How to handle the blog

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Blogs raise a host of journalistic as well as logistical issues for media companies. How can organizations that live and die by their editorial integrity embrace the blog culture, which is often biased, personality-driven and even sloppy?

"It is a challenge to run a blog under the umbrella of any company," said Alexander Wolfe, executive editor of CMP Technology's "You need people with independent opinions but not wackos. You need people who are thoughtful but not boring. It takes a lot of effort to find and manage bloggers, and you have to tolerate a lot more idiosyncrasies with bloggers than other writers."

Although blog postings may be short, "usually, the biggest problem is getting bloggers to post on a regular schedule with quality comments," Wolfe said. "You've got to expect some churn and always be mining your contacts looking for new potential bloggers."

One media executive who disputes the view that bloggers are not credible, thoughtful, careful or professional is Eric Shanfelt, VP-e-media strategy at Penton Media. "Blogs and bloggers can come in many different shapes and sizes," he said. "Penton has blogs on many of our brands. Some of our bloggers are staff editors who are well-known and respected in their fields; some are contract authors on retainer; some are acquisitions; and some are volunteer bloggers who gain business benefit from the exposure." The key, he said, is the quality of the content. "Controversy and opinion are good, but controversy simply for the sake of controversy is counter-productive," he said.

Ian Lamont, senior online projects editor of IDG's, said bloggers are integral to the site's redesign unveiled April 30. "Now if you go to any article page, there are two excerpts from blog posts that relate to the topic of the article," he said.

Because this strategy requires a considerable volume and steady flow of blog comments, Lamont has three types of bloggers. "Some of our staff editors blog occasionally but never our reporters. Their job is to report, not give opinions," he said. A second group is composed of hired freelancers--eight people currently--who write daily posts at a weekly freelance rate. A third group, known as User Bloggers, are unpaid but not expected to post every day, Lamont said. bloggers post directly to the Internet without interference. "We check blog posts and comments throughout the day," Lamont said. "We may make copyediting or headline changes, but, basically, we're hands-off." However, he said the bloggers are asked to sign a five-page agreement before they start. "We want to make sure they understand plagiarism, libel and other issues journalists should know," he said.

Bloggers are integral to the editorial strategy at CNET Networks' ZDNet. "We have built a network of about 30 bloggers, of whom 90% are freelancers. Collectively, they do anywhere from 20 to 30 postings per day," said Dan Farber, VP-editorial. "We have a home page for blogs, and they're distributed and linked to throughout the site and our newsletters."

The key to managing bloggers, Farber said, is the selection process. "At ZDNet, we try to be a filter in this age of information overload, so we select bloggers who fit our tone and whose addition will be healthy for our brand." He said blogs add expertise, knowledge and point of view in a way that's less formal than a news story, adding: "But all the principles of good journalism apply."

To ensure that, one editor is assigned to work with bloggers, although blog posts do not go through the normal newsroom process. "We provide lots of guidelines to help them achieve our common goal of readable, succinct and accurate blogs," Farber said.

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