Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Washington Post's Secret Plans for Local Blog Domination had an article today about how the Washington Post is looking to more closely integrate its Web and print operations. Here's a perfect (though inadvertent) example:

Gene Weingarten's Sunday column addressed the whole "Christopher Hitchens sez chicks ain't funny" trainwreck (which I'm not going to talk about here because it's, well, tedious -- see a comment I made on the issue in the Too Many Words blog).

Here's the relevant excerpt, faithfully reproduced from the print edition:
"I don't have anything to say. I do have something to sing. Here is my song "What Was I Thinking" (
content/audio/2006/12/13/AU2006121301229.html). And here is a special new verse I added just for Gene -- and Christopher, of course (

-- Christine Lavin, folksinger / songwriter"
Now, can you imagine someone trying to hand-type those nightmare URLs into a Web browser? (I had to add line breaks to keep them from blowing up my page.) The inclusion of those URLs demands that you visit the Post Web site so you can at least copy-and-paste the URLs. It's brilliant! Synergy!

The Post and DC Bloggers

Now, I've always liked the way the Post has experimented with integrating community and new media/social media into their primary content. They've usually done it in a careful but substantive fashion (not just throwing up a link to a Web bulletin board up and calling it community).

This dates back to their scheduled Live Online Web chats (they were only nominally "chats," but they were still pretty interactive -- and useful).

More recently, they were one of the first big mainstream news sites (that I recall) to incorporate Technorati modules in articles to show linking blogs (a feature which was discovered by spammers shortly afterwards, of course).

Then, about the time Jim Brady came on board, they started ramping up on the blogs and Web-only features (with the attendant stumbles, of course, but that's to be expected).

Now, as DCist and others have reported (I think it started snowballing -- no, the other kind -- after I-66 blogged about it), they're reaching out to the local DC blogging community for a DC Blogs Summit next Tuesday, Jan. 9.

At a guess, they're making contacts with the local blog community, to take on what Backfence and others are trying to do. It looks to be a follow-on to a similar, but closed, event from this past August (my invite undoubtedly got caught in my spam filter).

In the Web 1.0 world, we thought (well, I thought) that newspaper Web sites were going to be the logical hubs for local community content. Newspapers had local presence, resources and most importantly, name recognition and eyeballs.

It never really panned out fully (hell, I thought that the local free alterna-weeklies were going to get a bigger piece of the local online community pie); maybe the participatory Web wasn't really ready until blogging came around. Or maybe it was because of high walls between the "real" newspaper operations and the "web stuff." Or maybe it was because newspapers pretty much expected everything to happen on their own sites -- a variation of the walled garden.

However, the rise of blogging, as well as old-school social media like Web boards and craigslist, has kind of flipped this around. Instead of newspaper sites trying to incubate and hoard user content, what they can do now is go into the maturing social media space, find stuff like DC Blogs, see what other folks are doing (including DCist, Metblogs DC, Backfence), try it out on a smaller, faster scale (DC Express), then look to see what else they can do simply by aggregating and linking to unaffiliated contributor content.

Is it an attempt to get free content -- a crowdsourcing variation, to use the en vogue term? To an extent, but they've still got eyeballs to spend, which matters. Plus, it gives everyone a degree of freedom -- bloggers are free to talk about whatever they want, which the media site is free to feature -- or more importantly, not feature.

And there's still room to offer wholly-owned content, which now has more stuff -- an active environment -- in which to develop.

On top of that, the newspaper sites can add value by doing the things that only professional media can do really well (primary-source, long lead investigative reporting; writing without using the word "douchebag", etc).

Anyway, I plan on attending the thing next week to see what's up. It should be interesting, even if it's not.

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