Winter 2008

Blogging From Inside a TV Station’s Newsroom

‘Comments on the blog began generating tips that turned into leads for on-air reporting, and the blog became a tool for promoting and teasing stories we planned to air or publish later that day.’

By Katie Allison Granju
In 2006, as a producer with the top-rated TV news affiliate in Knoxville, Tennessee, I frequently found myself holding onto bits of information, news tips, commentary from the local blogosphere, and peculiarly fascinating local stories and photos—items that didn’t fit neatly into our on-air or online news coverage. To many in the newsroom, this was the throwaway chaff of the newsgathering process. But I’d been keeping a personal blog for several years and was active in East Tennessee’s surprisingly rich and diverse blogging community, so I knew without a doubt where this kind of material would fit best: in a blog.

However, at that time, the idea of a blog coming directly from someone working in the newsroom was an unpopular one around our office water cooler. Blogs, I was advised, were flighty, rabble-rousing fluff, not to be mixed up in any way with the serious journalism we were practicing within the inner sanctum. A newsroom blog would simply confuse viewers/readers and water-down our brand. Discouraged, I dropped the idea.

RELATED WEB LINK
Nashville Is Talking
- nashvilleistalking.com
Then, however, in early 2007, I ran across a blogger working from within a television newsroom in another area of the state, doing exactly what I had envisioned, and drawing a large and highly participatory readership. Her name was Brittney Gilbert, and she was the brain, as well as the face, behind the cutting-edge blog “Nashville Is Talking,” (NIT) hosted by WKRN-TV.

Gilbert was the first blogger ever hired by a local news station specifically for the purpose of blogging, and she plied her trade right out in the middle of the newsroom. Working as a sort of human aggregator, she injected her singular voice and sensibilities into multiple posts throughout each day, most of which pointed her readers to the smartest content from the many dozens of Tennessee-based blogs from which she drew her material. Gilbert acted as sort of a salon hostess, guiding and shaping but never overwhelming the conversation that evolved on her blog through links, comments and, eventually, face-to-face local blogger meet-ups.

WKRN also had Gilbert appear on-air on a regular basis to discuss what Nashvillians were talking about online that day. Just as the station’s evening news anchors and morning show hosts became the faces for their on-air content, Gilbert became the face for the station’s online content. It was a forward-thinking and savvy strategy that paid off with growing blog traffic, as well as national recognition from journalism pundits. Today Gilbert has taken her newsroom blogging expertise to a much larger market, KPIX in San Francisco. But many credit Gilbert with bringing to life the strongly connected network of local bloggers that grew up around NiT and that still exists in the Nashville market today.

After I became a daily reader of NiT, Gilbert graciously allowed me to pick her brain, and she encouraged me to start my own similar enterprise within my station’s online brand. Although I still didn’t have strong buy-in from newsroom management, they never actually told me I couldn’t start a newsroom blog. So I did.

Over one weekend away from the station, I bought the domain KnoxvilleTalks.com, set up a free WordPress template, and started blogging. On Monday, I showed our Web master my handiwork, and he quickly figured out how to link the new domain to the station’s, so that any traffic to the blog would be credited to our news department.

For the first month or so, I didn’t have so much as a link from our station’s Web site directing people to Knoxville Talks, but I doggedly began taking moments here and there throughout my workday in the newsroom to guide blog visitors to the most interesting activity taking place at that hour within our local blogosphere. I developed a comprehensive blogroll, linking out to dozens of area bloggers. And I also linked back to and commented on the most interesting news content on our station’s site.

As traffic to Knoxville Talks grew, my news director became supportive, encouraging me to use some of my work-time to blog. Our managing editor started suggesting and pointing out blog-worthy items as they came into the newsroom. Comments on the blog began generating tips that turned into leads for on-air reporting, and the blog became a tool for promoting and teasing stories we planned to air or publish later that day.

Six months after launching Knoxville Talks, I left the job I loved with the TV station for a wonderful opportunity with E.W. Scripps. By that time, my little side project had generated nearly 350,000 page views for the newsroom, and traffic was building every week, still without any significant promotion beyond a link from the station’s homepage. And, most interesting to me, after years of having my writing published everywhere from the local alternative newsweekly to Parenting magazine to The New York Times, for the first time I had the experience of being recognized in public.

Offering a Distinct Voice

Daily visitors to Knoxville Talks grew to know my online “voice,” which they associated with the photo of me on the blog. People began approaching me to introduce themselves when they encountered me out and about. Or when I would tell someone new my name, he or she would respond with, “Oh, you’re that Knoxville Talks blogger!” Readers would then often want to discuss what I was covering on the blog, or suggest topics or other blogs I should check out. For a journalist used to working behind the relative anonymity of a byline, it was a revelation.

After leaving the station in August 2008, I started a political blog for a Scripps-owned newspaper, and in its first eight weeks, the blog has already generated close to 200,000 page views for that newsroom. My experience, and the success of a small but growing number of other newsroom bloggers across the country, demonstrates that even as the audience for “old journalism” is shrinking, there is a hunger for the type of very active, personality-driven, truly local newsroom blogging that characterized Nashville is Talking and Knoxville Talks.

While virtually all local news sites now offer some sort of blog or blogs, few are reaching their full potential in terms of audience or influence. There are several reasons for this. First, successful blogging requires a very specific skill set. Just because anyone in a news organization can blog doesn’t mean that just anyone can do it in a way that builds and supports an audience. Clearly, different types of journalists have their own spheres of excellence. For example, the top investigative reporter for the local newspaper likely wouldn’t fare very well anchoring the local TV newscast. Top-notch newsroom blogging is no different; it requires specific training, talent and effort. A successful blogger has to really know what she’s doing and, just as with on-air talent and the most popular of op-ed columnists, she has to offer a distinct voice and personality. That’s what keeps readers coming back.

This leads to the second reason why so many local news organizations continue to drag their feet when it comes to effectively leveraging the power of blogging. Far too many publishers, reporters, editors, anchors and producers still see blogging as some sort of second-class, redheaded stepchild. Bloggers aren’t real journalists, so the argument goes, and they certainly don’t belong in the newsroom. But as real journalists and journalism professors continue to grapple with what exactly it is they do these days, bloggers are out there just doing it—without the angsty navel-gazing or handwringing. Bloggers certainly can be real journalists, albeit ones who fall into their own category within the profession. The sooner the powers that be accept this new reality, the sooner they can begin reaping the benefits.



Katie Allison Granju is a project manager with the E.W. Scripps entrepreneurial fund. Links to her blogging projects can be found at www.katieallisongranju.com.

10 Comments on Blogging From Inside a TV Station’s Newsroom
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Jane says:
May 21, 2009 at 10:46am
Living with FEAR is not living. Stand behind American values! Brute force doesn't teach our values...we don't adhere to this in our own country, why is it ok to do this in other countries?
Bryan Murley says:
December 30, 2008 at 7:57am
"But as real journalists and journalism professors continue to grapple with what exactly it is they do these days, bloggers are out there just doing it—without the angsty navel-gazing or handwringing."

I had to laugh about this line, as bloggers are notorious for navel-gazing. They just don't navel gaze as much about whether what they do is "journalism" or not.
Dave Atkins says:
December 29, 2008 at 8:06am
A truly local blog can complement local media, but the cookie-cutter attempts by many newspapers and tv stations to create blogs have failed for exactly the reasons you describe. Part of the fallacy is that people seem to assume we should be playing the same game, that authority is meaningful anymore.

Blogs are about conversations and connections, not news. I would argue the only value most people get from news media today is a vague sense of connection to what is going on and that the ideals of print journalism do not serve the same ends anymore. I am happy to link to news articles as a starting point in the discussion, but news stories are only one voice in the conversation--not the final voice. What matters is that we engage people in a conversation so they are a part of what is happening. People do not get that engagement from traditional news media any more than they get it from local government. A community blog can provide the means for people to air their feelings and work through conflict in real time...instead of reporting what has happened, blogs are about dealing with what has happened and potentially helping shape what happens in the future.

Many news organizations are trying to compete by creating "hyperlocal sites"--at total waste of time. There is no authenticity, no voice, and no trust because everyone knows it is just an extension of the newspaper. News organizations struggle to find a way to make money in the hyperlocal market and fail...because they will always be out performed by the truly local volunteer blogger who passionately cares about his or her community. That does not mean they should abandon the space, but they need to partner with local publishers and use the separation--the "arms-length relationship" to create a symbiotic relationship that feeds traffic to the blogs in exchange for referencing back from those blogs. Early on, I tried to report on news items, but it is a pain and I cannot cover every single thing that goes on. So I "stir the pot" and occassionaly, what surfaces on my blog ends up being a news story. The newspapers are shielded from controversy because the blog can be a place where people argue things out. I'm rambling here; need to do my own blog post on this topic, but I do think you are describing the key themes at play here.
Julie Roads says:
December 27, 2008 at 7:18pm
Great article...as always...I'm a huge fan of your writing.
Byron Chesney says:
December 24, 2008 at 12:14pm
Out of 200,000 page views you are going get some clicks for your online advertisers. That coupled with the high readership is going to keep the loyal guys like me coming back for more. The costs associated with maintaining a blog are very reasonable, especially when you consider alternative forms of media. Nowadays when I watch/hear the mainstream news I'm usually saying, "yeah, I read about that yesterday on a blog." Besides, sometimes it's not just about the money...
JorgXMcKie says:
December 24, 2008 at 10:41am
Is there a difference between Dexter Westbrook and Doug Collins? I mean I remember Doug Collins as a Hall of Fame basketball player, but . . .
JorgXMcKie says:
December 24, 2008 at 10:38am
Yeah, Dexter, and what about those buggy whip makers? How the heck will they make money when those new-fangled horseless carriages don't need buggy whips?

To quote Faraday in answering Queen Victoria on the utility/value of his dynamo, "Of what use is a baby?"

Willhe-nillhe, the 'news' is going to have to learn to adapt to the web. Quite possibly a lot of that won't make money for a whil. I seem to remember that the original newspapers didn't make money from advertising. Later it became a major revenue stream. Television basically built on that model.

Unfortunately for some, there is no guarantee that 'journalism' is a guaranteed paying career for either the individual or a society. I, for one, will miss newspapers even as they exasperate me. My local is going to a Thursday-Saturday-Sunday delivery only. Will that work? I have no idea, but I do know that their current model doesn't. I find local tv news also very exasperating in their consistent usage of major portions of their time to 'tease' a coming story just to keep my eyeballs glued to their advertising.

I read Katie mostly only when Instapundit links to her because I'm not in Tennessee, let alone Knoxville. I find her writing clear, interesting, thoughtful, and generally worth my time. If someone can find out a way to make micro-payments work I'm sure she could garner money even from the likes of me.

Generally speaking, 'earning' money involves doing something someone else is willing to pay for (either as an individual or in the aggregate). Thus, it would behoove the MSM to figure out what it is that they do that others are truly willing to pay for. The apparent belief that their mere existence entitles them to continues paid employment is probably going to prove to be disastrously wrong.
Doug Collins says:
December 24, 2008 at 10:24am
This is all well and good, but how does the writing a column make money, and how much?

Talk of "reaping the benefits" of column writing is just so much nonsense unless newsroom column writng can be made to pay. What good is it to have thousands of readers if one doesn't get paid for one's labor?
Dexter Westbrook says:
December 24, 2008 at 10:08am
This is all well and good, but how does the newsroom blog make money, and how much?

Talk of "reaping the benefits" of blogging is just so much nonsense unless newsroom blogging can be made to pay. What good is it to have thousands of readers if one doesn't get paid for one's labor?
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