The Flint Journal, like many newspapers, is demanding that its reporters also be bloggers. The problem is the management types at the paper don't seem to understand the difference between the two.
Reporters are trained to be objective and scrupulously keep their personal bias out of a story. There's an old journalism adage that if your mama tells you she loves you, back it up with another source. The best bloggers blend facts with opinion. They are passionate about a subject and that comes through in their posts. They frequently use the hard work of real reporters as fodder for their riffs and digressions on a subject. At times, they can act as unofficial ombudsmen for newspapers, calling them to task for mistakes. At other times, bloggers can come off as wacky cranks — fun to read but not exactly reliable.
As you can imagine, it's hard for a reporter to play both roles at the same time. In many ways, the role of blogger and reporter are mutually contradictory, although good bloggers do some reporting of their own. As a result, the Journal's blogs often read like hard news stories that should be in the news section of the paper, wherever the hell that is. (It's really hard to figure out what's what on the Journal's website.) And when the blogs are more blog-like, for lack of a better term, the comment sections are filled with confused readers wondering why a particularly frivolous topic is considered "news."
Please don't take this as a criticism of the hardworking reporters at the Journal. My sources tell me that they are constantly complaining to the higher ups that readers often don't even know they're reading a blog. They've requested photos to differentiate the blogs from real news, or info boxes that explain to readers what they're reading, all to no avail.
Here's a few suggestions to improve the situation:
1. Hire one or two actual bloggers to aggregate and comment on the work of the real reporters instead of asking the reporters to wear two hats. Give these bloggers the freedom to be critical, funny and opinionated.
2. Clearly delineate the blogs as separate entities from hard news. Give them better names. Let the bloggers personalize their sites. Hell, run a paragraph that explains to readers what a blog is supposed to be so they aren't confused.
3. Stop running hard news — like details of Dayne Walling's victory speech or lists of school closings — in the blogs. Use the hard news reporting to inform the blogs, but give them an opinionated edge that you don't find in the news section.
4. Let the bloggers use info from all news sources available to them — not just material from the Journal — in their posts.
Again, from the people I've talked to this is not a problem with the current reporters/bloggers. It starts much higher up at the paper. The decision makers need to fix this problem. Right now, readers are confused and reporters are disgruntled. But why listen to me? I'm just a blogger writing about Flint from San Francisco.