Over my last two posts, I have answered five of the most common questions I get from editors curious or nervous about incorporating bloggers in their newspapers and websites. Three posts ago, I answered questions about risking hard-won credibility. Two posts ago, I addressed fears of losing control of content, and the differences between professional journalists and reporters. And in my last post, I talked about the limits to reader involvement, and the fear of bloggers enabling publishers to cut staff.
The sixth and last question, about bloggers’ willingness to trade content for exposure, is one I get from editors and bloggers alike. Here are my thoughts on that subject:
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?
Right now, most bloggers are DYING for exposure. Most bloggers get a trickle of traffic and make no money at all. Many bloggers start out writing lots of posts but then lose steam as they discover very few people are reading their work. They get no psychic or financial reward for their efforts and too often they give up.
The bloggers who posted on BostonNOW were thrilled with the opportunity to be promoted on the website of a daily big-city newspaper and periodically to be excerpted in 110,000 copies of the print product. Suddenly, those bloggers were getting traffic from people and places and in numbers they’d never dreamed possible. They were becoming mini-stars and were increasingly recognized as important voices in their chosen area of expertise.
(Here’s an interview with a BostonNOW blogger, videoblogger Steve Garfield, who talks about the benefits of being a blogger in a metro daily.)
A few bloggers complained that the newspaper was making money off the unpaid labors of the bloggers (note: as a start-up, however, we weren’t making money at all, never mind off of the bloggers). But they were in a minority.
To prove the point, I talked with one of the most savvy bloggers in the US at a conference in Lowell, MA early in the life of BostonNOW. Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association, was accredited by the Associated Press to cover the trial of the former chief of staff for U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. The Lewis “Scooter” Libby trial was a big deal and Cox’s blog was distributed to 600 newspaper websites in the U.S. and around the world. I asked Cox if the AP paid him. “No,” he said. Did the papers that picked up his stories pay him? “No.” Did that bother him? “No.” Why not? “I have optimized my site for monetization and the amount of money I can make dwarfs any freelance check the AP might write me,” he said.
For now, most bloggers are happy to get the exposure for their message and reap the emotional and modest financial rewards that come from appearing in major metro daily newspapers’ websites and print products. If a blogger doesn’t want to trade content for exposure but wants to get paid, he or she can wait to share their content with a newspaper until media companies figure out a way to monetize their websites more effectively. In the meantime, I believe they are cutting off their noses to spite their faces….
All this might change, and it should change for any bloggers who break away from the pack and become key factors in the success of a media company. But if bloggers are smart and maximize their optimization, they should be happy with the symbiotic relationship newspapers offer for the foreseeable future.