No blinding flash of revelation here, just a decision to write down what has been in my head for quite some time regarding journalism, newspapers and blogging.

It has been brought into sharper focus in recent days by the storm in a check-out queue created by one of The Birmingham Post’s guest bloggers.

I wondered on my own blog whether such sites should have a few more controls than personal blogs, or if that would go against the basic principals of blogging – freedom of expression for all.

Now the Post blogger has, in my view, compounded his original folly with a follow-up article.

I firmly believe that blogs work best when the boundaries are either blurred beyond recognition, or simply do not exist.

So why am I still in a lather about these two items on the Post’s News Blogs?

Well, it is “our” News Blog. Isn’t it?

And so, by the same token, it is “our” Birmingham Post as well.

Certainly the recent relaunch of the newspaper’s website was based around the idea of creating a community of bloggers. I doubt that means creating a clique, more a community that expands to include the paper’s print and online readership.

Therefore, it isn’t a personal news blog. If it was, I would have stopped reading the original post way before the end and would have not commented on it all, resolving to never darken the door of that particular site again (other than the odd bit of lurking to confirm my suspicions).

But I don’t want to give up on The Birmingham Post or its blogs, because it is “my” newspaper and they are “my” blogs.

Admittedly, as a former employee of the Post and still a very occasional contributor, I feel a strong pull towards the paper. But it would still exist if I didn’t have those established links as that pull is also something I feel towards other publications I enjoy reading and which I’ve never contributed to.

I don’t expect to agree with every word written in the Post (or, now, on its blogs). I didn’t agree with every word written in the paper when I was employed by it.

But, along with other media organisations with public blogs, I expect certain things – ranging from standards of writing, to not treating its readership with contempt.

I expect to be challenged, I expect to be annoyed and frustrated, I expect to laugh, I expect to admire the way a particular article has been written, I expect to disagree, I expect to nod my head enthusiastically in agreement.

I don’t expect to be patronised. I don’t expect to stay mute when something appears that angers me.

Above all, I don’t expect to be made to feel grateful with any old words thrown together simply because it appears in print or on the blogs.

I do expect a lot more from “our” newspaper and “our” blogs.

The events of the last few days on the Post’s blogs have got me thinking of another recent and far more high-profile newspaper blog furore – the now infamous Guardian-Gogarty debacle.

Although that quickly escalated into some fairly puerile and personal accusations – something which has happened on a smaller scale with the Post’s blogger – at the heart of the storm were several hundred (thousand?) Guardian readers who felt affronted at what they deemed a dramatic drop in standards.

They felt their newspaper had let them down. Worse still, they felt their newspaper was treating them with contempt and in a very high-handed manner was feeding them any old rubbish on the understanding that the readers should just be very grateful to receive.

I’m not entirely convinced the Post has fallen into this trap, but possibly some of the adverse reaction can be traced to this belief that we expect something more from “our” bloggers on “our” newspapers.

We are all new to this, even those with a lot more experience than the rest of us.

So we are all learning from our mistakes and by listening to what others have to say. No-one has all the answers.

The Post’s blogs have apparently enjoyed a successful debut, according to web traffic figures. But that doesn’t mean to say it has the right blueprint yet.

These are exciting times at the Post, what with a new website, an imminent move to new offices at Fort Dunlop and a Twitter revolution in the newsroom.

And yet some old newspaper and journalistic rules surely still apply – such as maintaining standards and not alienating readers.

Exerting editorial control over a newspaper’s blogs, particularly when you’ve invited guest bloggers to take part, is a tricky little issue.

Different rules apply – blogs that get published might get spiked by unimpressed news editors if one of their journalists presented it for publication in the paper. Equally, articles that appear in print do not necessarily work as blogs because they are too rigid and traditional in their construction.

For a newspaper finding the balance between the new and exciting and the traditional is the key and is something we are all still learning – hence the Guardian-Gogarty nonsense.

If the original article on the Post’s News Blog that kick-started all this was aimed at highlighting a lack of manners, respect and common courtesy in society (I’m still unsure it was and that alone is a problem), then that is fertile ground for any blogger.

The fact that the real lack of manners, respect and courtesy on show was the blogger’s own means it failed as blog post. To follow it up with a post that, in my view, compounds the original folly makes it all the more maddening.

That is why I’m so frustrated at the post on our blog, run by our newspaper.

Making mistakes is inevitable and acceptable.

Not accepting them and learning from them is the crime.

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10 responses »

  1. Ursula says:

    Paul, your frustration is understandable. You have highlighted one of the reasons why I don’t read newspapers’ blogs. As you lamented the other day, a paper’s blogs need to be edited to the standard of its printed pages. No question.

    I quickly checked out the ‘Guardian Gogarty’ debacle. 400 plus comments, judging by the first twenty I skimmed, full of venom. Why even give it the time? If there hadn’t been a peep in response I am sure both the 19 year old and the Guardian would have got the message more quickly than you can say “silence”, “no echo”, “what’s the point”.

    As you say, blogging is a new platform, and whilst we can experiment with our private blogs trying to find a voice, it is disappointing that it appears that anything goes when the press should know better. Even more laughable, Paul, considering how carefully a paper’s readers’ letters are edited – often patronizing and most certainly self serving.

    On a positive note, maybe the art of blogging is at its potty stage: Some successes, some misses.

    U

  2. […] Blogging in “our” newspapers « Groves Media … I expect to disagree, I expect to nod my head enthusiastically in agreement. I don’t expect to be patronised. I don’t expect to stay mute when something appears that angers me. (tags: birmingham_blogs birmingham_post) […]

  3. Clifford says:

    I can’t get rid of a suspicion that you have written the above only because you disagreed with the content of the post.

    After all there are plenty of BP posts which are trivial, thrown together, poorly written etc. and you have said nothing about those. There are plenty of BP bloggers who rarely publish anything and you don’t chide them. Phil Davis – nothing in two months – isn’t that treating the concept with contempt?

    So it all comes down to content. I (and some of the other commenters) didn’t feel any of the things you did – so there is room for a difference of opinion.

    And if it is ‘your’ newspaper and ‘mine’ it is also ‘his’.

  4. Paul Groves says:

    Clifford: I’m afraid you’re mistaken in your suspicion. My wife has been listening to me talking about the Post’s blogs pretty much since the day Jo Geary mentioned they were doing it on her own blog.
    Roshan’s post galvanised my thoughts. I initially responded to it not because it was him, but because of the fact I took issue with what he wrote for a number of reasons (not simply the issue of good and bad manners).
    As a former news editor, I would have spiked it if one of the journalists I worked with had presented it to me. But I understand the many differences between newspaper articles and blogs. I actually felt it failed as a blog post too.
    I’ve commented on other Post bloggers when I’ve been sufficiently moved to do so (Roshan’s other posts included) and more positively than this occasion. The fact Phil Davies hasn’t posted anything for 2 months suggests he doesn’t hang around a lot, so I choose not to waste my time.
    I read a lot of blogs and I comment on a lot of blogs.
    I also read a lot of blogs and never leave a comment – maybe they’ve said everything I wanted to hear, maybe I’m not interested in adding to that particular debate. The beauty of blogging is that we get to pick and choose and not get dictated to – as happens in traditional formats.
    As a journalist for 20 years I’m learning a hell of a lot in a very short space of time and this post was the result of what has been going through my head since I decided to start this blog around two years ago.

  5. Clifford says:

    Paul, you didn’t like the post or the follow up, other did.

    So what?

    You seem to be suggesting that because of your background you are best equipped to decide what succeeds and fails as a blog post. If so you are wasting your time. If people don’t like it, they will stop reading and the blog owner will take action or not.

    I’ve stopped reading Doug because I think he’s boring but I wouldn’t dream of suggesting…what? Not sure what you are suggesting. Shut him down? Exercise ‘editorial control’? Have a ‘quiet word’? What?

  6. Paul Groves says:

    Clifford: No, I’m suggesting that most newspapers and journalists (if not all) are on a steep learning curve regarding Web 2.0 generally and blogging specifically. I include myself in that and I use my own personal blog and others I read regularly to try and accelerate this process.
    I’m not sure the Post’s model is right at the moment, but neither are most newspaper blogs. A free-for-all approach doesn’t work for me, but equally editorial control goes against the grain for blogs and blogging. I’m suggesting newspapers need to find a common ground between the traditional way of working and the new approach presented by blogging. But trial and error is a dangerous method, it might lose them far more readers than it will gain them.
    People can come and go as they please on my blog. It doesn’t impact on the fact I’m making a living.
    But for a newspaper the issue of who comes to their blog, who stays, who doesn’t bother, who takes offence and stops reading, who enjoys reading the blogs and starts taking the paper as well is far more pressing and crucial to their survival.

  7. Clifford says:

    Paul, yes accept that entirely. However the relatively free for all approach doesn’t seem to have done the Guardian any harm – perhaps because it seems to chime with that paper’s core values?

    Which leads us on to the Post. To me, conservative, boring, insubstantial, unsure of it’s role in the Midlands, poor production values, not much news. Lots of its blogs seem to reflect that!

  8. Paul Groves says:

    Clifford: In some respects the Guardian sets a high benchmark as a truly online newspaper. But it isn’t immune to getting it wrong either, sometimes spectacularly so.
    I think the Post has failed to deliver on its potential for many years now. It has no natural rival, in any form of media, within the Midlands and yet it has lacked the self-confidence and resources to go for it. I’m more hopeful for its future than when I worked there, but it should be punching way above its weight.

  9. […] Blogging in “our” newspapers – Paul Groves asks some important and interesting questions about blogs in newspapers. I should address this myself since I blog for the paper in question. […]

  10. […] then it all goes back to the crux of the newspapers and blogging issue for […]

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