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
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.
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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