It has been an interesting two weeks since I counted up the blogs in some British newspapers and asked, “What is the purpose of newspaper blogs?” I counted 99 at five newspapers and wrote:
Some of the offerings are very good but too many seem like ways of presenting traditional content in a “look we understand the digital age” way, while others are dumping grounds for copy that would never get into the paper.
A Telegraph blog I quoted from has disappeared. Three of the papers have responded in one way or another but of them only the Telegraph has produced any of the figures which I said would be “fascinating”. They are.
This revelation came after I had compiled a list of the Techronati rankings of 37 Times blogs. That way I discovered Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent and the paper’s top blogger, whose quirky Articles of Faith is all you can hope for. Tom Whitwell, online communities editor at The Times, described it in a comment as, “a wonderful phenomenon”.
It was never my intention to suggest that all newspaper blogs were a waste of time, so I was surprised that Shane Richmond, online news editor of telegraph.co.uk, marshalled four contributors to comment under the heading “Bloggers bite back“. A touch sensitive that.
Among their sensible comments, Francisca Kellett, wrote: “You can be more provocative in a blog…” Exactly.
After reading two posts from Shane, I decided to compile a list of Technorati rankings for The Telegraph too. I was not surprised that Shane’s technology discussion was top of the tree — it is excellent and has long been on my news reader.
In his first post he he examined the reasons for newspaper blogs: filling more niches, unlimited by space, experimentation, interactivity and personality. He also included a response to my suggestion that some figures would be fascinating:
Finally, Andrew asks how much traffic these blogs get. In September the blogs got 357,000 page views, almost 12,000 hits per day. We had 34 active bloggers at that time, so that equates to roughly 10,500 hits per blogger.
The site isn’t even a year old yet so traffic is at a decent level. Page views have more than doubled in the last six months I’m confident that we will be able double them again in another six months.
I can only guess at the figures for individuals, but very conservatively if we take Shane out of the mix the average for the rest cannot be more than 8,500 hits a month. That suggests, as do the Technorati rankings, some of them are very low indeed.
I have my doubts about the slow development of blogs. If you are a journalist you need to get eyeballs on pages quickly. I rescued Wordblog from the dead in June because I wanted understand the process from the inside. In the third week it scored 2,633 hits — above the Telegraph average — and has gone on rising. Last month it was just short of 40,000. It is hard work and has to become a routine.
There is no doubt that blogs have become a valuable element in the mix offered by newspapers. They do all the things Shane says they should be doing.
But they are not a simple add on to an existing job. Blogging well takes time. Ruth wrote in a comment:
I spend hours of my own time doing the blog, and sometimes end up working until 2am or 3am, it is such an addictive medium. I really love doing it so don’t resent the time.
Commitment like that is essential. Newspapers need to be selective and think carefully about their policy. Blogs have to be an integral part of the business plan and show that they contribute to the achievement of the plan.
Among the “broadsheets” that blog the Guardian has chosen a different path as Neil McIntosh, head of editorial development at the Guardian, explained in a comment:
We’re about to launch a lot more in a new subject area, although we always favour group blogs over individual blogs. As our rivals’ efforts show, you quickly run into trouble if you insist that all blogs must be written by one individual.
That said, Roy Greenslade’s Guardian media blog is well ahead of the top offerings of The Times or The Telegraph in the rankings. I will be taking up Neil’s offer to tell me more about that they are doing and why. Perhaps other online editors would like to add their thoughts?
Corrected, Nov 5 at 8pm. Neil McIntosh was given his old job itle. The correct one is now in place.