Should your paper have an internet section?

by Jason Preston on October 24, 2008

I’m not sure I know the answer to this question. Is there a difference between being part of the blogosphere and just covering it? Should newspapers consider reporting on the internet as much as they are participating in it?

On the one hand, the idea of a “section” is a little outmoded; there’s no “produce” aisle on Amazon Fresh.

But on the other hand, most newspapers still have a print product, and spinning out an independent section would represent a significant dedication to covering and understanding what’s being done in the online world.

I think it would be interesting to have a team of journalists and editors working to cover the online conversation the way that the Big Blog covers the conversation in Seattle.

What do you think?


1 Angela Dice 10.24.08 at 11:17 am

This is my first time commenting here after meeting you and learning about your blog at Bigfoot, so hi!

While I think you make a good point about covering what’s happening in the online community, but I think it’s a mistake to group all online into one section or place, unless you’re specifically talking about new applications and technology.

What we’ve missed out on at newspapers is being a part of various communities that exist online and integrating it into our regular content.

2 Seth Long 10.24.08 at 4:49 pm

I think Angela is correct. Integration makes more sense to me than putting internet coverage in a separate section or ghetto.

Any more you likely aren’t the only news org covering a hot topic in your community. Other professional and non-professional (read: bloggers) news orgs are all working on the same story so why not include a reaction sidebar in print that includes headlines or quotes from other local sources? (See Scott Karp’s notes about this >here.

If your story went online ahead of your print edition, why not include some reader comments with the print story?

As for covering the online conversation as a topic, why treat it differently? A good story is a good story regardless of where it happens (bits vs. atoms). The real issue here, if I understand your original question, is getting reporters to be part of the conversation – or at least a spectator – in the first place so they know what’s going on. Once you have reporters engaged, they can treat the network as just another source for stories.

3 Dan 10.24.08 at 8:46 pm

Back in 2005 one of my big questions to my newspaper colleagues was “Is the Internet local?” Because like most metros, we were already on the warpath for a hyperlocal future even then.

I think the Web IS local, at least in the sense that it’s an immediate part of the lives we lead. And increasingly, it’s not only personally local, but geographically local, too.

In 2006 I launched a newspaper blog in which I covered the local blogosphere. That original list was 31 bloggers. Within a few months I was reading more than 100 local bloggers, and we’d hired a local blogger named Heather Solos part-time to replace me. That $100-a-week hire put us at the center of a growing community of writers and creatives (although yes, absolutely, it is many communities of interest, not just one).

Earlier this year, long after I’d moved on to another job, the company chose to stop funding that blog. So Heather took the reading lists she’d developed, partnered-up with another local blogger, and (much to the delight of their readers) re-opened the site on their own domain, with ambitios plans to fully develop the concept.

There are more than 300 bloggers on the list now, the group has numerous meet-ups and social events, the online creative community here is beginning to flex its muscles on a regional scale, and if you participate in that social network, you’re a highly informed person because of it.

So here’s a thought: If you DON’T cover your online communities, you’re not part of them. They WILL develop, with or without you. Once they develop without you, you become irrelevant, and that’s a lousy future.

Could you integrate coverage of online communities and events into your regular product? Duh. But you’re going to have to learn to deal with new media without the standard, patronizing Big Media attitude.

The new privately run site, BTW, is Lowcountry Bloggers, and now that I’m no longer employed by the local metro I volunteer to do a community roundup once a week.

4 Angela Dice 10.25.08 at 1:47 pm

Dan, that looks pretty interesting and a good idea. I felt it was patronizing to put bloggers into their own little section and community instead of recognizing them as part of the topical or regional communities we already cover, but it looks like what you started has been pretty successful. Looks like what you started was a pretty successful model.

5 Jason Preston 10.27.08 at 9:45 am

Angela – First off, welcome to the blog! Glad to have you in this community 😉

I think you’re right that the internet isn’t a “one-topic” place. I have to admit I was thinking geography when I wrote this; find the bloggers who are writing in or about King Kounty, say, and “cover” them in the Seattle Times.

But the more important part is recognizing that “what happened online?” might be as important a beat as “what happened on 3rd Ave S?”

Seth – Yes, there should definitely be more media-integration. I love the idea of putting comments from an advance-online story into the print edition.

Once again I think you have it: the question is, how can reporters become more engaged?

Dan – That is a fantastic story!

My favorite nugget: “But you’re going to have to learn to deal with new media without the standard, patronizing Big Media attitude.”

That’s is probably the most important lesson any journalist can learn when dealing with bloggers-at-large.

6 Dan 10.27.08 at 10:02 am

Here’s something to consider: If you’ve got a community blog aggregator (automated or human), it’s a fantastic tool for generating stories, finding sources, filtering and delivering messages, etc. I spent years as a city editor, so I approach that daily local blog feed as I would a news wire: You’ve got to spot the gems amidst the mud, but if you’re scanning it every day, you’re going to get local stories and angles the competition simply misses.

Examples: A local photoblogger noticed someone stealing headstones from a historic churchyard and ran him off by pointing her camera at him. We put a reporter on it, used one of her pictures, and linked to her site… A local weather geek noticed a weird news alert about a hurricane forming off the coast of our city and figured out where it came from. I called the national weather service and wrote a story that explained how an inhouse test jumped the firewall and became a worldwide false alarm. And so on.

The irony is, most of my colleagues didn’t see much value in reading that aggregator of community voices. For all our talk about wanting to get away from institutional news sources, the truth that most of us are addicted to them.

I suggest that every community needs multiple media (big media, small media, new media, old media) aggregators, and that you should build them and support them not as products to “monetize” but as assets to make your coverage better.

7 Jason Preston 10.29.08 at 3:02 pm

dan – that’s very forward thinking, and a strategy that I think more news organizations should be exploring. It reminds me of a feature I had built in to my old video gaming web site (flicker gaming), where people could submit gaming news links in the sidebar and vote them up or down. We would pull the good /popular ones for “real” stories.

Commented from iPhone.

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