Internet journalism and the multi-author blog

People get uneasy when internet journalism is examined – after all, we are the ones doing the examining, aren’t we – but Donald Mahoney makes some good points:

Content farms

Content farms are parasitic websites that produce stories on commonly searched topics, and often offer tawdry “how-to” guides or act as celebrity news storehouses. Farmed content only enters our lives because these websites know how to exploit Google’s reliance on links and keywords in fixing ranking. Their production line is draconian: after programmers decipher the Google trends of the moment, poorly paid writers and videomakers convert the subject matter of those trends into stories over and over and over again.

Trouble is – there are quite a few really poor writers out there in the sphere, mixed in with the damned good ones, including those who might not have been writers to begin with but have learnt along the way. Basic grammar, spelling, a sense of succinctness and a certain level of English seem not as important to some as being good at production lines and getting that story out, no matter what.

That’s what Mahoney is basically saying and he has a point in a very uneven medium.

Editorial style

He wrote:

When I was introduced to journalism in fifth grade – or the age of ten – I was told the beginning of every news story must contain five W’s: who, what, where, when and why. It was a rudimentary but enduring lesson in reporting. But the internet radically altered the architecture of news reporting. More and more, an online news story must rank. This often means compromising the facts of reporting with the language of Google, a compromise that has consequences for the way readers perceive the world.

Algorithms are now as important as editors in determining what gets covered.

Hyperlinks

Contemporary web journalism is blandly, if forcibly, full of pointless trivia and drowning in stupid hyperlinks. The link, for instance, to “French” brings you to the Wikipedia page for France, while the link on “God” brings you to the Wikipedia entry for God. Are there really people in Marietta, Georgia, who require contextualization for these concepts?

The issue of hyperlinks was one we looked at at Orphans and couldn’t see any reason why not. What we hoped, of course, is that the links would not be spurious, as in that France reference just now but would point to further reading or else justification of a point made.

Most of us appreciate hyperlinks, as long as the piece is not crammed with them for the sake of having them. Enough links, well placed and even a little Further Reading below often make for a good article.

The changing news paradigm

This evolution in newswriting has occurred within a general shift in the way news is consumed. Our connection to the morning ritual of newspaper reading is disappearing. Many newspapers have tried to launch e-papers – purchasable PDFs that look just like newspapers – and all have failed. We are turning away from trusted media websites as our first destination each morning for the essential news of the day. The endless volume of online news (and the gradual rise of pay walls) means that people rely on social media sites like Twitter, or even news curating sites like Storyful, to filter what we read.

Well, golly gosh – I wonder why.    I just began on Twitter and it sure delivers many topics of interest and it depends, I suppose on how it’s used. I’ve about a dozen areas I seek info on and the Tweetdeck is good for running quick searches – there are a hell of a lot of tweeters our there.

Down-to-earth

Not many of us are MSM writers who’ve been taught writing technique and frankly, slick articles aren’t all that trusted – almost as if the writer is trying to pull the wool over the eyes.  The sphere prefers the honest, down-to-earth opinions of amateur writers who launch into print over some grievance or other and the ability to write smoothly can be seen as a bit of a handicap really.

Multi-author blogs

If Orphans is anything to go by, it’s a good idea which shows no sign of going away – in fact it is expanding.  There are some points of concern though with this format.  What we’d like to see and perhaps what various bloggers’ regular readers would like to see is the same “let her rip” style which they employ on their own blogs.  In other words, the thing which attracted readers to them in the first place is what those readers would like to see continued at the multi-author blog.

The thing is – there’s a certain respect which bloggers bring to the multi-author blog, almost a deference to the commons.  It’s almost a “guestposting” mentality.  For example, DK wrote on my blog a few times and toned it right down, writing about Prions, which was well received but many readers were surprised.  People are reluctant to swear at my blog.

Respect is good but the multi-author blog is not exactly someone else’s blog – it’s the blog belonging to all who write there.  The reason that person is there is because he/she is a known known.  Feel free, let rip, say what you need to.  We’re big boys and girls.

It’s hard for me to separate myself from Orphans but if I could, if I could stand back and ask, dispassionately how it’s going, I’d say it’s going well.  This area of the political sphere needs as much output as possible.  We’re not the only blog in our field but we are one of them and feel the message needs to get out.  There’s a post in the making, for example, using Subrosa’s and Edward Spalton’s input and I’m looking forward to that.

I enjoy having all these posts in one place and being able to scroll through them and click.  Then again, I’m biased.

Scheduling

We’ve been thinking about whether we should just let contributors post when they want.  The reason we didn’t was because we feared that if everyone posted at once, some writers would be swamped.  There could be a dozen posts one day and none the next.

Someone emailed me – so what?

We’d appreciate your thoughts on this and on anything else you think needs commenting on.

21 comments for “Internet journalism and the multi-author blog

  1. June 4, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    Good post on a very interesting subject. Hyperlinks are fine, providing readers with links to more info or to sources. They add a degree of transparency lacking in the MSM.

    Blog writing standards are very variable, but so what? Nobody has to read them. In my view, numerous blog writers leave the MSM floundering in terms of style. They tend to be grittier, get to the point quicker, aren’t so obviously churned out to a schedule. Blog writing tends to be a celebrity-free zone too – and what a huge bonus that is – a breath of fresh air. And talking of breaths of fresh air, who cares about a cliché or two – they’re clichés because they work.

    The real problem for the MSM is that it hasn’t raised its game to meet the blogging challenge.

  2. June 4, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Yes, the most enjoyable reading to me are good blogs and the comments threads – you get to the truth quicker that way.

  3. June 4, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    Links are important for sources if nothing else; the links you refer to are superfluous and annoying.

    Re numbers of posts per day, IMHO it is best limited because time is an issue and really good posts could end up being almost unread if several newer posts push it down the page before visiters have seen it.

  4. FrankC
    June 4, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    On scheduling, the current 5 or 6 a day is fine for me. It does, though, mean that a topical item could be delayed for a few days.

  5. June 4, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    We sometimes slow it to four but if there are a hell of a lot waiting, we go to six. Julia likes the scheduling, don’t know about Longrider yet.

    • June 5, 2011 at 8:43 am

      I’m fairly relaxed about it. Scheduling does mean that a post has a decent chance of remaining on the top of the pile long enough to generate some discussion. On the other hand, currency can be a problem – I’ve written a couple of posts recently that didn’t see the light of day for two days and when the comments started coming in, I had to remind myself what I was discussing. Must be an age thing…

      If people would prefer to post directly, then I’m happy with that, but would reiterate the need for offline writing and editing to avoid overload of the editing facility. Also, if you do that, you can save your drafts to your hard drive and will have a backup, which is always useful.

      Bottom line here, the admins are facilitating a service and ultimately this place stands or falls by the quality of its contributors – it is you not us that makes this place what it is. So if that is what people want, then that’s fine by me.

    • June 5, 2011 at 9:09 am

      I think the ‘recent comments’ widget can help with the dropping off issue – it shows that a topic is still alive, even if not on the front page.

      • June 5, 2011 at 11:36 am

        I like the idea of scheduled posts because each post deserves to have some time at the top to let it get read.

        Priority could be given to topical posts when shcheduling so they dont loose their impact by the time they are published.

        • June 5, 2011 at 11:40 am

          So it’s a juggling act, is it not, coming down to editorial vigilance – to give posts enough time at the top and yet not to hold people back more than 2 days. That can only be done by increasing the number of posts on some days and reducing them on others. That’s going to be the policy, judging by all the comments.

  6. June 4, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    I’ve been blogging for just over two years now and I must admit I wrote very badly at first. However over that time I learnt to pay attention to detail, which was good, but at the same time, not to take it too seriously when you are blogging alone. That leads to despair and eventually giving up.

    I was recently asked to write for http://independentblogdirectory.blogspot.com/

    Which was started by Dr Richard North. It is not, in any way in competition with this blog, but will hopefully help to diminish the power of the MSM. I do like the linking of independent minds coming together to argue, each in their own way, topics of the day. It is time the group think of politicians and the MSM were broken forever.

    Blogs like this one are certainly a start.

    Good luck.

    • June 4, 2011 at 9:13 pm

      It is not, in any way in competition with this blog …

      That’s it, FE – hopefully, we’re all in this together and Richard North and we know what each is doing. We need to aggregate.

      • June 4, 2011 at 10:02 pm

        I most certainly think that the Multiblog (FE’s trademark) is the way to go. It’s like an online newspaper without a party line on what has to be said, and what can’t be said. Bloggers can say what they feel,unlike the MSM who have to toe the editorial line of the day.

    • June 5, 2011 at 8:36 am

      My style has changed over the past six years. I quote less, leaving the reader to follow the links as appropriate. I’ve drifted more towards an essay style rather than the old fisking that was popular at one time. I like to think my writing has matured.

  7. Ian F4
    June 5, 2011 at 1:18 am

    “The real problem for the MSM is that it hasn’t raised its game to meet the blogging challenge.”

    Not quite true, they’ve convinced a few notable bloggers to accept the MSM coin, if you can’t beat them get them to join you. That said, the dire quality of some bloggers going to the dark side means it hasn’t really devolved the blogosphere that much, overall the average IQ has probably gone up.

    Regarding volumes – this is a subject I’d like to bring up with Mr Worstall and his excellent blog, he does tend to post so many articles each day some of them get shunted off the end of the page ! I’d beg him to consider reducing output, but they are of such fine quality (especially the Richie-bashing ones).

  8. June 5, 2011 at 5:49 am

    “…and it depends, I suppose on how it’s used.”

    Yup, a tool’s a tool. Used by a fool, it’s useless. Used by someone skilled, it can change worlds.

  9. June 5, 2011 at 9:48 am

    Seems to me we know where we/re going now. Maybe “don’t fix what ain’t broke” is the answer here but remain flexible.

  10. June 12, 2011 at 5:51 am

    Late to this but hopefully better late than never. If I was to have a wish list for the Orphanage it’d be pretty short. As a contributing writer I can see the pros and cons of scheduled posts that have already been discussed and think that on balance there’s probably more to be said for the status quo. There’s one other problem that I don’t think has been mentioned, which is duplication. We had multiple pieces on Bin Laden’s death, for example, and last night I put one about the Dam Busters remake and that bloody dog into the queue shortly before Harry Hook’s appeared. Wouldn’t surprise me if there are one or two others in the pipeline either. However, I don’t think covering the subject more than once is a big deal if the various writers are all bringing up a new point or considering another perspective, or at least a different style. I’d say the Orphanage’s contributors are good enough that this will be the norm rather than the exception. Still, going back to my wish list it’d be nice to have an idea of when a post might go up, though I’ve no idea if that’s possible or even if it can be done already and I’m just not sufficiently familiar with the WP environment to have realised.

    As a reader of OoL there are a couple of things which I feel the Orphanage could do with. Here I am at the page for Internet Journalism and the Multi-Author Blog, but unless I’ve got them open in tabs (which as it happens I have) or return to the home page I’ve no idea what the next post is about. Nor the preceding one for that matter. Unless there’s a comment which is recent enough to be in the Most Read widget or either of the comments widgets there’s no link anywhere, no equivalent of turning the page of a newspaper or a contents section in a magazine. I feel that it’d be handy to have next post and previous post links after each post, preferably with the posts’ titles to give the reader a hint as to what they’re about, or alternatively have the archive show post titles either for the current month or the month in which the post currently being read was made. Perhaps even both.

    Just my 2¢.

    • June 12, 2011 at 5:59 am

      AE:

      Next post-previous post – yes, an interesting one. Magazine format seems to preclude it but as our techie is a whiz, he might be able to put code in. Meanwhile, I’ll look for a widget that will do it.

      Would be nice to know when a post is going up. Two answers. Firstly – you will always know by logging in [as a contributor] and looking at the posts list. So: 1. Log-in. 2. From dashboard, click posts in sidebar. 3. Hover below the post title and click on Quick Edit – it gives you all details.

      For readers to know what’s coming up – that might be an idea and we’d like readers’ thoughts on that.

      Cheers, AE

      • June 12, 2011 at 4:22 pm

        Other WP blogs, Watts Up With That for example, have the next post-previous post with titles so it must be possible, though perhaps not with all templates. Out of my area of knowledge.

        Thanks for the tip about seeing when a post goes up, though I must have been hit by the thick fairy’s wand today because I can’t work it out. I clicked Wuick Edit but can’t see any indication of where my most recent post is in the queue.

        • June 12, 2011 at 4:23 pm

          Can’t spell ‘quick’ either. 😳

          • June 12, 2011 at 5:58 pm

            June 14th, 0930, AE.

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