how newspaper blogs go wrong
Forskning.no, a Norwegian web journal that publishes science and research news, has jumped on the newspapers-must-assimilate-blogs bandwagon and asked researchers to blog for them. Unfortunately they don’t seem quite sure what a blog is. Links are rare and clumsy, posts are long, the bloggers don’t respond to each other’s posts or to readers’ comments. This is a series of newspaper-style opinion pieces, not a blog. It’s not properly set up to foster the social writing and conversations that good blogs engage in.
It drives me crazy that the premier Norwegian publication for popularised science is trying to set up research blogs and not getting it right.
In one post, a professor of physiotherapy spends most of his blog post talking about his skepticism to blogging: unlike traditional media, he writes, blogs break the tradition that an assertion made in public should permit other people to respond to an assertion. Blogs, he continues, often tend towards the monologue, a sort of mumbling to oneself rather than engaging in debate.
Which blogs could he have read to get such a wrongheaded impression, you may wonder. Well, a newspaper blog, it turns out. The Bergen popstar Doddo’s blog about football, which, if you take a look, looks a lot more like a newspaper column than a blog. The professor criticises this blog quite sensibly, saying it’d be more interesting to him if Doddo wrote about something he’s an expert at instead, such as music.
So the professor does exactly what he’s criticising Doddo for and writes about something he’s not an expert at: blogging. Hopefully his next post will be about his research on physiotherapy instead.
Another of the research bloggers writes about waiting in line at the US embassy in Oslo and being sent off because her bag was too big. It’s quite a well-written little blog post, in the personal diary style, but what on earth does it have to do with research? Surely at least the first posts in a research blog should establish it as discussing research in some sense or another?
There are a number of things Forskning.no could have done to improve things:
- Run a small seminar for the invited bloggers or at least sent out some guidelines explaining what blogging is. (Perhaps this was done: if so I’d love to see the guidelines.)
- Tell bloggers to use links!
- Foster a conversation. Ask guest bloggers to at least sometimes respond to each other’s posts rather than write with no context. If staff members are blogging too, they should be particularly active in this, especially in the beginning when you’re just starting to build a community.
- Set up a technical system that makes linking easy, and where trackbacks work. Such a system should alert your bloggers to posts on other blogs that reference their post so that it’s easy for your blogger to respond either in the other blog or in a new post on your blog.
- Insist that if readers respond to a blog post, the blogger should ANSWER, especially if their post, like that of the professor of physiotherapy, is about how blogs tend to be monologues and you hate mumbling monologues.
- Pay bloggers. The professor of physiotherapy notes that this, like so many other outreach activities, is unpaid yet not really counted as “work” by the university. Seriously, if you expect researchers to put all this work into contributing content, they should be paid the same as a freelancer would be.
- Correct typos and fix links and images shortly after a post is published (I’m assuming bloggers publish directly; as all posts are timestamped at 5 or 6 am this may not (but should) be the case.) Show the same professionality in proofreading the blog posts as with other articles on the site. If you want the blog to add value to the site you have to take it seriously and treat it with the same professionality as the rest of the site.
- To start such a venture off well, make sure all or most of the first guest bloggers are experienced bloggers. This will create a foundation for future posts. Researchers who have never blogged or read blogs have no idea how to do it and need role models and examples.
Torill Mortensen is one of the bloggers Forskning.no promises will contribute. Torill and I are old cronies – we’ve both blogged for years, and we co-authored the first academic paper on blogging (yes! ever!), Blogging Thoughts: Personal Publication as an Online Research Tool. (In Researching ICTs in Context, ed. Andrew Morrison, InterMedia Report, 3/2002, Oslo 2002.) Since then, Torill’s written much more on blogs and of course on her main research field, games. I’m quite sure Torill’s posts will be lively and interesting, and not least, they’ll be blog posts and exist in the live web of blogs and social media. Perhaps that will pump some life into Forskning.no’s blog. Or not – it looks perfectly primed to stay a series of disconnected opinion pieces that doesn’t engage with blogging or social media in anything but name.
And do you know of any examples of this kind of traditional media-driven research blogging being done well? And do you have any more advice for journals trying to set up viable “blogs” inside or beside their nearly-print-style web publication?