Thursday, February 08, 2007

Blogging Our Way Into the Newspaper

At one Midwestern newspaper, boundaries are blurring. Reporter or blogger? Online or print content?
By Yvette Walker, Deputy Managing Editor, The Oklahoman

During a recent ice storm, The Oklahoman, where I work, updated readers about a concert by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Assistant entertainment editor George Lang first reported that the concert's status was questionable. Then organizers said it was on. Then, eventually, word came that it had been canceled.

Chatter blew up on the newspaper's Web site, More than 200 readers commented about the concert. But they weren't posting responses to a news story. Instead, the readers who were following and responding to Lang's updates were doing so on the newspaper's daily blog, "Notes from the Newsroom."

"Notes from the Newsroom" is run by a collection of bloggers from every editorial department -- from metro reporters to business writers, copy editors to columnists. There are no stars here. Anyone who wants to blog is welcome to do so.

The blog is not separated into categories. In a sense, it's like a big A-section. Bloggers post the best and most interesting items -- interesting to them, at least. There is a lot of subjectivity here, and that is encouraged. And although we allow bloggers to write in first-person, ethics and fairness of reporting is required.

During a recent ice storm, The Oklahoman ran concert updates from the newsroom blog on the front page of the paper.
Staffers usually stick to local events, often writing from a personal point of view. For example, that ice storm prompted a flurry (pun intended) of blog entries, ranging from personal stories of dealing with the weather, to updates on closings and cancellations, to cautionary tales of danger on the ice.

Reporters sometimes tell readers how they worked on a story. We solicit feedback from readers via the blog. And as we entered 2007, some of our reporters blogged about the most memorable stories they had worked on over the last year.

By teaching staffers an easy-to-learn, Web-based program, we have given our newsroom the tools to be more accessible, more human. And that is part of the appeal.

Here's why some reporters say they enjoy blogging:

* "Often when writing a story, there's a great quote or a fun detail that just doesn't make it into a news story. Blogging allows for that extra little part of the story to be told. It also gives me an outlet to add a personal insight or some humor." -- Tricia Pemberton, staff writer

* "It's a place to write with a little more heart. In Sunday's newspaper, I wrote a notable obituary about a long-time police volunteer whom I knew for seven years. My reflections on him would've been completely out of place in that obituary, but I was able to use the blog to express my memories of him and what made him so noteworthy." -- Ken Raymond, staff writer

* "I love the immediacy of blogging and the creativity I can have to post things in a more conversational style. I also love the challenge of posting photographs, graphics and links and making them look the way I want and giving readers places to explore." -- Jim Stafford, business writer

As a bonus, the blog is providing daily content for the newspaper. The Oklahoman is no stranger to reverse publishing. But it's now happening on a daily basis, with lots of material going into the A-section. That is unusual.

Page 2A is the home for all this blog content, and even the name of the page is nontraditional: "News, too: The other side of Page 1."

The majority of the page is composed of a feature called "From the newsroom 2U: Highlights from The Oklahoman's blog."

Seven days a week we publish a variety of blog entries, reader feedback based on questions posted online, the daily poll results and "What you're reading," a top-10 list of stories that got the most hits online in the previous 24-hour period. Also on the page are the staff box, lottery numbers and corrections.

The Oklahoman
The Oklahoman publishes items from its newsroom blog daily on the second page of the paper, a section dubbed "news, too: The other side of Page 1."
"News, too" is the brainchild of news editor Steve Byerly, who championed the idea that the blog's contents would be good for the paper.

"It's helped build a sense of community among the online readers, print readers and staff," Byerly said. "It's a place where the staff can speak directly to the readers without using their 'news voice' -- and where readers can speak back. It brings together citizen journalism, reader feedback and behind-the-scenes details on how we do our jobs."

How is it making a difference? It's a fascinating bridge to the community that our staff crosses daily. It is transparency on a global newsroom level -- with the blog acting as a kind of ombudsman, giving readers a peep into the minds of journalists.

"Many newspapers talk about [using] multimedia but they have really only scratched the surface of where we all need to be," said executive editor Sue Hale. "Our newsroom is dropping beneath the surface to [involve] multimedia every day from start to finish, and the blog is quickly becoming the transition for this evolution."

Like many newspapers, The Oklahoman has focused resources on in an effort to draw more readers to its award-winning journalism, unique content and brand recognition. Blogs, including "Notes from the Newsroom" and others that focus on entertainment and fashion, are an important part of that unique content.

The blog builds upon The Oklahoman and's rising print/online penetration, which is in the top 20 among American newspapers, according to The Media Audit.

We began "Notes from the Newsroom" with little fanfare in Nov. 2006, but the staff has embraced it, and traffic is growing. managing editor Alan Herzberger sees the blog as a success -- and not just because it's getting a lot of hits.

"To me, the success of the blog is not in the traffic -- it's in the fact that the writers, editors, designers and leadership can participate in an ongoing, informal dialogue with readers and users of our products. That's another key step into the future of [the] news industry."

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