Thursday, June 04, 2009

So, what is this blog?

I've been asked a fair few times about the status of this blog since I first starting putting my thoughts online as editor of the Mercury. Not everybody is entirely happy that I use this medium to talk about what I see going on around me.

I think there is a nervousness in some quarters about the different tone that blogging allows journalists to take compared with the articles they write in our newspapers. As editor of a local paper, the only place I get to express an opinion in print is when writing the leader column, but that is really about giving the newspaper a stance on issues rather than expressing a personal thought and it's not really an appropriate outlet for holding a discussion about what does - or even what should - make a newspaper.

I'm quite clear about one thing - I am blogging as the editor of the paper and see this blog as being as much a part of the company's output as the newspaper itself, our free weekly titles, the monthly magazine or our other websites: thisisleicestershire and thebluearmy. Other people on the paper blog and those who do so in their capacity as employees - education correspondent Ian Wishart and political writer Martin Robinson - hold the same view. I know they do as we sat down and discussed it. We agreed that probably the best analogy was to view the blogs as columns of the newspaper. This means that while they have much more freedom to express themselves and their opinion, it still has to be done within the boundaries of what would be acceptable for the Leicester Mercury. For them, that has an important consequence: they know that I am editor of their blogs and that, if it comes to it, I will get the last say in what they can and cannot blog.

I suspect for a lot of people involved in social media that might seem odd, but I think it is an inevitable consequence of them blogging on the back of their reputation as an employee of the paper. They both seem quite happy with the situation and they blog because they want to, not because I tell them to (which I don't). I don't expect to be involved in what they are saying and I certainly don't read anything before they post ... and so far I haven't intervened in any way on either blog. They are both bright, articulate guys and I'm really pleased that they think blogging is worthwhile.

I see my own blog in a similar way. I see it as a column of the paper.

On the other hand, our news editor, Mark Charlton, blogs in a personal capacity. He doesn't really spend time talking about his role at work - he's much more likely to be found chatting about the twins that he and his wife are expecting ... or some very odd connection that he has with a German football team. Don't ask. Whatever, Mark's blog is not part of the Mercury.

The odd thing for me is this: I hadn't really intended to put my thoughts into the public domain ... yet. Don't get me wrong, I think editors should blog and I think there are massive benefits to be had from holding a public discussion about the paper and how we work. I think the tools of social media give us the opportunity to be far more open and transparent and things like blogging and Twitter allow me to have conversations with far more people than I would be able to without them. I believe that transparency builds trust which itself is the bedrock of the relationship between a newspaper and its readers.

But I wasn't ready yet.

There are two things about blogging that worry me. Firstly, will people find it interesting? And, secondly, will I have time to blog often enough to make it worthwhile? What I had intended to do was to blog 'privately' for a couple of months so that I could judge for myself before putting my thoughts out into the open for feedback. I didn't want to spend too long messing about setting myself up so I picked up an old blog, deleted all the old posts and began writing.

OK, I know I could have gone into my settings and made it a completely private blog, but I - fairly naively as it turned out - thought nobody would notice while I carried out my little trial. Very quickly, I had more than 500 visitors coming to the blog each week - it's not a massive number, but it's enough for me to consider it public rather than private!

To be honest, I enjoy blogging (even if I nearly always end up doing it very late at night - it's now 11.50pm) and I see it as a start. I believe that 'social media' will play a massive part in the success of our newspaper going forward and the key to that success will be conversation ... and conversation is a two-way street which is enabled on a large scale by things such as this blog, Twitter and Facebook.

I'm listening. Talk to me.

1 comment:

  1. Ok, seeing as you ask...

    I think the newspapers need to stop thinking like newspapers and start to think like information providers. Think not what can you do with what you've got, think what should you be doing to fulfill the role as THE local information hub / trusted and neutral authority on all things local / whatever.

    Not everyone wants the web, not everyone wants the paper but we all want information that's relevant and interesting to us. I think that there's a lot of stuff that, as readers, want to see but don't or can't.

    The web has made more information available to more people but the web doesn't tell me everything (not even Wikipedia...).

    I want to see regular, interesting interviews with the players of the football club I support, I want a page of all the news relevant to a 3 mile radius of my house and I want you to tell me when it's there.

    I don't mind seeing adverts as long as they're relevant to me. I don't want home insurance so why do I have to see a home insurance ad when I'm reading a story? In fact, why do I have to have 20 ads thrown at me when I'm reading a story? In the paper there was one or two ads next to each main story.

    How's that for a start? This could be a very big list...


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