The LA Times today examines how the Seattle Post-Intelligencer segued from print to exclusively online journalism. But blogging — how and why we cover the stories we cover — is going the other way and coming to resemble... newspapers.
A year ago online journalism was the 'online journalism' that old-school reporters and J-school professors still ponder. It was measured in hours, not the daily news cycle of a paper. It was a different beast where corrections were fluid, where whimsy and opinion mattered as much as content. People visited a homepage, scrolled down and clicked on whatever caught their eye.
Now blogs compete aggressively for audience. Politico, Deadline Hollywood and everyone else seeks to break news to differentiate them from their competition. To do so they, and we, must also now write tight, concise headlines, choose decent pictures or art, and provide readers with more evidence of journalism (pics, or documents, or it didn't happen). Opinion pieces and rants cannot rely on raw snark — the ones that get read will hold together, under immediate comment scrutiny, like a traditional op-ed. In short, blogs must now compete for readers' attention like a newspaper on a stand does (or did).
The reason why is a cliche — the kind of cliche that gets articles like this one thrown on the scrapheap, read by dozens not thousands, or millions: Twitter and Facebook.
Because more people now pluck most of their news from their social networks, blog time is measured in minutes not hours — you're either first or definitive or funniest or most provocative or someone else will have the link that gets tweeted and posted on walls.
If you are first (and it doesn't have to be Watergate) a vague headline will not work as it once might have. Because whimsy does not retweet well. So if, to Gawker-promote, you find out that Wyclef Jean paid his mistress $105,000 through his Haiti charity, the headline should probably be Wyclef Jean Paid His Mistress $105,000 Through His Haiti Charity. Like a newspaper headline.
John Cook, who wrote that story, also uncovered Nikki Finke's habit of changing her stories to suit emerging facts. But now if a story, with its headline and probably the first few lines, is immediately spread around, secret corrections will be exposed anyway. Correcting like a newspaper — explaining
clearly precisely the fuck-up, and how it was amended — is not just good practice online. It's about to become the only option.
Blogs, like this one, used to get away with quickly repackaging content and adding a penis joke. But, as our proprietor Nick Denton explained in an internal email, "any treatment [of a story] can work, really, except for the old-school blog item, that rehashed news story with a dash of puerile snark. Nobody links to that." Nobody links to stories with dull pictures, or lots of typos, or tenuous premises either. Stories that are not pegged to current events will not do so well. In the same way people skip over them in their newspapers.
The difference is that, where newspapers have a day to decide what's news, blogs compete for people's attention in almost real time. It's a big change, and nobody is perfect (before you seek examples on this site). Which is probably why Cynthia Shannon, of San Francisco, tweeted at 11.02 on Friday, that "there's something seriously wrong when DRUDGE and GAWKER are my primary sources of news." If we want Cynthia to move from grudging appreciation to something more fulsome, we'll have to become more like the institutions we seek to replace. Just faster.
(Also: please link to this. Thanks.)