This week, motorcycle enthusiast Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor of the New York Times, said that his department is starting a new blog, "The Board." It'll join the paper's 14 other Opinion section blogs, including the Opinionator, which discusses the op-ed pages of other newspapers and will benefit from being freed from the Times now-dead paywall, TimesSelect. The Times looks to be the newspaper blog leader—they have 40 active blogs, not counting seasonal blogs like David Carr's movie awards season craziness, beating the Guardian with 18, the New York Daily News with 22, the Wall Street Journal with 16 active blogs, the Los Angeles Times with 27, the San Francisco Chronicle with 26, the Miami Herald with 31, and the Chicago Tribune with 33, for a random sampling. But. Do you read any of these blogs?
Nearly all newspaper websites mistakenly segregate their blogs off with the other blogs. They're organizing by form, not by content. (The Times does a better job, both promoting blog posts on the front page and integrating each blog's content into existing sections.)
Readers just don't come to a newspaper's website looking for a messy passel of blogs. They come looking for sports, or fashion, no matter what "form" it's in. Old newspaper editors may think blogs are some crazy different variety of publication; readers don't.
The result of this bias at newspapers is the unbelievably horrible web organization of their websites. (Or! It may be a result of their already horrible web organization. They've shoehorned a place for blogs into their existing designs, doing themselves no favors.) This means that most of the blog writers end up screaming into the void. Take internet critic Steve Johnson at the Chicago Tribune; how will his long piece on internet gossip trash ever get seen? It's total traffic-bait—and it has nary a comment. No entity on the internet has even linked to it, as of 4 p.m. EST today.
The haphazard and anti-blog organization of newspaper websites gives us things like the Washington Post's weird pop-up listing of blogs and columns:
And the LA Times' list of recent blog posts:Mini-Britneys! Schools! John Edwards! Soy Sauce! Ack! Would any section of any publication be organized like this?
The good news about newspaper blogs is that this is all apparently so crazy and new that they'll basically try anything. And you totally get a sense that the top editors at most places aren't paying attention. The Daily News goes super-ultra local: there's the Bath Beach blog, concerning a neighborhood in Brooklyn that no one is quite sure where it stops or starts. Anyway there we learn that Brooklyn is getting a new IHOP but not in Bath Beach!
The Chicago Tribune's animal blog, mostly pictures of dogs up for adoption, has a hard time getting updated, to the frustration of its reader. But it is about animals which is cute! Living green in London? Have a blog! There's one for anyone. Overly hip Bay Area parents? Exercise and fitness in South Florida? Most of these seem to have astoundingly small readerships—because the paper won't support them or treat them as part of the paper. What nearly always does well is sports blogs—their readership is there for the taking, and they're also usually more urgent in tone and more consistent, like Dan Steinberg's awesome D.C. sports blog.
But pity all the arts critics who get forced out of the paper to run their own blogs. Don't give a rave to a singer-songwriter? The super-fan commenters will suggest that "I suppose you were being subjective." Ya think? So maybe there is something to be said for keeping an old-fashioned newspaper column with no intrusion from the dirty sort of folks who think they own the internet.