I just returned from Vienna, Austria where I spoke to the International Newsmedia Marketing Association’s Europe Outlook 2009 Conference about using local bloggers to enhance their reach, relevance and revenue.
(By the way: Those folks know how to drink! Unlike too many of my American editorial friends who drink to get morose — not a long trip — and stupid, these people drank to have fun. We started with a traditional “Heuriger Dinner” at 8 and were still going strong at 2, taking turns singing drinking songs from each country. With more than 20 countries in attendance, we provided quite a musical buffet at the restaurant, on the bus back to the hotel and in the hotel bar! I’m looking for good American, especially Boston, drinking songs if anyone has suggestions!)
The audience — publishers, editors and marketing directors from more than 20 countries — were very interested in adding local bloggers to their content mix. I have already heard from newspapers in Hungary, England, India, France, Sweden, Belgium, and Poland about how to go about integrating user-generated content in their publications’ websites and print products.
The questions and concerns were the same that I hear when I speak to American editors: What about our hard-earned credibility? How can I trust writers I don’t know? Isn’t there a difference between professional journalists and bloggers? Is there a limit to reader involvement? Couldn’t this just be a publisher trick to cut staff? And, how long will bloggers be willing to do this for free?
I have answered the first three questions in the last two blog posts: The answer to the concern about protecting your credibility is here. And my answers to the questions about trusting writers you don’t know and about the difference between pros and bloggers are here.
Now I’ll tackle two of the last three questions:
#4: Do you see any limits of readers’ involvement in the editorial process?
On the one hand, readers have a much broader knowledge of what is going on in your market than you do. After all, they are everywhere while you and your reporters are not. They are also more diverse than the usual contingent of a few older males and smattering of females in a news meeting trying to decide what’s of interest to their readers. Using readers as sources of stories and story ideas can expand the breadth and appeal of your story selection and should be an essential part of the editorial process at all newspapers.
At BostonNOW, I webcast my daily news meetings. Readers could watch and listen to our discussions. If they had a suggestion, they could type it out and it was projected on the wall of our meeting room. We would then respond directly to the reader. We’d actually turn to the camera and talk to them! We got story ideas that we would NEVER have thought of on our own. And the readers got the feeling that they were a part of our newspaper and that it reflected their interests.
But that’s as far as it should go. Ultimately, the newspaper and website are OUR products. We decide what we publish. No one else.
5. Aggregating existing content is cheaper than producing original content. It is a nice idea for publishers looking around for cost-cutting. Aren’t you afraid that your idea to integrate reader-generated content in the newspaper online and in print will in fact lead to further downsizing of professional newsrooms?
No. Only a publisher determined to destroy his local news franchise would replace journalists with bloggers.
Bloggers are not professional reporters who are trained to gather ALL of the information and put it into a story that is as complete and balanced and objective as possible.
Editors can direct reporters to cover important news events. Bloggers go where they want and write what they want.
Besides, most bloggers do NOT write about news. And those good bloggers who do write about news are more akin to columnists, commenting and offering informed perspective.
News is not where you would be using bloggers for the most part anyway. You will find far more bloggers writing in your market about sports, fashion, cars, entertainment, lifestyle, music, technology, etc.
You are looking to bloggers to expand the breadth of your coverage, adding value to existing verticals and enabling you to create lots of new verticals and increase ad inventory.
The last question posed by the European editors was:
6. Are you sure that community bloggers will be willing to produce their content for free in the future, as they mostly do now? How will it affect newspaper economics if these bloggers ask for a payment?
The answer to that one in my next post….