Tim Dunlop, of the leftish blog Road to Surfdom, is a few days into his News Ltd Blogocracy gig. Generally, newspaper attempts to run blogs haven’t been that successful. Maybe that’s why they have brought in a successful blogger, rather than trying to repackage journalists as bloggers.
But perhaps blogs haven’t worked on newspapers because the differences between them are too great. The most successful news-driven blogs – like Lavartus Prodeo on the left or Tim Blair on the right – are to me much closer to talkback radio than to newspapers or magazines. Both news-blogs and talkback are heavily reliant on print media for their stories, but add opinion – often of a strongly held and predictable kind from the blogger/presenter – and the opportunity for the general public to have their usually only slightly mediated say.
Personally, neither talkback nor the news-blogs do much for me. I want to learn new things, not read things I know already or could easily guess. I think Lavartus Prodeo isn’t nearly as good as it was when it was Mark Bahnisch’s thoughtful solo blog. Though there is still the occasional reflective and informative post, most of it is just the day’s soft-left talking points. Yet clearly this is a winning formula, as the site visit and page view statistics Mark sends around show.
The issue the newspapers are working on is whether the two forms of media can be combined. Though most newspapers have political leanings, all the main daily papers in Australia try to provide some balance and quality control (within the constraints of limited expertise and short deadlines). By contrast, the successful blogs, like successful talkback shows, thrive on being opinionated, with the quality control mostly after rather than before publication, via critical comments and calls.
Are newspapers taking risks with their reputations in adopting the blog format? I think there is some danger that the newspapers’ already fragile credibility could be undermined further by blogs which lack fact-checking or balance. But perhaps the more likely outcome is that the newspaper blogs won’t generate enough traffic to justify their existence, as they don’t provide the kind of content people who go to newspaper websites are trying to find.