In my last post (“Doubting Thomases“), I began answering the questions of editors who are nervous about publishing local bloggers in their websites and print products.
Prior to my speech Oct. 2 in Vienna, Austria at the International Newsmedia Marketing Association’s Europe 2008 conference, the organizers posed the questions they’d been getting from editors concerned about the use of user-generated content.
In my last post, I answered the first question, “Don’t third-party content providers threaten our hard-earned credibilty?”
Here are questions #2 and #3:
2. Editors are responsible for what they publish. How can they take responsibility for authors and content they know nothing about?
By using good research and good judgment.
When editors sign contracts with columnists, they read the columnists’ past clips, interview them and “take their measure.” After that, they have no idea what any columnist is going to write and, unless the editor practices censorship, they don’t interfere. The editors trust their own initial judgment and, increasingly, the reputation of the writer for producing quality work.
It’s the same thing with any blogger an editor chooses to aggregate on his or her website. Either the editor or someone like myself conducts the same “due diligence” on bloggers you would do for columnists. In my work with newspapers to identify the top local bloggers, I bring 36 years of publishing experience and high journalistic standards to my analyses of those bloggers. I review their body of work with a critical eye and determine that not only do they know what they’re writing about but also that they write well. I also check to see what their peers in their field think about them.
And you don’t stop there. Just like your columnists, you monitor what the bloggers are writing. If any cross any accuracy, ethical, or legal lines, you cut them off, just like you would a columnist.
3. Don’t you see any difference between blogs written by professional journalists and blogs by readers with no such a background? When you put them together on the website or in print, you make this distinction disappear. Are you sure it is right?
There IS a difference between professional journalists and bloggers.
Most bloggers are not trained journalists. Professional journalists have years of experience writing well-researched, well-reported stories and are held to standards of balance and research that do not necessarily apply to bloggers.
Additionally, editors cannot direct bloggers. Newspapers need staffs to cover what the editors determine is news worthy. Look at the randomness, and often slanted nature, of sites that depend solely on user-generated content. We will always need editors and reporters to carry on the mission of good journalism.
That said, however, the bloggers you would choose to publish on your website and in your paper are not “pajama bloggers” writing about their political rants, fantasy sex lives or cool tattoos. You choose people who are either professionals in their field or are very gifted writers and observers in the field of their choice.
Nonetheless, to make sure your readers understand the distinction between your staff writers and the bloggers, when you put bloggers on a web or print page with or near your staffers’ work, you should make a graphic distinction between them. Use an icon, a logo or some form of text or graphic that makes it clear that the blogger is distinct from a professional staff member of your paper.
Questions #4 and #5 in my next post (soon!):
#4: Do you see any limits of readers’ involvement in the editorial process?
#5: Aggregating existing content is cheaper than producing original content. It is a nice idea for publishers looking around for cost-cutting.