Newspapers, bloggers now on same page

Newspapers, bloggers now on same page


Journalistic websites see amateur scribes as partners, not rivals. They increase coverage and may share revenue.



By Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

October 9, 2007

Once upon a time, newspapers wanted nothing to do with bloggers, those
amateurs who opined on anything that caught their fancy, whether it was
interesting, or accurate, or not.

That
was then. Now newspaper websites, desperate for readers and revenue,
are increasingly in cahoots with bloggers, posting and plugging them
and even sharing advertising revenue.

Purists may sniff at these online liaisons but, as the print newspaper industry shrinks, they may be inevitable.

"Any
new information source is a potential competitor to a local newspaper.
Smart newspapers are figuring out they don’t have to fight with those
competitors — they can make alliances with them," said Robert Niles,
editor of the Online Journalism Review, which is published by the USC
Annenberg School for Communication.

This year, the Washington
Post added a sponsored blog roll to its website, a directory of links
to blogs that specialize in travel, technology, health and more. If the
Post sells an ad on the blog roll’s main page, the bloggers split the
money with the newspaper. So far, about 100 bloggers have signed up.

To
Caroline Little, the chief executive of Washingtonpost Newsweek
Interactive, the ad network is good business. Most ad buyers don’t want
to take the time to buy space on dozens of different blogs, she said,
and the staff-driven side of the website often doesn’t have enough
stories about technology, business or health for advertisers looking to
place ads near that content. With the blog roll, the Post can grab ad
revenue that might have gone elsewhere.

"It’s about figuring out how to monetize other people’s content," Little said.

The
partnership has boosted ad revenue, she said, although the money made
from selling blog roll ads isn’t a significant part of online income,
at least not yet. A spokeswoman for Adify, a San Bruno, Calif., company
that supplies ad network technology to the Post, said the blog roll had
increased the site’s audience by more than 50%. Little couldn’t confirm
that.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper and Hoy, a Spanish-language
daily in Los Angeles (owned by Times parent Tribune Co.), have also set
up networks that sell ads on smaller sites and share ad income with
blogs.

Other papers are expanding coverage — and, they hope,
drawing traffic — by posting the work of local bloggers. The Houston
Chronicle, for one, has recruited 50 reader-bloggers whose commentary
appears its website.

A note at the top of the readers’ blog
page reads: "Our members are responsible for this content, which is not
edited by the Chronicle." Among the recent blog headlines:
"Breastfeeding is obscene?"

Scott Clark, vice president and
editor of Chron.com, said readers’ blogs had expanded coverage. "Many
of our readers have specialized knowledge and passions," he said. "By
adding them to our site, we tremendously expand the scope of
information that we’re able to provide."

The blurred lines make
many uneasy. "There’s a lot of uninformed opinion on the Internet and
not a lot of solid reporting," said Fred Brown, vice chairman of the
Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics committee and a columnist
at the Denver Post. A professional journalist "respects the truth and
lives up to standards of ethics. Certainly that isn’t the case in the
blogosphere."

Newspapers should make a clear distinction
between staff-written and blogger-generated material as a service to
their readers, said David Ardia, director of the Citizen Media Law
Project at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet &
Society.

But what if a blogger gets a fact wrong or makes a defamatory comment about someone?

Newspapers
have to be careful, but federal law generally protects a website owner
from postings by its users. As long as employees of a newspaper site
have nothing to do with a blogger’s work, Ardia said, the newspaper is
probably protected, because it is simply posting content produced by an
outsider.

At the same time, the law allows newspapers to act as
good Samaritans to protect their readers, and Kinsey Wilson, executive
editor of USA Today, said his paper had been doing just that.

It
removes from its website "anything brought to our attention that
violates our terms of use, including personal attacks, hate speech,
obscenities, plagiarism, as well as potentially libelous or defamatory
material," Wilson wrote in an e-mail.

The USA Today site has run
excerpts from such blogs as College Football Resource and A Socialite’s
Life, the latter a gossip site that discusses and mocks fashion,
celebrities and the media.

Wilson said in an interview that the
industry wasn’t adopting blogs in place of traditional reporting but in
addition to it. In any event, he said, newspapers can’t afford to think
about distributing information the way they used to.

"The
walled garden is dead. We’re living in an era of distributed content,"
he said. One important role of a newspaper nowadays is to sift through
rafts of information online, he said, and help readers use it.

Some
popular blogs have been "absorbed," to use the New York Times’ term,
into mainstream media sites. Freakonomics, a blog about economic
thinking in everyday situations, runs on the New York Times site, and
its authors share the ad revenue.

Stephen J. Dubner, a
Freakonomics coauthor, said the partnership provided an opportunity to
be featured on one of the most prominent newspaper sites in the world
"with all the readership and support that comes along with it."

The
blog gets more traffic on the Times site than it did when it was
accessible only at Freakonomics.com, he said. Unlike before, now it can
make money.

With the funds, the Freakonomics authors are sprucing up the blog, adding a full-time editor and filmmaker.

Most
bloggers are paid little, if anything, for the thousands of words they
type. Teaming up with a newspaper is a way to establish credibility,
said Dave Panos, the CEO of Pluck, which distributes blog content to a
handful of newspaper sites, including USA Today’s, through a service
called BlogBurst.

"Being picked up by the mainstream media," he said, "is the highest form of flattery."

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