Hang on, this is a bit of a conceit, an extended metaphor. I’ve heard some suggestions such as from Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 that all journalists should blog. Sure, I’d love more journalists to embrace blogging. I am after all the blogs editor at the Guardian. Scott’s post has some great suggestions and tips for journalists who want to blog, and it’s worth a read for curious journalists who need to be pointed in the right direction for technically how to blog.
But I’d have to disagree that this is like writing a column or that it should be a place to publish things that you can’t publish elsewhere. Too often, news organisations who blog are accused (sometimes accurately) of populating their blogs with content that doesn’t quite make it onto their main news site.
Rather I’d suggest, both in content, tone and approach, news or media organisations have to editorially make it clear that this place is different, this is where we discuss things. This is where we engage with our audience for a number of reasons including transparency, debate and discussion or for tapping the wisdom of the our communities.
Now, if this is a place for engagement, media have to ask themselves before throwing their writers into an engagement space whether their writers want to or are able to engage with members of the public. Over and over and over, media get caught up in this silly brand/celeb obsession and push their biggest names to blog when really it’s more about getting your passionate members of staff to blog. We’ve just launched a food blog, Word of Mouth, at the Guardian, and it’s doing a storm because we’ve got a lot of passionate ‘foodies’ on staff writing about what they love and enjoying the conversation with others who share their passion.
This is a special skill, and to be perfectly honest, there are some journalists who not only don’t want to engage but, frankly, should be kept at a very safe distance from any member of the public. Some journalists who blog for their publications I’ve begun to assign a ‘personal threat level’, akin to the US terrorism theat level. “Today, there is an elevated chance of said journalist attacking a commenter.” You’ve all heard about when communities attack, but what about when journalists attack? This is social media, and you’re going to need some social skills.
The bottom line is that blogging is like sex. You can’t fake it. You can’t fake passion. You can’t fake wanting to engage with the public. If you do, it will ultimately be an unsatisfying experience for both the blogger and their readers. Sure, for a while, the self-confident writer might sit back after crafting a lovely piece of prose and have some post-creative puffery, patting themselves on the back for their performance. But soon, they’ll find their blog is a very lonely place.