Tag Archives: blogs

The snark of working in public

The art of working in public: In which Robin Sloan writes a great blog post about other people writing great blog posts.

“I have two exemplary pieces of 21st-century writing that I want to share with you. Neither is hot off the CMSes; they’ve both aged just a little in their tabbed casks. They have something deeply in common—though it might not be obvious at first.”

From my point of view, “writing great blog posts” feels like a thing of the past, except for a faithful few inspiring souls who still strive to build connections and point to common threads on the Web, not just curating the work of others, but adding something much more valuable than a pithy comment in the process.

It’s certainly a stock/flow issue these days, but I think so much of what I see passed around these days qualifies as flow: Short snippets, curated clips, a video, an animated gif, the trafficking of cleverness in the form of tweets or stars or likes or plusses or some other sharing system that helps us superglue badges to our vests like so many Indian Guides.

Finding time for stock is tricky. Often I feel like the writing I do here that gets the most attention (as measured by aforementioned counts and scores and RTs and stars and comments, etc.) is quick, throwaway, blast writing (not entirely unlike what you’re reading at the moment, eh?), spun up without a great deal of deep research or forethought.

But I do so admire the Dashes and Sloans and Carmodys et al, who do find the time, and provide us with more than fodder for the sharing circuit.

The economics of letting your audience blog somewhere else

Spotted isolated bits of chatter over the weekend about this piece from Nate Silver, who used the available public data from Quantcast and elsewhere to make some assessments of the Huffington Post’s business model when it comes to unpaid contributors and their blogs.

Here’s Nate’s thesis:

“Although The Huffington Post does not pay those who volunteer to write blogs for it, this content represents only a small share of its traffic. And, to put it bluntly, many of those blog posts aren’t worth very much.” #

The rest of the analysis proves out that idea, which I’m not terribly interested in. It’s a fun game to play, evaluating traffic and revenue based on bits of public information, but I think there’s a less tangible benefit to hosting what essentially amount to “reader” blogs — even if the “readers” happen to be famous people or politicians.

The benefit in question? These readers are far less likely (I’m making a big assumption here, no research backing this up yet) to blog somewhere else.

So instead of diluting that long tail of niche content (this may be a nice way to put it, in some cases) across hundreds or thousands of free Tumblrs and WordPress.com blogs and Blogspots, the Huffington Post and others like it have provided a technology platform to would-be bloggers. Perhaps even to celebrity dilettantes. In return for hosting these blogs — which at scale cannot be an expensive technical tally — HuffPo gets to add another mug to its stable, another self-promoting-but-not-enough-to-get-their-own blogger to stretch that long tail out.

A few interesting metrics I’d love to see on these “reader” blogs:

  • Bounce rate: Do readers hit these posts and leave, or do they get sucked in by the gaping maw of the HuffPo photo galleries and top 10 lists in the right rail?
  • Search traffic: Do readers find these posts in search engines, or are they coming to HuffPo specifically for these authors?
  • Sell-through rate on these lesser blogs. Is HufPo monetizing the network in any interesting way?

Am I conflating HuffPo’s paid bloggers with unpaid? I genuinely don’t really know who gets paid and who doesn’t, but either way, I think my logic holds up:

The benefits of owning the platform for all these blogs, keeping the traffic moving under the HuffPo brand, keeping readers on their remarkably sticky pages, is as valuable (more?) as the revenue on the pages themselves.

Five

When I started this blog, in my first week as a Mass Communications graduate student at San Jose State, it was called “Big Silver Robot,” it was hosted at Blogspot, and it was anonymous. That lasted for about a month.

Pretty quickly, I signed up for a free WordPress instance at Blogsome, where I enjoyed a bit more freedom to learn html and css by fiddling with the files in the WP admin. It was ryansholin.blogsome.com, and I’m pretty sure that was the point where I started calling it “Ryan Sholin’s J-School Blog.”

Straightforward enough, right?

Of the early posts I’ve preserved, the earliest in my archives, dated February 1, 2005, was about Steve Sloan’s visit to an undergrad-level journalism class I was taking, which I believe was called something along the lines of Internet Information Gathering. Steve talked about podcasting, and smiled when I mentioned I was subscribed to a few RSS feeds as Firefox live bookmarks. Wonkette was probably on my list, and PressThink, maybe Scripting News, and possibly Romenesko.

Nine days later I got Scobleized, and that pretty much changed everything.

By the end of the semester I was taking notes at online journalism panels and blogging them as fast as I could, and Chuck Olsen said that blogs were people (Soylent Green, style, though) and I got it.

That summer, my Web-savvy mom gave me ryansholin.com as a present, and I switched over to a hosted WordPress installation of my own, beginning a cycle of design, redesign, and play.

But mostly, there was a lot of blogging. A lot of ideas. A few kneejerk reactions. Some commentary on technology. Some hopes for the future.

When I was in journalism school, I blogged a lot about what I thought journalism schools should do.

When I worked for a newspaper, I blogged a lot about what I thought newspapers should do.

When I worked for a media company, dealing with hundreds of newspapers, I realized every single one of them was different, and trying to tell any of them what they should do was a Sisyphean task of very heavy-duty proportions, and moreso, a bit silly.

I learned to take everything I had picked up about the business of news and apply it in each given situation, instead of writing manifestos about What Newspapers Should Do.

But to rewind a bit, in the middle of 2007 when I worked at a newspaper, I wrote a blog post, slowly, over the course of a few weeks, and posted it at just the right moment on just the right day, and thousands of people read it.

10 obvious things about the future of newspapers you need to get through your head is still the most popular thing on this blog. It’s certainly possible (and probably, given the numbers in play) that one of the Sunday centerpieces I wrote for the Oakland Tribune and its sister papers in the Bay Area in the summer of 2006 was read by more people (the first few grafs, anyway). Likely, in fact. But it was extremely satisfying to see 10,000 page views on my blog post in a day.

Pointing out the obvious to an audience that might not have spotted it yet and then repeating myself over and over again has become, shall we say, my thing.

Occasionally this thought makes me flash back to a conversation with a political science professor who explained why he used so much repetition in his lectures. He said he kept bringing the important concepts up again and again, iterating his presentation of them, using different examples, drawing different diagrams, all in an effort to make sure everyone in the room who was going to understand it, understood it. He gauged reactions with eye contact and good questions, and if he saw too many blank stares, he’d push through the idea in yet another way, or come back to it next week, approaching it from a different angle.

For those of you keeping score, this blog has been instrumental in getting every full-time job I’ve had in the news business. You don’t get to act like someone who has ideas unless there’s some evidence of your ideas out there in the wild.

So as this blog turns five years old and starts asking for bigger and better toys when we go to the store, I must admit I have a few urges.

One is to take my old “Ryan Sholin on the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education” tagline and chop off the prepositional section so it’s just me talking about the future. Of anything. And everything. I’ll do it soon, but you know I’ll keep talking about news and newspapers and publishing and reporting.

The second is to redesign again. It’s been awhile, believe it or not. I’ll get around to it.

But mostly, I’m just going to keep pushing myself to write a bit more here, as per my New Year’s resolution.

Thanks for reading.

There is no newspapers

I’ve been saying those words in person to people a lot lately:

“There is no newspapers.”

What’s it mean?

It means that if you’re in the business of publishing pronouncements, predictions, prayers, analysis, criticism, or full on takedowns related to the current state of the newspaper industry, please understand that despite the convenience it would provide for said ruminations, there is no such thing as a monolithic, uniform entity called “newspapers.”

Really.

In my relatively short career, connected in one way or another to a wide variety of newspapers, I’ve already been involved with organizations staffed by crews of 1, 3, 10, 30, 100, 300, and 1,000 — and they’re owned by individuals, universities, nonprofits, corporations, communities, investment bankers, media moguls, local collectives — and the communities they serve have just as wide a variety of needs, wants, economies, sizes, shapes, colors, and creeds.

So the next time you’re about to use a phrase like “newspapers should…” or “newspapers have to…” or “newspapers can’t…” — I’d like you to stop for a moment and focus your decree a little more specifically.

Are you talking about the New York Times or are you talking about the Detroit News? Are you talking about the Denver Post or are you talking about the Holland Sentinel? Are you talking about El Pais or are you talking about El Nuevo Herald?

Are you talking about an imaginary entity where every piece of the puzzle is a uniformly shaped block, or are you talking about an incredibly diverse mass of publications that includes everything from shoppers to weeklies to alternative weeklies to the tiniest of dailies to major metros to national newspapers read all over the world?

Directly related: 10 little white lies you hear about the future of newspapers

Obviously: I’ve been guilty of this, myself, right here, although it’s been some time since my last “newspapers should.”

On IdeaLab: Reporter-turned-blogger covers the island of Alameda

Over at the PBS IdeaLab blog, I interviewed Michele Ellson, editor and publisher at The Island, a local news site devoted to covering the city of Alameda, which sits to the west of Oakland in San Francisco Bay. (Yes, it’s an island.)

Michele left newspapers in 2007 and launched The Island in early 2008, continuing a 17+ year journalism career.  I worked with Michele on the regional desk at ANG, before it became BANG, but you know it more informally as the cluster of newspapers in the Bay Area owned by MediaNews.  Back then, she was an investigative/enterprise reporter winning awards for a long series on the failures of group homes for young people and the developmentally disabled.

I talked with Michele about moving from a print-focused newsroom to a Web-only culture where she is the reporter, editor, community manager, and communications officer of her own organization:

“That’s another thing that I think was a shock for me in moving from print to online – the shift in what your readers want and expect from you in terms of their psychic needs (which shift from information to attention-getting, sometimes) and the kind of engagement they anticipate. I figure it’ll take a lot of work for me to fine-tune that engagement level.”

Read the whole thing at IdeaLab.

SPJ’s News Gems blog to close?

Jon Marshall’s News Gems blog at SPJ.org has been a quiet, consistent resource, chronicling high-quality reporting for more than three years.

Marshall is moving on to other endeavors:

“As we reach the end of 2008, I wish I could say that things have gotten easier for journalists. Of course they haven’t. But after producing this blog for three and a half years, I’m heartened by the tremendous stories we’ve had the honor of showcasing, from the first News Gem about nola.com’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina to brave reporting of the Iraq War to groundbreaking investigative scoops and beautiful profiles, narratives, photos and videos. I worried at first that there wouldn’t be enough good stories to fill the blog on a regular basis. I’ve had the opposite problem: too many great stories and not enough time to highlight them all.”

Read the whole thing.

Good luck to Jon, and a note to the SPJ: Don’t take down the blog, leave it up as an archive — it’s a tremendous list of stories that should stay in place.  Better yet, keep the blog going with new contributors.  I’ve enjoyed it, and learned from it.

Who’s hiring? Blogs.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo on plans for 2009:

“So January will usher in a new Democratic Ascendancy in Washington. And here at TPM we believe we are uniquely qualified to chronicle it. So to that end we are hiring two new reporter-bloggers to be based in Washington, DC, one assigned to the White House and one assigned to Capitol Hill. The Obama White House and the expanded Democratic majorities on Capitol Hill are unquestionably the political story of the next two years. And with your help we plan to be there on the ground and and here in New York, covering it in force, fully, critically and down to the minute.”

TPM is often the argument-ender if you find yourself stuck in a blogs vs. journalism debate circa 2004.  It’s journalism; it’s original reporting; it’s profitable.

Oh, and it has 10 employees.  And they’re hiring reporters. Right now.

See also: Josh Marshall on the growth of Talking Points Memo and independent media

via E-Media Tidbits