I get asked about blogs a lot.
This is a little funny to me, because I’m not much of a blogger myself. In fact, I suck.
There are several folks whom I work with on our online staff here in Lawrence who are great bloggers.
But not me. I suck.
Still, it never ceases to amaze me how many folks call or e-mail me on an almost weekly basis to ask what I think about blogs. The questions come mostly from college students, who I’m fairly certain look at me as nothing more than a source-whore for their term paper about a topic that I’m sure they really don’t care about.
The questions I get are mostly about what my thoughts on blogs are and what sort of impact I think blogs will have on journalism.
What’s wild about these questions is that my closest association to blogs is that we have a section on our local entertainment site, Lawrence.com, that is called “blogs.” I’m not sure they actually qualify as what most people consider to be blogs.
When we started the blogs on Lawrence.com, we intended them to be fairly similar to what most think of when they think of blogs: frequently updated posts with an immediate interaction between the writer and the readers. But that isn’t what they’ve become.
The reason the blogs on Lawrence.com aren’t “traditional” blogs (can you believe I just said “traditional” blogs?) is that we left it up to our bloggers to write as they saw fit. There were no assignments, no parametes for how to structure writings, or any of that crap. We just let them go.
The beauty of that is that our blogs on Lawrence.com have become columns on steroids. With a message board attached.
But who cares?
They’re cool. And people are talking about cool things on those pages. And they just feel honest to me — from the language to the topics to the responses.
There is a real sense of community in our blogs on Lawrence.com, and it’s a community that more than likely doesn’t read our daily newspaper, and it probably doesn’t visit our newspaper site.
More important than anything else, our blogs make Lawrence.com feel and taste like Lawrence — maybe not the Lawrence that a 50-year-old resident knows, but definitely the Lawrence that a 20-year-old knows. And that’s exactly what we were after.
Lawrence.com was not built for those over 30. Sure, there are lots of folks who are 30 and over who visit the site, but the site is not specifically for that age of people.
Lawrence.com is more about a state-of-mind. I’m now starting to get a little older. I’m over 30. But I think I am living proof that getting older doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t be immature.
That makes me a good fit with Lawrence.com.
So, let me cut straight to the chase of what most of the college students ask me. No, we have never considered the blogs on Lawrence.com to be journalism. And if they are journalism, it was totally an accident.
There is a lot of talk right now in the news industry about blogs as a way of telling the news. The blogs on Lawrence.com have never been meant to be, nor promoted as, a news vehicle.
That was just never how we envisioned them.
Our bloggers aren’t usually trying to be objective.
Though the blogs are proofread, they are rarely edited, unless a blogger asks us specifically to do it. We read them for libel ï¿½ and that’s it. (Yes, that means we don’t edit for words that rhyme with ruther rucker.) Once the responses start to the initial blog, there is no editing and little moderating.
The community polices itself. Well, police might be wrong word, but you know what I mean.
And just in case you’re wondering, we have heard complaints from some folks in our newspaper newsroom (well, make that one) that we should edit the blogs.
We even kind of flaunt this a bit at the bottom of every page on our Lawrence.com blogs. Here’s what it says:
“Lawrence.com blogs are collections of short, frequently updated posts by members of the Lawrence community. These folks aren’t necessarily employees of our company, and we don’t necessarily condone, or edit, what they write. Blog writers, and comment posters, are solely responsible for what they say.”
With the blogs on Lawrence.com, the only tie to traditional journalism might be in comparing them very loosely to columns. But even that isn’t a great comparison. Our blogs are much more interactive, creating a direct dialogue between a writer and reader.
Maybe they represent the column of a new millennium.
But not necessarily journalism.
Our company has created several online “brands” — our newspaper’s main site, a sports site dedicated to the University of Kansas Jayhawks and our edgy entertainment site, Lawrence.com.
We’ve created these different online brands for a couple of key reasons:
*** One reason is that we needed to have separate brands from our newspaper so that we could do things that we wouldn’t want to do with the core newspaper Web site.
On KUsports.com, some of the stuff that we do might be considered “boosterism” or just plain goofy, like when we handicapped the odds (updated daily) on who might be the Jayhawks’ next basketball coach.
KUsports.com also is more than a little irreverent. We pride ourselves on having a much different voice in regards to coverage of the Jayhawks than our newspaper has, even though much of the content on KUsports.com actually comes from the newspaper and is re-packaged to fit the site’s tone.
Creating separate brands also means that on Lawrence.com we could take a different tone than our newspaper ever could, such as content that reads much more like a local version of Rolling Stone or Maxim. We use language on Lawrence.com and write about topics that we would never write be able to use or write about in our sister newspaper.
*** Another reason we created separate online brands is because in building an entertainment site full of attitude, being associated with the more conservative and traditional daily newspaper might be more of a liability than it was worth. We literally thought, at least in the case of Lawrence.com, that being associated with the newspaper might hurt us in trying to win over a much-different (and desired) audience.
We essentially created an alternative to ourselves.
This is not a radical concept. Viacom owns the very traditional CBS, but also owns MTV. They have the Super Bowl and Janet Jackson’s nipples. I love that.
Diversified media companies do this to reach the most amounts of people.
My best guess as to the reason why Lawrence.com and its blogs are being talked about so much in the news industry right now is because the site and its content represents one of the first times a “traditional” media company has made such a concerted (and radical) effort to go after an audience that doesn’t read its daily newspaper.
Lawrence.com is not trying to be the Cliff’s Notes version of our local newspaper with edgier headlines and bigger pictures, which seems to be the M.O. of many new “youth” tabloids that are popping up like zits at a junior high dance.
We have never seen Lawrence.com as our daily newspaper’s little brother. In fact, we’ve actually distanced the site from the newspaper.
I would guess the blogs on Lawrence.com are being talked about because of what they represent, not because they are a new form of what some classify as journalism.
So, to get back to the most-commonly asked question from aspiring college journalists, can blogs be journalism?
Just don’t try to use the blogs on Lawrence.com as examples.
That’s the beauty of publishing into new media. People have been publishing newspapers for a very long time; there are some clear rules and practices that have come about over the course of publishing newspapers for centuries.
But when you try to publish into a different medium that doesn’t have much history, there aren’t a lot of rules, guidelines or even best practices. We very literally are making the rules up as we go.
All of that being said …
Yes, Virginia, I think some blogs could and should be considered journalism.
To be honest, I’ve even seen blogs on Lawrence.com that could considered to be journalism, though that is clearly not what our expectations for blogs are on our site.
Let me tell you what I mean:
After the Jayhawks made it to the Final Four last year, the Lawrence Journal-World published tons and tons of stories about everything related to the game, including how the fans were partying in Lawrence. Though the story in the newspaper about the partying was relatively accurate, it was nothing like the description of the same parties that appeared in one of our blogs.
Now I’m convinced this blogger wasn’t trying to “commit journalism.” He was simply telling people what he saw through his medium of choice.
But damned if his description didn’t come off as not only more accurate, but more real and believable than the story that ran in the newspaper about all of these parties. It was much grittier. Of course, this is also the same guy who after Kelly Osbourne played a show in Lawrence, he basically wrote in his blog that we all should thank God that fat white chicks with no talent now have a role model.
In all fairness, our super-talented Lawrence.com editor, Phil Cauthon, always is trying to foster a mixed bag of bloggers, running the gamut from completely inappropriate up to and including blogs about raising a young family in our hometown. But the community of bloggers on our site always is in flux, so the balance isn’t always even.
And, of course, the comments do as much to shape the tone (and decency level) of the blogs as do the bloggers themselves. It’s a tricky thing to even try to attempt to manage when one of your key content sections is based totally on volunteers, of which all Lawrence.com bloggers are.
I digress, but my point is simple — I’ve read blogs that I would consider to be journalism. Did they adhere to AP style? No. We’re they completely objective? Doubt it. Did they tell the story of what was going on? Definitely.
Is that our expectation for the blogs on Lawrence.com. Hell no.
Another question I’m asked by a lot of college students who must be writing a term paper is: Should blogs be edited? I don’t care either way. I don’t think that it makes them any less of a blog when another set of eyes looks at them, but — as I said earlier — there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules here. That’s why I love this stuff so much.
We use blogs on Lawrence.com as primarily entertainment.
But not exclusively.
A blog absolutely could be (and in some circumstances) should be considered journalism.
I started off my career in the newspaper industry as a reporter. I wanted to be a reporter because I loved telling stories. Many of the blogs I look at, even those on livejournal.com, are trying to tell a story.
Maybe my definition is a bit untraditional, but I definitely think there are a lot of blogs out there that could be considered journalism.
Just not the way that we normally do them on Lawrence.com.
But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t the first things that I read each morning when I log on to the site.
The great American philosopher and poet Gene Simmons once said: I’m much more interested in things that taste good than those things that are in good taste.
And the blogs on Lawrence.com taste good.