Sunday, April 11, 2010

Blogging brings newsroom personality to life

Has anyone noticed what the Chicago Tribune has been up to lately? It's called Trib Nation, and it is the freshest thing I have seen newspapers do in a long time. Trib Nation has essentially taken multiple necessary elements to production - staff, readers, a social media platform, and, you know, that newsy stuff - and has thrown it into a mosaic of a blog that actually provides transparency into all that goes into making the Trib one of the strongest voices of Chicago (ahem - Chicago Sun-Times rocks, too).

From a video of Managing Editor Jane Hirt explaining editorial decisions, to an invite - YES, an open invite - to join Tribune Washington Correspondent Jim Tankersley for drinks and political talk, to news bites of the latest happenings inside the newsroom, this blog covers a lot of the "randomness" that just won't fit into print anymore. The blog is managed by Tribune staffer James Janega. To top it off, there's a Trib Nation Facebook fan page that coincides with the blog's mission, which of course is emphasized on multiple video platforms on Trib Nation's home page.

This is something social journalists should be talking about ... and looking to compete with.

Luckily, I can brag about my own Sun-Times Media West colleagues, particularly Emily McFarlan, aka Social Media Bad Ass. She's starting a blog over at the Elgin Courier-News that stands on a similar principle as Trib Nation: Transparency equals trust. She even went as far as to let readers vote on what the name of the blog should be. The winner? Between the Bylines (I was totally pulling for that one).

"I hear readers want to know more about the behind-the-scenes stuff at the newspaper, more humor, more chatty-types of things," McFarlan told me. "One reporter wants to contribute some beer reviews he used to run in features, back before we lost our features department. So I think reporters want a place to put all the things we don’t have room for in (the) paper.

"I’m seeing it as ... another way to dialogue with our readers that, you know, doesn’t limit us to 140 characters."
The blog hasn't gone live just yet, but McFarlan has already begun addressing what it's all about by answering reader-submitted questions through the paper's Facebook fan page:

I'm so excited about this because it shakes print media out of the normal, simple, easy way to engage with readers via Facebook and Twitter. And maybe, just perhaps, this kind of open communication between newsroom staff and readers could strengthen the trust consumers have in newspapers (and media as a whole). As I've mentioned in previous posts, with all the noise out there in the Webosphere, journalists really have to fight the good fight to stay relevant, alive, and loud enough to be heard. Perhaps a blog that doesn't necessarily focus on one news or sports niche but rather ... a newsroom niche ... is what allows each publication to stand out among the rest.

For the first time in some time, I feel a break-through coming on. Journalists are getting gutsier, taking chances, just letting the cards fall where they fall. McFarlan on Twitter and Janega on video both admit that they don't know how their friendly journo-blogs will develop. But the beauty is that this additional platform is something journalists can use uniquely separately than any other business in the free world - it's not marketing to sell more of its product. It's marketing to sell why we're necessary. And why no Internet or otherwise phenomenal world-wide communication invention will ever stomp out the need for good journalism.

Last week, a survey by British blogger Malcolm Coles and American PR strategist Adam Sherk indicated that social media is drawing less than 1 percent of traffic to news Web sites. James Tyree, the Chicago financier who led the buyout of the Chicago Sun-Times' publisher in October, gave newspapers about 10 more years to live ("Print newspapers to survive a decade, Sun-Times' Tyree says", BusinessWeek, April 6, 2010). The iPad was released this month, and there's buzz that this handy little device will be the media's life support. (The Wired offers an interesting analysis of this debate. Click here.) I have to admit, the second of an iPad commercial that shows the front page of the New York Times and the reader clicking to zoom in on a story is a Thing That Makes Me Go "Hmmm."

I think sometimes it's hard for newspaper journalists to let loose, have some fun, perhaps follow a fad (eek!). But with the stats, predictions and inventions mentioned above, I don't think it would be a waste of time, energy or money for a publication to take a cue from our Social Journalist friends and RSVP to this party that is hip, friendly and, wait for it ... fun.

Thoughts from other journalists? Readers, do you find a heightened interest or attraction to a newspaper that has a blog that aims to connect with you on a more personal level?


  1. Wow! What terrific company to share with Emily McFarlan. This sort of engagement is hugely important right now for established media companies.

    Where social media early on was viewed as craven click trolling, we now realize it's about credibility. If we're available 24/7, and are responsive to addressing errors or questions or updates, people notice, and that's a good thing.

    There's a journalism maxim from my alma mater, The City News Bureau of Chicago: "If your mother says she loves you, check it out."

    I think people intuitively know this, and we can expect them to check us out -- even if we are The News. They should. We check out.

    BTW -- did you notice the actor @JohnCusack reference the City News motto in a tweet on Monday? Here's a link:

    -- James Janega
    Trib Nation Manager
    Chicago Tribune

  2. I find a lot of The Beacon-News' followers and fans utilize this avenue to ask us questions about what's happening around town, or for more details behind a story, or to offer tips. Being the only official social media manager for The Beacon, it's a challenge to stay on top of all the accounts 24/7, but thanks to my smartphone, I do a better job than I otherwise would.
    Thanks to James and Trib Nation for referencing this blog and following up with excellent perspective:

  3. Congrats to The Courier-News for today's official launch of Between the Bylines!
    Looks great. Keep up the good work!