June 26, 2006

Grandpa Learns To Set The Time on the VCR

If my archives are correct--and there's no reason to think they're not--I really, officially, wholeheartedly started blogging in April of 2002 (the February entry was kind of like a test drive). It was thanks to my former co-worker, Jen, that I actually started blogging at all, and later thanks to Jim, for bringing me to mu.nu so I could post pictures of my ass.

At any rate, I've been at this blogging thing now for about four years. I don't profess to be good at it, but I am somewhat familiar with it.

I'm also a journalist by education and profession (although my current IBM gig entails a pretty healthy mix of journalism, marketing, public relations and putting-up-with-corporate-politics, but I have a loose-to-non-existent moral code, so I'm okay with that).

My time in newspapers probably only amounts to two years total, but in that time I did make some observations, chief among them being that the people working at newspapers generally hold pretty high opinions of themselves, and those high opinions tended to elevate even higher depending on how big a given newspaper was.

So, for example, the 10 months I slagged away at a family-owned weekly newspaper, there was the feeling of knowing that we were at the pulse of everything that went on in a town of 5,000+, from city council meetings, to school board meetings to pretty much everything. Similarly, when I worked for a moderate-sized daily newspaper, there was this feeling of knowing more about the community than the average Joe on the street. Also--again back when I worked at the weekly--we actually went to print at the Rochester Post-Bulletin, which is pretty much the major newspaper of note in Southeastern Minnesota. And, again, when we went to print each Monday, there was this insular air of "knowing," that seemed to permeate everything. And with that "knowing" came this feeling of self-importance and being special.

All of which is a long-winded way of setting up how amusing it's been watching the worlds of newspapers and blogs collide.

Case in point.

Editor: newspaper's blogs run gamut of topics, styles

Really? Kind of like oh, say, blogs in general.

Writers are aiming to combine the standards of professional journalism with the instant impact of blogs.

Ah, yes, the much-lauded standards of professional journalism, those un-impeachable yet strangely-undefinable standards that make newspaper journalists so unsullied and clean. Pure as the freshly-fallen snow they are. They have standards. What kind of standards? Standards of professional journalism! *cue the parting clouds, sunbeam and angellic "ahhhhhhh" sound*

Man, and that's just the headline and sub-head. This is going to be a long fisking.

Not long after Star Tribune staffer Chris Carr crossed the finish line of his first marathon last weekend, while still damp from a plunge into Lake Superior, he sat down at his laptop to tell readers of his popular blog how the 26-mile race had gone.

At which point he applied his professional journalistic standards, of course.

"It's all over but the celebrating," he wrote, after a 4-hour, 43-minute run that was a respectable end to 10 weeks of training he chronicled on the blog in painful detail. Over those weeks, 700 fellow runners posted advice, while 30,000 readers visited the site to follow his story.

I'll admit it, I didn't follow Chris's painfully detailed blog over the past ten weeks, but I am good at very rudimentary math. Okay, I'm adequate at rudimentary math. Let's see. . . 10 weeks = 2.5 months. 30,000 divided by 2.5 = 12,000 a month. Rambling Rhodes blog traffic for the month of May = 10,000. In other words, Chris Carr's "marathon" blog is pretty much about as "popular" as mine (and Chris has the backing of a major metro daily to boot), so this editorial piece seems to smell of marketing schtick (which is all true, but largely meaningless). But that can't be right; after all, there's supposed to be professional journalistic standards going on here.

Chris is one of a dozen Star Tribune writers who've adapted this Internet tool to bring a new dimension to the paper and experiment with a whole different style of reporting.

Yes. A "whole different style of reporting" which has been in use by bloggers for about half-a-decade, and by other Internet geeks for a over a decade. Yet the Strib is just now "experimenting" with it. For me, this just speaks volumes about the insular community of newspaper newsrooms: it's only new when they do it. Oh, sure, blogs have been around for years, but THEY'RE blogging with those time-honored professional journalistic standards, so that makes Strib blogs SPECIAL.

The blogs take on all sorts of topics, including pop music, politics, gardening, sports, personal finance, history, the Internet, weather, world news, even the inner workings of this paper and website. (You can find them highlighted on StarTribune.com, or click "blogs" under "opinion" at the top of the homepage.)

Ooh, the interworkings of the paper and Web site?! Do tell!

The idea is to blend the immediacy and give-and-take of blogging with the thorough reporting and wide reach of (the) Star Tribune.

The word "the" comes courtesy of Rambling Rhodes, since those layers and layers of editorial oversight at the Strib apparently missed that one.

While the paper has long thrived on letters, e-mails and counterpoints from readers, the instant cumulative impact of a blog has a power and appeal all its own.

In other news, water is wet, dust is dry and Paris Hilton is praying-mantis-ugly.

When reporter Eric Black started "The Big Question" as a way to take on the pressing policy issues of the day, postings came from every perspective, creating some of the best debates the paper has fostered in print or online.

Good! A little late to the game. . . but good!

When Kara McGuire, columnist for the youth-oriented finance page Ka-Ching, started "Ka-Blog," she heard from so many readers she began spotting trends long before they became apparent elsewhere.

When weather writer Bill McAuliffe launched "AirMass," meteorologists from around the state started posting, a collective expertise that could hardly fit in one room.

Good! A little late to the game. . . but good! Er, well, "Ka-Blog" is a little lame, but overall: good!

It's still an open question whether a digital phenomenon developed in part to compete with mainstream media will truly thrive on a newspaper website.

Well, not with that attitude, mister.

And now this editorial/commentary piece completely flies off the rails. Follow along, if you will, as it devolves into self-congratulatory nonsense and outright stupidity.

Where most blogs are built on attitude and opinion, reporters are trained to keep themselves out of their work.

Uh. . . huh. So, earlier, when Chris Carr's marathon blog mentioned "painful" detail, that was an example of how Strib bloggers keep themselves out of their work?

Or, better yet, let's quote from Carr's blog:

The mind and the body need to be pushed occasionally, I'm arguing. I don't ever remember thinking "I really want to run a marathon," and I know my body never asked to work for 26.2 miles. But something inside of me must have known it was time to roll up the sleeves and chase down a big yellow-highlighted square on the calendar. Having something to shoot for, fighting for it and rallying to get to my finish line gave me a feeling that I plan to ride as long as I can.

See? That's nice and detached reporting right there. There's no injecting of personal opinion or anything. Unvarnished professional journalistic standards at their best.

Where many blogs are known for loose talk, newspaper blogs must rely on accuracy, precision and the same standards used to put out the paper.

*Edna Krabapple* HA! *Edna Krabapple* This from the same newspaper that routinely publishes NICK COLEMAN material.

The hope is that our writers will blend the best of both worlds -- and thus extend this tool to the Star Tribune's audience and open the paper up to readers in new ways.

Again, it's good that the Strib is making forays into a realm where newspapers clearly have to go, but it's this holier-than-other-blogs-because-of-our-standards nonsense that they can do without.

Welcome to the blog world, Strib. But, please, remember that you're a good five years or more behind the times, so stop pretending you're better.

Posted by Ryan at June 26, 2006 11:07 AM | TrackBack

I didn't buy it when tech-geeks gushed over blogging in the late 90s, I didn't buy it when bloggers started getting full of themselves around the last election, and I don't buy the "mainstream medias" hype around it now.

For 90% of the population the hype about blogging is just a tempest in a teapot.

Posted by: DG at June 27, 2006 07:22 PM

I don't know if I believe the hype, either, but the fact that newspapers are trying to get into the game tells me they're feeling the heat to get in the game. The publication company I work for just started their own seriously lame-assed blogs (and I mean LAME), in an effort to court younger readers. I'll have to e-mail you a link to one of the gem blogs so you can get a feel for how horribly lame it is (don't want to link to it here, for obvious reasons).

Posted by: Ryan at June 27, 2006 08:01 PM

Which would, of course, require your e-mail address.

Posted by: Ryan at June 27, 2006 08:03 PM

I thoroughly enjoy the dissection and analysis of pieces like this and the Coleman columns. You have just the right touch of misanthrope in your blood.

Posted by: Alger_Hiss at June 29, 2006 06:48 AM
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