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5 things journalists should learn from bloggers

ITAR-TASS: MOSCOW, RUSSIA. JUNE 4, 2010. State Duma member, figure skater Anton Sikharulidze (C) talks to journalists after a meeting to hear reports and elect new officials of the Figure Skating Federation. (Photo ITAR-TASS/ Alexei Filippov) Photo via Newscom

In digital storytelling many professional journalists would be wise to study and learn from the best bloggers.

Here are some tips.

It has struck me numerous times during the last couple of years: Many bloggers are far ahead of most professional journalists in writing well for the web.

Here are five areas where I think many journalists could learn from the practice of good bloggers. And yes, I know I do a lot of generalizing here :) Many journalists are very good at this stuff – and there are some crappy bloggers out there as well. But still I think these are some valid points if you compare the typical news journalist with the better expert bloggers.

1. Linking to sources

It is a shame, really! But far too many professional journalists resist linking to the sources of their stories. And if they link, some of them prefer to link to the main page of the source, and not to the specific URL where the information is.

For an example of this sloppy attitude among many journalists you may check this story from CNN about the Chinese blogger Han Han.  There is not even a link to Han Han’s blog, even though that is the main topic of the story.

The attitude is quite different among many good bloggers out there. In fact most bloggers seem to love linking as much as they can. That makes it easy for readers to check their sources.

2. Updating information

Stories change. Sometimes errors are discovered or readers have good suggestions for how the article can be improved.

In the newspaper it is hard to make any changes – besides including a correction of errors in the next issue. This is all different on the web. Articles can be continuously updated and errors corrected immediately.

Many bloggers readily change their articles if readers point out errors. Often blog articles are being updated on a regular basis. Take for instance this blog post at baekdal.com about how Apple make people pay twice for the same book (I really recommend this blog, by the way). Not how the author has added an update after he first published the article  (and also responds to his readers comments – next point).

I think many media organizations could do much better in this regard. Content is not static and online journalism is not bound by the physical restraints of the print medium. I think that should open up for a more flexible attitude to how many articles can be continuously updated.

3. Continuous dialogue with readers

Here is a test: Go to the news site of your choice and check the comments on the most discussed news stories of the day. How often do you see the journalist herself take part in the discussion?

Then do the same test on the blogs of your choice. Are the authors talking back to their readers?

Chances are that you will find that the best bloggers are far better at keeping a dialogue with their readers than the journalists.

There are many exceptions of course. Some journalists communicate closely with their readers on a daily basis, while there certainly are bloggers who ignore this part. Yet in general I think it is fair to say that most journalists have a lot to learn from the practice of bloggers in this area.

In my opinion there are many reasons why journalists should discuss their own articles with their readers. Some of them are to get story ideas, improve quality of the discussion, correct errors and appreciate the contributions of readers.

But journalists should stay neutral and not share their personal opinions on the stories they cover, you might argue. Well, there are still many ways to participate in a dialogue even if you stick to that principle.

4. Active promotion of own your content

Many bloggers are very good at promoting their articles. Often they use both social media like Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Stumbleupon as well as other blogs.

Journalists are typically not used to taking an active role in promoting their own content. They write their articles and leave it to their employer to recruit readers for it.

Fortunately many journalists are fast learners in this area now. In the last few months I have seen many more journalists proudly sharing their own articles in social media. That’s great! Keep it up, fellow colleagues!

5. Embedding relevant content from other sources

The web is all about sharing – and this is evident among many bloggers. Not only do they quote and link to other bloggers, they are also happy to share great content by allowing others to use it.

Many bloggers are very good at embedding great content from other sources. They identify good videos on YouTube, find a relevant presentation on Slideshare or use creative commons photos from Flickr.

Often media cultures are more concentrated on just using their own content. But honestly that is limiting your coverage. I think journalism professor Jeff Jarvis has a very good principle: Cover what you do best and link to the rest!

…………..

These are my thoughts. What do you think? Do you agree? Are there other things professional journalists should learn from bloggers?

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About the author: Experienced media manager and journalist. Enthusiastic about digital media – and eager amateur photographer. Currently Chief Communications Officer at Schibsted Tech Polska in Krakow, Poland.

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  • http://blog.dt.no/drammen Carina Alice Bredesen

    Hi!

    Thanks for useful pointers :) I want to challenge you a bit on the part of communication with the readers. How would you recommend the journalists to behave in the commenting feed below the article? I am a journalist, by the way. Should we answer all the comments, like bloggers ect “thanks for commenting, bla bla”, should we give more information about our work progress when that is in question.. How involved should we be? This is about regular news articles, where the journalist not are forwarding his or her own views, but present a more or less balanced piece, where both sides of the story gets a say – a traditional case, that is.

    I look forward to an answer – and I look forward to follow your blog. This is my first time visiting :)

    Carina

    • http://www.betatales.com John Einar Sandvand

      Let me start with what I think journalists normally should not do in the comment field:
      – You should NOT use it to argue about your personal opinion about the story you have covered. As a news journalist you should stay neutral about the issues
      – You should NOT use it to characterize your sources/interviewees or get into a fight with them

      What you should do, though, is:
      – Clear up misunderstanding of facts
      – Add additional information if you understand that is relevant for your readers.
      – Link to other sources of information about the story
      – Ask for suggestions for how you can cover the story further
      – Show gratitude for comments from readers
      – Try to get the discussion back on track when it becomes irrelevant
      – Moderate: Delete comments that are not in line with your editorial policy for public discussions
      – Be present!

      Too often discussions on news sites, at least in Norway, are of poor quality. I have often compared this to the discussions at some of the quality blogs I follow, where almost all comments are relevant and useful. I think that one reason news sites discussions often are of poor quality is that the journalists are not present. I am quite sure the quality would improve greatly if the journalists started to respond to readers comments.

      My personal opinion is that journalists should always make sure to follow and respond to the public discussions about their content, be it on your own news site or in social media. That is a part of the new role of journalists. Journalism is no longer one-way communication, but a continuous process of dialogue.

      • http://blog.dt.no/drammen Carina Alice Bredesen

        Thanks for your quick and thorough answer! I totally agree with your point of view.

        What amazes me about some of my fellow colleagues, is that many hardly ever look at their story when published online. They dont follow up how many readers have clicked on their story, dont reed the commentary feed and so on. Mostly this is traditionally “paper journalists”, no surprise there.

        But I think many will be surprised at how rewarding it feels to get instant feed back, and a dialogue with the readers – and other experts of the field they cover in their daily work.

        I really like the idea of asking the readers for help to cover the story further – I dont think we should be afraid to invite our readers to do that. But I experience some reluctance about this, from my colleagues, its almost like some feels that this will be a sign of “weakness” for the journalist in question. The same way its not always considert well thought through to ask strategic questions about the publication and different products, directly to readers via for instans blogs or otherwise online. In my view this can be really interesting, of course you won’t blow your secrets or anything, but you’ll get instant response from readers – who really are the ones we care about.

        What do you think?

        Carina

        • http://www.betatales.com John Einar Sandvand

          I think continuous dialogue with readers is essential for any media company today – for a number of reasons, one of the most important being that readers simply expect it. Using social media as well as asking readers to help can also be very efficient in news gathering. On any topic we write about, there will always be readers who knows more about it than ourselves.

          But you are right: Attitudes need to be changed. And they are changing! There are many good examples out there now.

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  • http://www.sportswritingtips.com Justice B. Hill

    John, I loved your post on blogging. I found it insightful, and reposted a portion of it on my sports blog with, of course, a link to your original post. I believe that anybody who wants to prosper in the media must master the blog, and your advice should help in that regard.

    Keep up the great work. Help all of us grow more comfortable with that side of journalism.

    Justice B.

    • http://www.betatales.com John Einar Sandvand

      Thank you for your kind words and for linking to it from your blog, Justice! I appreciate it.

      John

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  • http://wonderingaroundtheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Casey

    The title implies that bloggers aren’t journalists, by definition??

  • south

    Couldn’t agree more! Nothing frustrates me more than reading a news article about a popular blog, site or YouTube vid that has no direct link to the item in question.

    As for social network promotion and joining the discussion, some news journalists get it but there are still many who loathe story comments & wouldn’t even bother to read them. They see themselves as above the fray, ‘too professional’ to engage in discussion with amateurs. This might’ve been valid about 15-20 years ago, but it’s not the way things work now.

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  • Liz

    As a journalist in the U.S., I was very interested in your thoughts and agree in general that newspapers can do a much better job at taking advantage of digital trends embraced by bloggers. We’ve had some of these discussions at work, particularly the bit about updating past articles — not so much in terms of errors, but in terms of informing people who stumble across an older story that newer info is available.

    There are a few challenges for traditional journalists, though. For one, I have no control over the content/presentation of our paper’s Web site. Although we often include breakouts in print referring people to related Web sites, I don’t have the ability to include them online or ensure the links work. I definitely think this is an important aspect of presenting content online, though. Hopefully as we move forward, Web managers will be more involved in finding ways throughout actual body of article to link to related content.

    We are slowly connecting our stories to more varied content — including videos, audio, graphics and links to all that. The biggest challenge is that we don’t have the staff with the knowledge or time to compile this stuff in a manner that meets our professional standards. It’s one thing to link to a home youtube video someone else made if it relates to the story. Quite another if you’re creating a shoddy video yourself and presenting it along with the story.

    As for updating stories and interacting with reader comments, the biggest challenge I see is the sheer quantity of stuff on our Web site. I’ve been writing for this newspaper full-time for 8 years — that’s a lot of articles to ensure are always up-to-date and correct and linked to active pages! Multiply that by all the reporters who are churning out an equal number of stories, and the task is monumental. Likewise, if I’m writing 5-7 stories per week, it’s hard to keep track of all the comments posted about each story and maintain a conversation with the readers. I definitely like the idea of clarifying things that are unclear and reader comments can be a good source for follow-ups and even future sources. But it can be hard to converse without getting into unethical judgment calls on people involved in stories. And if you have angry or very opinionated readers (which we do!), hard to converse without getting into a heated back-and-forth with them that leads nowhere and is a challenge to reporter’s professionalism.

    We’re still slowly turning the old print beast around to embrace the opportunities of the Internet. It’s been a slow process, but if newspapers expect to remain viable, they’ll have to do a better job of utilizing many of the tools/trends you detail.

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  • http://www.helium.com/users/606452 KHSDigitalMedia2010

    Dear John,
    Thank you for an excellent article, with very valid and applicable points for journalists to consider using. I am a blogger (in no way would I consider myself to be a “professional” blogger, though, at least not yet.) You made several relevant and valid arguments that support learning from the way bloggers go about interacting with their audience. Responding to your readers opens up not only a dialogue, but a possible potential resource for use in future articles. Sometimes, something as simple as a single readers opinion can spark an entire other avenue that leads to a new story idea.
    Our first priority and obligation must be the news story. We are obligated to accurately report the news, in a non- biased manner. But our second, as perhaps equally important obligation is to the reader. Without readers to actually read and respond to the stories that are generated and published, reporters would no longer have a purpose for existing. Always consider your audience. We all could learn a thing or two from them.
    Thank you again, for this excellent article. Keep writing!
    Sincerely,
    Kimberly Huggins-Staudt

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  • alaanile

    Thank you for an excellent article, with very valid and applicable points for journalists to consider using. I am a blogger (in no way would I consider myself to be a “professional” blogger, though, at least not yet.) You made several relevant and valid arguments that support learning from the way bloggers go about interacting with their audience. Responding to your readers opens up not only a dialogue, but a possible potential resource for use in future articles. Sometimes, something as simple as a single readers opinion can spark an entire other avenue that leads to a new story idea.

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