Thursday, August 27, 2009

New media gets into bed with the old

This is me, in a photo by my friend Barbie Hull, looking pretty darn pleased with myself. Perhaps even a bit self satisfied. I started this blog four months ago on a whim, and since that time there’s been slow but steady readership growth and increasing visibility for Madison Park Blogger. There have been over 900 unique visitors to the site since inception (not a few of them landing here by mistake), and last week MPB averaged just over 60 unique visitors per day. Late last month the biggest story I’ve ever covered (Girl injured jumping off diving board) was viewed by almost 200 people; and the recent dump-truck-runs-into-laundry story was also big news, with about 120 viewers.

Well it’s progress, though not at a level that would make other Seattle bloggers envious. A story I posted earlier this year on the Capitol Hill Seattle website, for example, was viewed by 554 people. And it was far from being the biggest story that blog has ever covered. I could certainly garner more exposure for myself by writing for them than doing this blog, but I have other goals. For one thing, I actually think someone should be covering stories specifically about the Park.

Not that I’m uninterested in a bigger audience, however. In fact, to get more visibility for this blog I’ve made what some might consider a pact with the devil. I consider myself a new-media citizen journalist, but in order to be discovered by more Madison Parkers I have nevertheless aligned myself with part of the creaky old media, a newspaper. Specifically, the Madison Park Times. Beginning with the paper’s September issue, MPT will be picking up my monthly review of the Madison Park real estate market. What the paper gets out of the deal is editorial content that it hopes will be of interest to its readers. What I get is the opportunity to inform a wider audience through my reporting and, not incidentally, a chance to publicize this blog. I see it as a win/win, since I am not in competition with the Madison Park Times and would like to see it remain a viable channel of communication for Madison Park.

Even so, I’ve had my qualms. The paper did, after all, lay off its paid reporter who had covered Madison Park. In providing copy for the paper, am I somehow being unfair to people in the trade who have lost their jobs? But if I am being unfair, it turns out I’m apparently right in line with the thinking of several other bloggers in this town who yesterday announced their affiliation with part of the big old media: The Seattle Times. This presumably will mean providing the Times with editorial content that could have been provided by paid (read union) staffers covering Seattle beats. As the Times has pared down staff, it has needed to find other ways to get content. This new foray into the neighborhoods is a part of that effort. Whether this is a good deal for the neighborhood blogs, however, is less clear to me. Most of these blogs are in competition with the Times for advertising dollars, so everyone is going to have to tread very carefully if these partnerships are to work to the advantage of both sides. It’s an experiment, and only time will tell.

Another part of the old media suddenly making a play for the neighborhood audience is KOMO. I was a bit shocked the other day when, after I mentioned to someone that I did our neighborhood blog, she asked “Oh, do you work for KOMO?” She had heard (though not seen) that KOMO has started a Madison Park neighborhood blog, but she had never heard of mine. Such is the power of TV to get a story out (at least to a certain audience demographic).

KOMO’s Madison Park blog is not much of a blog, however. And for a good reason. KOMO launched 43 Seattle neighborhood blogs this month, all written by one KOMO staffer located downtown, and apparently without anyone “on the ground” in any of the actual neighborhoods (except to the extent that KOMO staffers happen to live there). This is what KOMO has to say about its blogs: “We are the place for conversations to start and communities to connect on the issues that are important and relevant to where you live. We’re taking the news gathered in and from your neighborhoods and publishing it in a place you care about. “

Maybe so, but after almost a month of operation, KOMO’s Madison Park site has not produced a single story about Madison Park (although they did upload two pictures of the dump truck crash in Madison Valley). And there hasn’t been a blog posting over there in the last week. Like the Seattle Times/neighborhood blogs affiliation, KOMO’s invasion of the neighborhoods is an experiment in progress. And it’s been tried before.

The Seattle PI was probably the first of the old-media outlets in town to attempt an affiliation with neighborhood bloggers to create original content. In the PI’s case, that effort was limited to its on-line site, which is still in operation. You can judge the success of this effort by taking a look at the Madison Park/Madrona page. In case you didn’t just click on the hyperlink, I can save you the effort by telling you that today’s stories from Madison Park include one about speed bumps in West Seattle (from July) and a list of road and bridge closures (from May). The Ballard and Capitol Hill reader blogs on the PI site do have current content, so it is possible for Hearst (owner of the PI site) to get the locals to provide free content. But it’s obviously a hit-or-miss thing.

As for KOMO and The Seattle Times, I wish them luck in finding the right way forward, especially if it means more and better coverage of neighborhood news in this town. Meantime, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing down here in the Park. I hope you’ll stay tuned.

2 comments:

  1. Hey there. We are not writing anything for the Times. Nor are they writing anything for us. Nobody's being put out of work at my site (where actually I have paid thousands so far this year to freelance journalists and photojournalists including a reporter and editor whose jobs were cut by local newspapers big and small in the past year), nor at the Times, as a result of this.

    You will see them continue to put up links to some other organizations (including us)' stories - and vice versa. But the real meat of this is figuring out whether there is some way for big and little media to truly collaborate. Can the West Seattle information included in their massive coverage of high-school sports get a wider audience by reaching more West Seattleites through WSB? If I discover that a story I'm working on goes beyond West Seattle, might I be able to work with a Times reporter somehow, so that her work and mine result in stronger stories for both organizations?

    This is not "oh cool, the Times is getting neighborhood news from these guys" ... what we all do, as you know from what you are doing here, is coverage that NOBODY was doing in this way before. Yes, neighborhood newspapers like the one you mention have been around for decades, but not covering real-time news, nor bringing in real-time community discussion, to name just one unique aspect of being online.

    Anyway, congrats on your collaboration, and I hope you will wish us well in ours. Just wanted to clarify ... it has been hard to explain something that is not clearly defined, for a reason, but we can tell you what it will NOT be more easily than we can tell you what it WILL be.

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  2. Bryan, What I like about your blog is the immediacy of your reporting and your response to your readers questions. As in, what is that truck doing parked inside that cleaners on Madison and MLK?. You are in fact "on the ground" as I saw you jogging past our house (I thought you were looking for one of your dogs) the day of the swimming competition at the beach that no one knew anything about. Also don't worry about contributing to the downsizing of the print media it's just the evolution of the business and you are part of it. The Pony Express and Morse code are both obsolete and it wasn't your fault.

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