Teaching Examples

Doing blogs well at The Sydney Morning Herald, Part 2
March 19, 2007, 1:54 am
Filed under: blogging, blogs, newspapers, online

Ask and you shall receive answers: I asked how The Sydney Morning Herald manages to get so many intelligent reader comments on its blogs, and Kimberley Porteous, the newspaper’s online community editor (soon to become their multimedia projects editor) sent me this reply via e-mail:

I don’t know if I have any secrets to share, other than aggressive promotion of our good blog content on the smh.com.au homepage and also in print. But I offer these thoughts:

  1. Instruct your bloggers well. Give them pointers on what makes a compelling post (e.g., be provocative, pose a question at the end, base posts around lists, etc.), suggest topics you know will be a hit (complaining, unfortunately, is a winner, a la “World’s most unfriendly country”) and tweak the blog’s modus operandi to something you know will work. Many of a newspaper’s bloggers are seasoned reporters, but they have to be gently instructed that they’re writing for a different — and interactive — medium.
  2. Think of the talent you have in the newsroom. Now think of how the web can be a new showcase for the great work they’re already doing, or give a voice to those who aren’t usually heard. One of our best blogs (www.smh.com.au/rocco) is by our paper’s illustrator, Rocco Fazzari, who takes readers behind the creative process, using early drafts and explanations of his theme. He doesn’t even mind it when readers offer constructive criticism of his caricatures, and his writing is savagely funny. We’ve also done a few time-lapse slideshows of his works being created using Soundslides. [M.M.: See him draw Hillary Clinton!]
  3. Likewise, do you have anybody on staff trying to break into a new subject or style of writing? Suggest they use the blog as a portfolio to persuade the bosses.
  4. Plan for Blog Burnout: Most of our bloggers are full-time staffers who tend to blog on top of their regular jobs. So it’s not surprising that after 6 months or so, they wake up one Sunday morning, realise they haven’t got a clue where they’re going to find time in the coming week to blog, and the next thing you know they’re taking an indefinite break. We’re powerless to get their editors to allow time for them to blog (our print colleagues don’t always see the benefits) so all we can do is plan to have new ones coming through to step into their place. Or run team-based blogs such as our photographers’ blog, Talking Pictures.
  5. One way around burnout is to suggest short-term blogs around a news event, such as the international fashion seasons, elections or sporting tournaments. This way your bloggers are less likely to run out of energy or enthusiasm, and there’s already an interested audience.
  6. Likewise, if your paper is running a major series, then offer the commissioning editor a blog to gather feedback and prolong the momentum of the print run. I’ve just finished a multimedia presentation about an episode in Australian migration history (at www.smh.com.au/misr) which has a related reader forum attached.
  7. If all else fails, cheat. Run some of your regular print columns as a blog to allow for feedback.

I must say I disagree with No. 7 (there are too many long print-style columns posing as blog posts) — but the rest of Kim’s recommendations rock!

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2 Comments so far
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On number 7, I have definitely seen some where they don’t run the whole piece but link to the piece with a paragraph asking a question/putting out a topic allowing discusion.

It really goes back to the old question, what is a blog or what is important about a blog. To me one of the important parts are the comments so whether it is an article or a blog I don’t care as long as there is the chance to comment if I want too.


Comment by Molly

That a good way to do it — quote a good nugget and ask for reactions. And of course, the nugget can link to the full column that is elsewhere on the site. Smart!

Comment by Mindy McAdams

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