Washington Post has throughout its history been somewhat revolutionary in the way news corporations handle their business with a major goal of integrity and excellent local coverage despite being on a national stage due to location. They aren’t just a newspaper company, but also own television, radio, and news magazines and launched their web division (washingtonpost.com) early on in the internets era. Often they lead in creativity and other newspapers/media outlets follow in their footsteps. I attended last night’s “Blogger Summit” with great curiosity on what their interest in local bloggers is and what they may propose. By reaching out, I think the blogosphere may be achieving another level of R-E-S-P-E-C-T they so crave too. So I wonder if last night was a preview of a blogger revolution to come where bloggers are accepted and embraced as part of the local scene by the big media? Who knows, and some in attendance at last night’s blogger summit were skeptical that the program seemed driven purely by targeting profitability off the poor bloggers, but I don’t think that’s the case. I found the summit rather interesting and look forward to seeing where this goes as the blog world and big media acknowledge each other and turn a former one way street into a two way street.
I ran into D from The DCenters and we appeared to be a couple of the few representatives of the local sports side of blogging. I thought JammingEcono was going to be there, but never ran into him. WFY was also there, but I think wearing his DC Metroblogging hat (which was a very cool hat, by the way!). I was quite surprised to enter the auditorium and find a small buffet, tuxedoed wait-staff and a bar (non-alcoholic, I believe – didn’t check). I wasn’t really expecting anything fancy for this free event, much less chocolate covered strawberries (mmmm!!). The screens in front were rotating through screenshots of the blogs from those who had RSVP’d. I couldn’t peel my eyes away as I waited for this here blog to come around. Hee! There it was, right after D’s! We grabbed seats at a table set with the shown notebooks and IQ test pens.
They introduced the panel which actually consisted of a few bigwigs, editors, Marc Fisher and JD of JDLand and then started with a Q&A from us bloggers, which was a little bizarre considering most of us weren’t really sure what the goal of the summit was to begin with.
The Q&A portion didn’t have much that translated to sports blogs, specifically focusing more on addressing issues encountered by neighborhood and interest group/personal blogs. However, I did note one interesting item of significance; WaPo wants to reach out to the blogosphere because it can cover more things that just aren’t feasible in the print newspaper and therefore would like its beat writers to “get to know” the bloggers that cover their niche topics. Doesn’t that just scream sports?! They suggested emailing beat reporters and indicated that not only can you accomplish this through the website (already used it), but they also proposed emailing out a contact list. I long ago proposed a Natmosphere gathering with Barry Svrluga (and/or other beat reporters) and hmm.. maybe that will be more likely to come to fruition now with the Posties promoting reporter/blogger interactions. I had hung back for a long time from “bothering” the beat reporters until Brian at Nats Farm Authority nudged me into it more. I’d say I now have a pretty good rapport with Todd Jacobson of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, and have had minimal conversations with Mark Zuckerman at the Times (but he gets bonus points because he published one of my photos!), Bill Ladson at MLB.com, Barry Svrluga and Tom Boswell from the Post. Could this be changing? Should it change?
During the second of three portions of the summit, the Post libel lawyer took the podium and offered advice on bloggers protecting themselves from libel lawsuits and briefly touched on copyright infringement. I’d say this was the most valuable aspect of the summit. Not that I expect to be sued for libel (hard to do if you hardly say anything bad!), but he gave excellent counsel on how to phrase items in order to not be considered libelous or defaming. “You are responsible for your blog as if everything (even quotes by others) is written by you. Just because you quote someone else does not mean you’re not responsible. You’re responsible for every statement you publish,” because as bloggers, we are considered the “publisher” and having our posts not get vetted through an editorial process, are more susceptible to making those types of missteps. That doesn’t mean you can’t state your own opinion, but you must state the facts first that your opinion is based on, not allude to facts you know but didn’t publish (undisclosed facts). Interesting. From here on out, I’m printing and editing all my posts before clicking that “Publish” button! A goal I set a long time ago, but haven’t exactly followed. He also suggested all bloggers consider buying libel insurance or checking to see if their homeowners’ umbrella policy may cover it. Something I don’t think many have ever considered.
The third and last portion covered a couple projects in the works at washingtonpost.com. The first being the local blog directory, complete with a slight demo of a prototype that will categorize blogs listed based on subject (I noted sports wasn’t shown on the front page list, but I’m sure it’ll be in there somewhere). Other features on the page were “hot posts” with snippets, “What We’re Reading” (oh great, now not only can I get a huge pride/giggle rush out of getting snippeted in the WaPo Express, but I can also longingly hope to appear in that section on the papa site!), and “recently updated” sections. Their main concern was how to handle the “tagging” of posts in order to auto-categorize individual posts – come up with a standard convention for bloggers to follow? Use a cloud tag? Map tags to categories? I dunno – that could be a huge project right there. Someone else suggested geocoding blogger locations and mapping for people to find them (guess I’d use RFK and later the new stadium?). In addition to the directory, for sports, my suggestion would be that they also list the relevant blogs on the team’s front page in a sidebar or something (or at least a link to the category page for relevant blogs). I get a lot of hits from the technorati “Who’s Blogging This” links, but even though I link back to an article, 75% of the time it doesn’t pick up my link. The goal for them is to help bloggers by driving traffic to their sites as a way to be more a part of the local community. Pretty cool, huh? Although, I can see it growing into a huge directory (take a look at the list in the right sidebar over at dcblogs.com). On the other hand, many people don’t know these blogs even exist but do read the Post online, so it attracts more of an audience to us, which I think is fantastic.
The other thing they proposed is using their advertising sales force and power to replace ads on bloggers’ sites. The revenue would be the same or greater than the ads already showing (such as Google Ad Sense) on the blog, and the Post would keep a small portion for running the system that provides the ads. This is not a requirement to be listed in their system, and if you don’t have or want ads, you don’t need to do it (like I likely wouldn’t). Each ad revenue would be different for each blogger based on what the blogger currently sells advertising for. WPNI (the parent company) also has a blog sponsorship program (looks to be in infancy still), but I didn’t quite grasp the details of it.
That last portion is where some skepticism came in that the Post was trying to leverage bloggers to generate more of their own revenue. Frankly, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, although I’m sure they need to recoup the R&D costs somehow. Also, if you consider that news print is being replaced by other things and potentially losing revenue previously relied upon, I suppose it is feasible that in order to continue to be profitable and succeed in changing technology, this is an option they are exploring to replace some of that lost revenue. However, the blogger gets the lion share of the ad money as well and having the sales force of the Post behind them could actually be more beneficial. I don’t have enough details of this proposal to actually draw a conclusion either way on that, but I’d like to believe what we were told at face value.
Afterwards, we took over the Post Pub down the street. Even the Posties joined us, although they declined to sit at the same table. I was ribbed for revealing I’ve never seen All the President’s Men, although I’ve recently put it on my “Want To Watch” list after reading Katharine Graham’s Personal History (Post owner/CEO for decades who was at the helm when it went public) autobiography. You must be the only person in DC who hasn’t seen it! Haha! (oh gawd, please ignore the picture and remember I was recovering from my accident and therefore didn’t do squat to look presentable). I only stayed for one beer and then headed home, but it was fun to meet some of the other DC Metroblogging authors and re-acquainting with folks I’ve met at happy hours in the past.
This *could* be the beginning of an interesting partnership ;-) Considering Nats320′s Screech’s Best Friend also scored the mega-interview with team president Stan Kasten, and NFA has also scored several interviews of their own, bloggers are taking over the free world! I’m working on some new features for myself as well, and hopefully this season will bring even more exciting “Nats Fan”-esque items.