiences. I’d visit.

Conor Friedersdorf is a columnist and blogger at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and San Bernardino Sun newspapers. His newest project, The Missing Link, is looking for new readers, but beware—it's habit-forming.

CF writes: " If you read this piece and want to inform me of blog innovation at your newspaper, send me an e-mail and I may add it to the Notes section."

Links, Notes and After Effects...

Also new at Blue Plate Special this week: Find the Fanatics in Your Newsroom and Give them a Mike.

One theory says: never blog about the things the newspaper normally writes about. Only blog about the stuff the paper never writes about. Follow that rule and your blogs won't suck. You'll add value, draw younger users, broaden the range of your site, and uncover talent in your staff. Plus, your non-bloggers can't gripe because who wants to write about bowling, anyway? BPS Correspondent Emily McFarlan explains, casing the St. Pete Times and other joints for examples. With lots of links.