Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Good blogs, bad blogs

If I had any doubts about the power of the pen in a blogger’s hands, it disappeared when Andrew Grant Adamson questioned the purpose of blogs in national newspapers.

His Wordblog entry certainly touched a nerve at the Telegraph who lined up a defensive wall of their finest online columnists
with the online news editor Shane Richmond in goal behind them.

Why? It may have had something to do with the fact that Andrew had produced Technorati listings of Times bloggers which showed that the world and his wife were not exactly reading all of them. He then went on to carry out a similar exercise looking at the Telegraph blogs.

I’m caught in the crossfire here: as a colleague of Andrew’s in academia and Shane’s former boss. But one thing’s clear to me, and this is what I’m telling publishers I advise on such matters: everything that costs has to earn.

The Telegraph writers make a strong case for the value of their contributions and I hope they’re building the readership their efforts deserve. But Andrew’s blog demonstrates wonderfully the raison d’etre for the medium: to touch a nerve and spark debate.

Some writers, on papers and magazines that can ill-afford downtime, will happily spend 90 smiley minutes a day churning out self-indulgent blather and give you 50 page impressions. No return on investment there, but better than a smack in the gob if it puts you in the blogosphere?

Not really. Newspapers reinventing themselves as multi-media platforms are brand-building all over again, making up the rules as they go, and can’t afford to have their credibility questioned.

I’d rather these writers spent their time checking links on the cookery pages, or at least, sparing readers the ignominy of their voice mail.

Others, however, will give you stunning personal insights into worlds we’d give our right arms to get a glimpse of. That’s why I – and my then online news editor Avril Ormsby in days when few print journalists had even read a blog - was so keen to encourage foreign correspondents to lead the way.

I judged their worth with a dinner party analogy: who would you prefer to sit next to? Sidney no-mates from Soft Furnishings who brews elderflower in the airing cupboard, Boring Bernard from Bought Ledger – or the guy in the safari suit who taught himself Punjabi and dodged bullets crossing the Kashmir border on the roof of a bus.

So what if Safari Suit’s first few blogs didn’t harvest the same hit rates as a picture gallery on Kate Moss? It doesn’t matter. Every hit strikes where it should, a whisper in the right direction, taking your brand into new territory. Direct hits, as I call them: the ‘sticky’ ones that build the reputation you want in a territory you want to conquer.

There are writers on several regional and national papers I’d hire tomorrow for their blogging potential alone. In fact, there’s one such ‘deal’ I’m trying to broker as I write.

And there are those I’d return to normal duties forthwith - and let them blog where they can do the least harm. In the bar of the Rat and handbag after work.

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