Marc Reeves, The Birmingham Post and Five fine questions on blogging.

5 questions from dieselbug2007 on flickr

I love a blog post which asks a good question. This lunchtime the editor of the Birmingham Post, Marc Reeves, popped up five corkers as he wrote about how one of his guest (corrected thanks to Jon) bloggers had attracted a good chunk of derision from readers for this post and this one.

So those questions…

  1. Is a blog a tool only for individuals rather than media brands or organisations: A blog is one of two things – a stream of information attached to an RSS feed – or a tool for conversation. I’ve never managed to hold very enjoyable conversations with a brand or an organisation. So I plump firmly for the individual here.
  2. What ‘control’ should a host brand such as the Post impose on its individual bloggers? As much as you like – you’re the boss. The problem is that if you assert too much control then the fun part of the blogging will go away, because your writers will be looking over their shoulder and the readers will sense they’re neutered. Two questions to ask yourself: What is news? if you describe something as a news blog what would you expect to find in it? What reasons would be good enough to ask someone to stop blogging? Clearly a contemptuous attitude to libel might be one. Would racism be another? How about 3 boring posts and your out. They’re a bit of an idiot? Again, you’re the boss…
  3. What are the Post’s brand values in the eyes of readers? – In my eyes – changing. I think the quality which will most endear me to the post is openess and transparency because that creates the opportunity for an intelligent debate, which this city needs and the Post is well positioned to host. Coupled with lots of photos of people holding glasses of wine and standing next to Brian Woods Scawen.
  4. Are traditional news brands inherently incapable of adapting to the new – two-way – nature of online journalism? No – some journalists might be, but they shouldn’t be blamed for that. You’ve got to be quick though. Just look at the falling revenue from all those estate agents trying to save money on their advertising budgets.
  5. What now constitutes expertise in a given field? Fastest finger on google? Nah – too flippant. It is the depth of thought that I admire. Why? Because the web has made it easier than ever for us all to passionately hold to half thought through or borrowed ideas. I also reckon that highly networked people are well placed to be experts because they have access not just to information but other people’s brains to help them think through ideas. Did I just describe a university?

I also suggest you read the comments section on the post, many of my answers are echoed there.
(Marc – you just got 4 links with one post!)

17 comments

  1. Marc says:

    Nick . . your links are welcome, but more so your comments. ‘The University of Transparency’….? Hmmmm…..

  2. Jon Bounds says:

    >one of his guest bloggers

    According to Roshan (in the comments to his original post):
    “I’m just doing a job the Post management assigned me to do. But this is not a personal blog but a Post blog…If that helps.”

    – odd that it’s one of the staff that caused the controversy rather than the guest bloggers?

    (didn’t want to raise it there as it would have distracted from what I hope will be a fascinating debate)

  3. Marc says:

    Just for clarification, Roshan is not a member of staff, but a freelance columnist who works regularly for us. a fine distinction I know ….

  4. Jon Bounds says:

    A distinction all the same Marc, I suppose what I meant was that an experienced journalist/columnist was shocked by the response to his blog post. More experienced bloggers (journalists or not) could probably have seen it coming (not that that makes it right, or him wrong).

  5. Nick Booth says:

    It’s a learning process. When what you write is personal not every comment is welcome. When it is a paid for commodity then all comments should be welcome.

  6. Paul Groves says:

    Nick: It is a learning curve for all newspapers and journalists. Newspapers and journalists can learn a lot from blogs and bloggers, which could eventually go a long way to securing a healthier future and a larger readership base.
    But, equally, newspapers are curious oddities and journalists are strange animals. I think some of these idiosyncracies are completely alien to blogging and bloggers, but they need to be preserved as they make for good journalists and good newspapers.
    So finding the common ground between the two is key and it is something I don’t believe any newspaper, including those with a strong web presence, have quite got right yet.
    I’m excited about the Post’s future, a lot more so than when I worked there. But the learning curve is steep and I think Marc’s latest post gets to the heart of the original issue I felt sufficiently moved to rant about.

  7. Nick Booth says:

    Hi Paul,

    Undoubtedly a lot of learning and invention to come. I’m not sure though tha professional journalists have idiosyncracies that remain unique to their profession or necessarily at odds with blogging. What sort of things did you have in mind?

  8. Paul Groves says:

    Nick: Hhhhmmm…I’m thinking of the way journalists work I guess. There probably is a fair bit of overlap with blogging but I’ve always felt the atmosphere in a typical newsroom (no matter what size it is) is very different to any other “office” environment. It shapes the way journalists think and work, there is a pack mentality and yet journalists prefer to be regarded as individuals. There is still also this belief amongst some journalists that they should be dictating to readers, not listening to what they have to say.
    Something like angryjournalist.com highlights them best – that’s if you can stand reading two or more of the sort of complaints you’ll hear anyway if two or more journalists are gathered together.

  9. Sid Langley says:

    Most journalists over the age of, say 30, are not open-minded enough to make good bloggers. They are not, in my experience – and I have a considerable amount of it – interested in anything beyond what will make good copy, bright headlines and an impressive piece in a cuttings book to secure them their next job. And in that sense my former colleague Paul Groves is right, they hunt in packs and seek approbation from their peer group, rather than satisfying what we might call their client group – readers. It’s as though GPs were in business to impress their fellow doctors rather than look after the health of patients.

  10. Nick Booth says:

    Hi Sid,

    It’s a good 5 years since you were open minded enough to accept 6 features for the Birmingham Post on active citizens – stories also told on the Grassroots Channel. thanks for that.

    I wonder if publishers have the time to fight demarcation battles? As newsrooms squabble with bosses will their audiences flee to new online publishers? I know there is still a large number of paper only readers – but I expect the speed at which that changes will surprise us all.

    Now the print unions – how are they doing. Healthy membership?

  11. Peter Bacon says:

    Two observations:
    1) I don’t think good journalists necessarily make good bloggers but it’s a lot more likely if those journalists are columnists rather than straight reporters – it’s opinions that are the meat in the pie for both columns and blogs, rather than the facts which are crucial to a strong news story.
    2) There is a fascinating relationship, whether in newspaper columns or in blogs, between giving offence or being controversial, and being (how can I put this politely?) not very good (ie not very well argued, not particularly well thought through, etc). A bit like Goverment Budget announcements, really.
    I am sure some of the other contributors to this discussion can think back and recall writings that most often stirred the greatest response were not necessarily the ones they were most proud of.
    I do have the feeling Roshan Doug knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote the one about the bank clerk, though. Was this just trying to stir things up in a very conscious way?
    And what of the columnist/blogger who causes the most outrage from a position of innocence. Rivers of Blood and one Nigel Hastilow come to mind. Or are Hastilow and innocence ridiculous words to use in the same sentence?
    Come on, give us some examples from your back catalogues… When did you say something really badly and get a lot of attention for it? And when did you turn a finely hewn few paras and find no reaction at all?

  12. Nick Booth says:

    How wonderful – a Birmingham Post reunion and all of them now bloggers! Perhaps blogs have one common use – a simple way for those who like to express themselves to do so.

    It is interesting tho’ that whilst journlists will often write about quality of writing – pure bred bloggers rarely do.

  13. Peter Bacon says:

    Perhaps I didn’t express myself very well. Although I mentioned fine-hewn sentences, fine-hewn sentences are the result of fine-hewn thought. So what I was really talking about was quality, wisdom, originality of thought… and those are vital whether it is the more formal act of journalism, the even more formal published essay, or the much less formal, conversational blog which is the medium.
    And perhaps the distinction that exists between the journos-turned-bloggers and the to-the-blogger-born masters of digital society is that the former have a (dodgy) tendency to think they are very important people sharing their bon mots with the unwashed, while the latter know we are all unwashed.
    What Nick rightly (and always so) stresses is that the back-and-forth nature of the blog, that the writer and the reader are equals here, and everyone can be both.
    And to go back to the the beginning, the challenge for the journo-turned-blogger has been rightly pinpointed by Nick. A good blog has questions in it – the newspaper columnist is more comfortable offering opinionated answers.

  14. Paul Groves says:

    I’ve just spent 24 hours deciding whether to leave a comment on James Treadwell’s latest Post blog.
    I really wanted to read it, but couldn’t get beyond the headline.
    Scandle?
    What’s a scandle?
    This is a perfect example of one of the major issues that newspapers have regarding blogs and blogging, as far as I’m concerned. A really interesting post and a new twist on a widely reported and commented on issue. But I’m sidetracked by a sloppy mistake in the headline.
    We all make mistakes, but leaving “scandle” up unchanged for 24 hours is…well…a scandal.
    After biting my tongue all day yesterday, especially given some suggestions last time I criticised a Post blog that if I don’t like it I should stop reading it, I’ve decided to be a pedant this morning.
    No doubt plenty of mistakes are littered around my own blog, but that’s my problem. I do expect more from a newspaper and believe that such mistakes damage the title’s credibility.
    My biggest concern is that it could well create a “I told you so” attitude amongst some of the more cynical journalists who can’t see the point of blogging, or regard it as some sort of slight against their high professional standards.

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