Your newspaper's print circulation is declining. The staff is smaller. Your newsroom managers are so obsessed with boosting Internet traffic that they're waking up in the middle of the night screaming about hit counts and RSS feeds. So what do they want the arts staff to do?
It's happening at papers all over. Managers are discovering that blogs about entertainment and the arts can drive traffic. Ours, at The Fresno Bee, is doing well. Not only that, but well written blogs can draw in regional and national audiences, which hit-count-loving corporate types love.
At a Newspaper Guild gathering at a Fresno pizza place last week, we got together to talk about the B word. Blogs are all the rage, of course, and editors who a couple of years ago wouldn't have known a browser from a button hole are now fretting over Top 10 read-stories lists and figuring out how to work "Facebook" into every lifestyle section headline.
We didn't come up with many answers at our lunchtime meeting. But I think it was healthy that we tackled the topic in the first place. The big unanswered question: How can you be expected to do the job you were doing pre-Internet while also filling the Web's insatiable appetite for fresh, constantly updated content? Is cloning legal?
Here's some of what we agreed upon:
Newsrooms need to realize that not all blogs are created equal. Some papers, in a panic, are telling reporters to throw anything they can online and call it a blog. Compilations of news updates, briefs, rewritten press releases and stuff that wasn't interesting enough to get into the print edition might be considered by some people to be blogs, but the time commitment is a lot different when you're producing original (and well-written) commentary.
Blogs take time. I'd love to see every editor in America go through the process of writing and tending to a blog for a week: posting daily, inserting appropriate links, uploading photographs, monitoring comments, responding to readers. Only then, I think, will managers really begin to realize how much time it can take to maintain a good blog. Just one complicated entry -- a roundup of recommended arts events for the weekend, say, rife with links, photos and commentary -- can take a good hour to put together. There's more to writing a blog than just throwing up a few sentences online. Bloggers know that good entries can require additional reporting, fact-checking and -- most important -- a distinctive tone. Sure, there are blogs out there consisting of stream-of-consciousness, rough-draft material. And they read like it.
Blogs need to be promoted. Cross-promotion between the print product and the online product is essential. Blogs can be used to expand on print stories or offer multimedia experiences for readers. Almost every arts/entertainment advance story written today can use a YouTube clip, for example. Often, for an arts feature, a newspaper's photography department will have three or four great shots but will only have room for one in the print edition, so use the rest online. If you have a great local film or theater fesitval in town but only have room to print the top winner, refer people to the Web site for the other awards. (And clips, too, if they're available.) One thing I do with my theater reviews for The Fresno Bee is run longer reviews online, then condense them in print. Cross-promoting can work the other way, too. If you have a great story in print, give a pitch for it online and give the link. Promotion on the paper's home page is essential, too. Often, blogs are buried and hard to find. I've seen newspaper Web sites that make you go on a Treasure Hunt just to find that day's arts stories, and even then you aren't always successful.
Think big. At my paper's blog last week, our pop music writer, Mike Osegueda, actually organized a last-minute music concert at a local venue, then promoted it virally online. All of us bloggers showed up and made a party of it.
Reader interaction is crucial. I'm often told by readers how much they appreciate that I (and my fellow features bloggers) take the time to moderate discussions, offer comments and answer questions. As you build a readership, the sense of community grows. That's one of the things that keeps regular readers coming back.
Alas, all these things take time. That's what our first meeting was all about. And it made me realize that I'd like to ask fellow arts-journalist bloggers (and others as well) reading this entry how other people out there are coping: How are people managing the time demands of this new blogging era? Have editors reduced expectations for number of print stories produced in order to accommodate more blogging? Is blogging something you do at the "end of the day" if you have time, or is it given first priority? Any tips for more efficient blogging? Are any arts-journalist bloggers out there being pulled from print duty entirely and told to blog till the cows come home?
And, finally, does anyone out there have any examples of good blogs doing good things but aren't slowly killing the people who write them?