Insomnia (insomnia) wrote,

When journalists blog.

... they usually suck. 

If they're lucky, someone will not only tell them that they suck, but will also tell them why they suck.

Consider, for example, "America's Finest Blog".

Although I have steered clear of becoming a professional blogger (no, never, not on my personal blog, thanks...) I do have considerable experience with weblogs and with the weblogging industry. I've advised people on a couple books on blogs, in fact.

As such, I feel confident in saying that America's Finest Blog is a grade-A piece of shit. A complete waste of time, put together by technically incompetent people. It's a blog than only a reporter who hates blogs could love.

Which is kind of fortunate, really, because it's author, Chris Reed, doesn't seem to like blogs much.

When Democratic Senator Tim Johnson was rushed to the hospital with severe intracranial bleeding, it's refreshing to see that Chris Reed was there to express his... well, maybe not his concern... but at least he took the opportunity to smear, well, most of his state and most of his readers.

"Among George W. Bush's greatest political assets are the people on the left he has driven crazy. Given the certitude and passion with which many of this bunch insist that Ohio was stolen in 2004 -- facts, schmacts -- it is only a matter of time before it is routinely asserted in faculty lounges, in Barbara Boxer's staff meetings and on lefty Web sites that Bush, Rove and Cheney were responsible for Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson's suddenly being stricken..."

So, not only does this hack show extremely poor taste by attacking strawmen for hollow, cheap-ass political points while a national leader's life is on the line... he also seems determined to piss off about 58% of the state's population based on political affiliation, all the underfunded teachers who are sick and tired of being accused of being Joseph Goebbels-like propagandists, those who blog / use the internet, and anyone who happened to vote for Barbara Boxer during her most recent overwhelming landslide victory, in which she garnered the highest number of votes ever for any U.S. Senator in the history of the United States. (She's kinda popular, really.)

To his credit, he takes cheap shots at Republican politicians too, but once you scrape off the cheap shots, there's very little left as far as actual content.

I should apologize for not linking you directly to the specific post of Mr. Reed's I am referencing, but his "weblog" posts dosn't have a direct link... such as you might find on a real weblog, for example. Nor does his blog have real comments, moderated or otherwise... only links to an email address. His blog also doesn't have a syndicated feed. Or actual readers either, it appears...

With 308 links in the last 180 days, Technorati places in the low authority group.
That makes you a D-List Blogger!

My wife, incidentally, is also a D-list blogger, just like Chris Reed of the San Diego Union Tribune, but that's okay with her, because she's really not trying to compete and she doesn't want everyone to read her LiveJournal anyway. That's why it's not prominently linked to from the website of the 23rd largest newspaper in the country... bigger than the Miami Herald or the Baltimore Sun.

I don't know. Perhaps my wife has more friends than Chris Reed has readers? Maybe Chris Reed should introduce himself to my wife's friends, because he could use a few extra readers. Not that they could import his blog into their LJ friend's list, because, after all, he doesn't have a syndicated feed, but maybe they could be polite, drop by, and say hi every now and then, so that he doesn't get too bored with his job.

Shame, really, because Mr. Reed has some impressive sounding things on his resume. Rumors are that he even used to be a fairly good reporter too, before he started writing throwaway blog posts.

Sadly, all of this is pretty typical of what's all-too-often wrong with newspaper blogs:

Good commercial weblogs

1> Are a discussion. Chris Reed's weblog don't truely solicit comments in any meaningful way, and certainly don't dare making them public. That would sadly force him to be more accountable about what he writes, because he'd have to defend his point of view. (With facts, even!) Yes, it might help to produce something of quality, but it would mean more work for him. He'd even have to deal with all those ordinary people providing him valuable, occasionally newsworthy information. Like that story about Congressman Foley, for example. Naaah. Can't have that. 

2> Have the facts to back 'em up. They link to useful information, articles, stories, etc. Mr. Reed's blog probably cites about one link every 8 paragraphs or so. That's an awful lot of diatribe, and an awful lot of unsupported statements. Perhaps there is a good reason for this, however. Maybe Mr. Reed has hemorrhoids, and has a hard time sitting down at his computer, and actually doing the research. Or maybe he just phones in his posts from the golf course. Not sure which.

3> Emphasize writing little, and saying a lot. Mr. Reed writes a lot, but says very little. My advice: try not to use long posts in a professional weblog unless you have something to to say. Let the facts do the talking. (See #2.)

4> Aren't technologically backwards. Chris Reed's "blog" doesn't have real commenting features, of course, but it also doesn't have RSS syndication, email notifications, or any of the features of a weblog that tend to encourage regular readership, linking, and a back-and-forth flow of information. It's basically a 1995 technology weblog trying to look like a 2005 weblog. Does your newspaper really want a blog that is ten years behind the times?

5> Aren't afraid. As a blogger, the feeling I get from visiting Chris Reed's site is that he and his newspaper really don't care about blogging, or about bloggers. His newspaper seems afraid of us, because blogging brings unpredictability and opinions. And thought. And criticism. And more criticism. And *ESPECIALLY* criticism. And, amazingly, much of the modern press doesn't seem to be able to handle criticism. At least not publically.  But you need to. Sure, you may need to pre-screen all replies, but you should try to allow all but the most incendiary replies through, including those that are critical of the writer. If the author of the weblog can't be counted on to do this, then let someone else prescreen the comments. Nothing loses you a reader faster than a thoughtful yet critical response which is ignored. 

6> Are blog friendly. The very design and structure of Mr. Reed's weblog tells other bloggers -- the ones who you want to pass around your articles and help promote your blog -- that he and his company don't respect them, don't respect their how they work, and don't respect their culture. It tells them, in other words, to go elsewhere.  And, of course, Mr. Reed comes off as kind of insulting and dismissive to bloggers anyway, like so many others in the "old school"
press... so it's only natural for bloggers to be dismissive to him too.

A bad blog with crappy, non-growing readership and no citiations from other bloggers isn't good for a newspaper. It's an embarassment and a waste of money. It's better not to jump on the blog bandwagon if you're not going to do it right, which means that you have to value the opinions of those who are from that culture and who really grok what blogs are all about. 

Experienced journalists are often the absolute worst bloggers, because many simply do not get the culture. Many of them can become good bloggers with appropriate training and assistance. Some have a very hard time transitioning to blogging... and when that happens, it's absolutely necessary to have an environment where your snot-nosed 26-year-old hipster technical advisor can rip your seasoned, crusty, award-winning journalist a new one, before their cultural / technological cluelessness kills your newspapers new pet project / financial investment dead.

So, to all the bad journalistic blogs out there, go forth and suck no more. Selah, and all that. 

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