Tag Archives: Ping

Bloggers Care Too Much About Readers, Journalists Not Enough. Right?

Leafing through back issues of Henry Copeland’s Blogads weblog, I was amused to read this:

Speaking of the bloggers versus journalists, I had an interesting conversation with a traditional publisher earlier this afternoon. He’d just spent a few days around a bunch of bloggers. He told me he was fascinated by the fact that bloggers are obsessed with their traffic/readers/feedback, while most traditional journalists are obstinately oblivious to their readers.

That’s a key difference between the two wings of the profession, I’d agree (and interesting that Temple Stark so strongly disagrees, saying in a comment that, “If you and he meant not concerned so much with “numbers” of readers than that would make sense. Otherwise the statement is just boldly and horribly wrong.”). It’s hard to generalize of course, but I’d respectfully refine Henry’s comments a little:

  • Some traditional journalists do not care what their readers think. Indeed, it would be considered a professional lapse to do so, since acknowledging readers’ reactions to stories would compromise one’s integrity. I’m not trying to be funny here, or sarcastic, I think it’s in some ways a sound approach. Do you want to change the way you write a story because of some guy storming into the newsroom to complain about your last one? But of course this is changing.
  • Some journalists write more for their sources than for anything or anyone else (apart from a Pulitzer, but not every story is going to win one). These are the readers that journalists do interact with, and they care deeply about what sources think of their stories. This is also natural, if you consider that sources who don’t like what you write aren’t going to keep talking to you. But it tends to undermine the purity of the first point, and raise the suspicion that some journalistic distance from the average reader has more to do with haughtiness than with a genuine desire to be objective and unfazed by reader opinion.
  • Editors, marketing and publishers care deeply about readers, but they don’t necessarily care about what they think. Readers’ mail is regarded as a miracle, and a sure sign of success, but it doesn’t play as big a role as you might expect in calcuating the net worth of a journalist, a section, a topic or whatever. (Online newspapers are different: they know down to the minutest detail what pieces, columns, sections and topics are popular because they have all the hit data to hand.) By contrast all offline editors have are focus groups, reader surveys and vaguely formed opinions about what readers want to read. Or should read. Or what might win awards. Given that is the view from the top, you can’t really blame journalists for remaining in their ivory tower.

In some ways I’m nostalgic for the idea that journalists remain distant from their readership. It was a great era. Journalists were like priests, sent out into the darkness to bring back some light. (That doesn’t sound right — Ed.) But it’s changing for reasons chronicled better elsewhere. I recall a discussion in the newsroom the other day: Should editors even know when they see page and ad layouts what companies are advertising on what page? Would that not influence an editor’s decision about what story to put on that page? (Big Brother Bank ad next to story about Big Brother Bank ripping off small depositor… etc) These things are not writ in stone, but I can understand some journalists thinking bloggers’ obsession with hits, readers’ feedback etc tends to steer, to a dangerous degree, the content of the blog. Does it, and if so, should it matter?

Column: No More Information Overload

Loose Wire — No More Information Overload
 
 Now, the news you choose to read can be delivered in a friendly format that won’t clog your inbox
By Jeremy Wagstaff
 
from the 3 July 2003 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

This is not another column about spam, but that’s where I have to start. Spam, or junk e-mail is, we’re all agreed, the bane of our lives. But what if the problem is not so much spam, as e-mail itself?

Look at it like this: E-mail is our default window on the Internet. It’s where pretty much everything ends up. I have received more than 1,000 e-mails in the past week. The vast bulk of that is automated — newsletters, newsgroup messages, despatches from databases, press releases and whatnot. The rest is personal e-mail [a pathetically small amount, I admit], readers’ mail [which I love, keep sending it] and junk. While it makes some sense to have all this stuff in one place, it’s hard to find what I need, and it makes my inbox a honey pot for spammers. And when I go on holiday, it all piles up. Now, what if all that automated stuff was somewhere else, delivered through a different mechanism you could tweak, search through easily, and which wasn’t laced with spam? Your inbox would just be what is e-mail, from your boss or Auntie Lola.

Enter the RSS feed. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, Rich Site Summary or variations of the two, depending on who you talk to. It’s a format that allows folk to feed globs of information — updates to a Web site, an on-line journal [a Weblog, or blog], news — to others. These feeds appear in programs called news readers, which look a bit like e-mail programs.

This also makes sense for those folk who may not subscribe to e-mail alerts, but who regularly visit any number of Web sites for news, weather, movies, village jamborees, books, garden furniture, or whatever. Instead of having to trawl through those Web sites each morning, or each week, or whenever you remember, you can add their RSS feeds to your list and monitor them all from one place.

RSS feeds aren’t just another way to deliver traditional information. RSS feeds have become popular in part because of blogs — on-line journals, usually run by an individual chronicling their experiences, thoughts and journeys around the Web. While many blogs are more like personal diaries, others are written by people who know what they’re talking about, and have become a credible source of information and opinion for industry insiders. Many of these bloggers now offer updates of their Web sites via RSS feed. “There’s an awful lot being created by individuals who are key figures in their markets,” says Bill Kearney, who runs a Web site, www.syndic8.com, that lists more than 20,000 such newsfeeds.

Blogs and RSS have, despite their unwieldy names, helped to level a playing field between traditional news suppliers — news agencies, newspapers, news Web sites like CNN — and those in or monitoring a particular industry. Some call it “nanomedia”: An often-cited example is New York’s Gawker (www.gawker.com) which collects gossip and news from the Big Apple, many times scooping the local dailies. Indeed, blogs themselves came of age this year, first during the Iraq War when a young Iraqi translator calling himself Salam Pax ran a massively popular blog (dearraed.blogspot.com) from Baghdad, offering a compelling perspective on the conflict. Later The New York Times felt the growing power of blogs when the plagiarism crisis prompted by reporter Jayson Blair was fuelled by blogs and other Internet sites, all in real time.

We don’t want to go too far. There’s a lot of dross in blogs, and therefore a lot of dross in RSS feeds. And while the software has improved in recent months — check out news readers such as Newzcrawler (www.newzcrawler.com) or Feedreader (www.feedreader.com) — it still feels slightly experimental. But as the format matures, I think our once-bright hopes for the Internet as a democratic, intelligent medium might be realized.

Part of it means throwing away what we traditionally think of as “news.” Corporations are beginning to sense that blogs make an excellent in-house forum for employees. Small companies have found that running a blog for their customers — say a real-estate agent sharing news and opinions about the neighbourhood property market — pays better than any newspaper ad. Individuals — consultants, columnists, one-man bands — have, through well-designed, well-maintained blogs, built a critical mass of readers, some of whom become paying customers or subscribers. Teachers are finding RSS feeds useful for channelling subject matter to classrooms and sharing material with other teachers.

Is there money in it? One Canadian company, Serence (www.serence.com), targets its form of RSS feed, called Klips, to companies automating specific tasks — monitoring competitors, prospects or industry news, accessing critical internal data. There is, of course, a danger that what ailed earlier formats ends up ailing RSS feeds: This month, one company started carrying ads in an RSS feed, with mixed results. In the end, I think, some of this data will be good enough to pay for, some will be supported by ads, and some will continue to be done out of love.

RSS’s strengths are simplicity and versatility: It can be added on to other programs — the browser, Outlook, or be delivered to your hand-phone, hand-held device, or even as audio on your MP3 player. It’s a lot more powerful than e-mail, and — we hope — will be guaranteed spam-free. Hurrah.

Loose Wire: Here’s Where The

Loose Wire: Here’s Where The Party Is

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 7 February 2002 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

The Internet is like a teenage party: lots of groping around in the dark hoping to bump into something worth telling your friends about later. And like a teenage party, chances are you’ll be hanging around sipping warm Coke with the complexion-challenged in the kitchen, unaware that all the action is taking place in the basement.

Weblogs may be the answer to this finding-the-action problem. Weblogs are Web pages built by real people, blessedly free of corporate-speak and ubiquitous images of tall, shiny skyscrapers, smiley people gazing intelligently into laptops, or besuited business types shaking hands.

Weblogs are where the real action is. They are the creation of individuals, usually musings on national, local or personal events, links to interesting articles, a few lines of comment or discussion collected and presented by one person. Weblogs are a milestone in the short history of the Internet.

They first appeared in 1997, according to Rebecca Blood in her excellent history of the Weblog form’s development (www.rebeccablood.net/essays/weblog_history.html). By early 1999 it was shortened to “blog.” Blogs took off with the advent of Web-based programs to set up and maintain sites without fiddling around with lots of formatting. The most popular of these is Blogger (www.blogger.com) which maintains 350,000 blogs, according to Evan Williams, chief executive of Blogger and something of a legend in the blogging community.

Although the media hype has faded, blogs show no sign of going away. Of those 350,000 blogs, 20% were published in the last month. Williams says new users are signing up at an average of 1,300 a day.

For The People, By The People

It’s not hard to see why. Blogs are probably unique in that they allow ordinary people to put things on the Net easily, and yet to feel that the space in some way reflects and belongs to them. “There are other things that can work on the Web — it’s a highly flexible medium, obviously — but the blog format is one of the ‘natural’ formats for Web publishing, and this is a big reason it’s taking off,” says Williams. Given that the original promise of the Web as a levelling medium — as open to ordinary folk as to big press barons — has faded in recent years, this is good news.

I won’t recommend any specific blogs, since it’s a personal thing, but here are some places to start: Linkwatcher (www.linkwatcher.com), a kind of real-time monitor of selected blogs; Weblog Review, where blogs are reviewed by other bloggers (www.theweblogreview.com); or the more earthy BlogHop (www.bloghop.com) which stores some 8,779 blogs, most of them deeply opinionated.

Part of a blog’s charm is simplicity. In most cases it’s just text, simply but elegantly laid out. Pages are quick to load. The content is concise and measured. The more you read a blog you like, the more inclined you are to trust the author’s choice and follow the links offered. And, of course, it’s free.

There are, of course, downsides. The sheer plethora of blogs makes finding one you like difficult. Indexes of blogs are few and far between and most don’t give much idea of what lies therein, beyond a usually short and obscure title. And there’s a lot of rubbish out there — overly introspective bleatings of the terminally unhappy, irrational whingings — as well as blogs that don’t get updated and just take up Web space.

So where is it going? I’d like to think that blogs do what the much vaunted portal of the dotcom boom failed to do: collate, filter and present information from other sources, alongside comment. Bloggers — those that blog — will be respected as folk who aren’t journalists, or experts in their field, but have sufficient knowledge and experience to serve as informal guides to the rest of us hunting for stuff on the World Wide Web.

There’s not much money in this, though doubtless they’re likely to upset the media barons who realize that their carefully presented, graphics-strewn home pages are being bypassed by blog-surfers stopping by only long enough to grab one article. But that may be the future: The editor that determines the content of our daily read may not be a salaried Webmaster or a war-weathered newspaper editor, but a bleary-eyed blogger in his undershirt willing to put in the surfing time on our behalf.

Who knows? We may even be willing to pay to read their blogs. As long as there are no grinning, laptop-carrying hand-shakers in sight.