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:

  1. 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.)
  2. Tell bloggers to use links!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

Other established research bloggers Forskning.no should invite to contribute are Espen Andersen, Marika L¸ders and Eirik Newth. I’m sure there are others: who would you suggest?

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?

19 thoughts on “how newspaper blogs go wrong

  1. Henningsund

    how newspaper blogs go wrong: Forskning.no, a Norwegian web journal that publishes science and resear.. http://tinyurl.com/589l5y

  2. Colin McAllister

    A useful article, thank you. Your eight point list for newspapers is informative for casual bloggers too. I refer to it in a post “Newspaper Blogging Done Wrong?” in my new blog.

  3. Kjerstin

    I share your impression of the forskning.no blog. For my part, I’m wondering whether the style of the blog also has something to do with the style of the research articles on the site. By that I mean that the blog posts have an air of not so much aiming to start a conversation, as of aiming to inform the ignorant. I think this is a tone that may have spilled over from the editorial content – or maybe scientists are just used to thinking in those terms. Nothing wrong with wanting to inform, of course, but it doesn’t necessarily facilitate a good conversation, and then the point of the blog is more or less lost.

  4. Johan

    I guess they are inspired by their Swedish colleagues at Forskning & Framsteg. Their so-called blog suffers exactly the same problems.

  5. Hjorthen

    My biggest problem with these blogs at Forskning.no is that, as far as i can see, they don’t supply an rss-feed. Not for the single blogger, and not for the blogcategory as a whole. This is disappointing.

  6. Anne

    There’s something so … schoolmaster-ish… about the Forskning blogs.
    Except a schoolmaster would check out the topic first. Read a few blogs, maybe?

    Eirik Newth and others have written, (sorry – blogged!), about Norwegian academics and their fear/ignorance of blogging, and this seems to confirm that view. What’s the story in other countries? US academics use the internet and blogs to the max, don’t they? My favourite, Swedish historian Peter Englund certainly does. But then again, he’s also very visible in the mass media, and as such, not a true academic 🙂 (Sorry, one of the Forskning blogs actually discusses it) Which reminds me of another Norwegian mass media-friendly professor – and blogger – Thomas Hylland Eriksen.

    The University of Oslo offers all students and empolyees a homepage. What you do with it is up to you, but some people create blogs and actually communicate with others.

  7. Eirik Newth

    Thanks for a very relevant posting, Jill. I’ll actually be talking about this in a few days, and you’ve given me some really good pointers. Oh BTW, I’ve just reviewed your book in my blog. 🙂

  8. Anne

    Some poor research here: Hylland Eriksen has a website, communication back to him is by e-mail.

    Also, I’d like to add that some of the Forskning blogs are more school pupil than school master. It’s a question of understanding medium and genre, and I don’t think they quite get it.

    All in all it’s a shame Norwegian academics, with a few notable exceptions :-), don’t seem to see just how much the use of blogging can add to their research and communication with both academics and non-academics.

  9. Nina Kristiansen

    Thanks for an constructive criticism and useful advices.

    I have two objections:

    1. Your 8 very good guidelines cost time and money. Time that the researchers don’t have, or at least not are willing to spend BEFORE they start blogging. Money for wages, seminar and technical devices.

    When it comes to time, I think that more and more researchers will find blogging a useful, fun, valuable and rewarding channel to reach out. But how will this happen? How will they get there?
    By jumping into the blog universe, trying, failing, experimenting, getting feedback and discovering the fun and the benefits?
    Or should they not be allowed to blog before they have spent enough time on understanding the format, been taught the know-how and become “professional” bloggers?

    And should forskning.no only start a blog when there are enough acedemic bloggers with the “correct” blog know how?

    We decided to start – and build and develop the blog as we go along!

    When it comes to the technical system: we’ll get there. We are just taking the chance that our users will enjoy our blog before the whole technical framework is in place.

    2. I am a little suprised about how strict you are on form and content.

    We have started the blog with a list of academics and writers that we are proud to present. Most are not experienced bloggers. So they and we will develop the blog as we go along. Just like most of you who are experienced bloggers today did when you started out. Give some slack to a new group of bloggers that are starting out late, yes, but at least they took the challenge!

    Actually I have invited you to be a guest blogger in our blog, Jill (check your mail from August 22). It is not too late ….

    And we invited some of the “professional” bloggers you mentioned. Not everyone had the time just now. But Torill Mortensen will be one of our guest bloggers.

    I think that a blog can be many things, have many forms and many voices. You think that a blog in forskning.no should be “discussing research in some sense or another”. I disagree. We have asked our bloggers to write about any aspect of research, eg the challenges of working in two countries.

    Blog is a genre, channel, medium which is new and developing fast. I don’t think we have come to a point yet where we can say: this is blog!

  10. Kjerstin

    I see that Lisbeth Klastrup maintains a list of active Danish blogs written by researchers. I haven’t seen any Norwegian list yet, but it would be nice if someone took it upon them to compile it 🙂

    The drawback, of course, is that such a list would consist mainly of eponymous blogs. I guess a lot of academic bloggers (especially younger ones?) blog pseudonymously. On the other hand, a Norwegian academic blogging pseudonymously about his or her research, probably wouldn’t be able to keep up the pseudonym for very long…

  11. Jill Walker Rettberg

    Kjerstin, I think you’re right: the problem is that the whole website is focused on informing the public (formidling) rather than on starting – or even participating in – a conversation. Actually I think that’s Forskning.no’s mandate: they’re sponsored by the universities to do just that. Informing the (ignorant or at least less knowledgeable) public about research is one of the universities’ three obligations: do research, teach and inform the people. So it’s not at all surprising really that the academics who have blogged for Forskning.no do just that.

    Thank you Nina, for responding! To answer:
    1. Blogs aren’t cheap – they cost time. Quite a lot of time. Time spent writing, time spent reading other blogs, time spent installing software and adjusting templates, time spent responding to comments and participating in conversations. I think it’s vital that organizations considering starting to blog really take the time required to do blogging well into consideration, and weigh the reasons they want a blog up against the cost. What exactly do you want to get out of the blog? I was surprised that you wrote it was the academics who didn’t have the time and money to run seminars, set up an appropriate technical solution and learn about blogging. I would have thought these were Forskning.no’s responsibilities – the academics are doing you a service by contributing content. I suppose you could see it from the opposite view point though, which may be what you’re doing: Forskning.no is providing academics with a platform from which to blog. It’s true that their blog posts are much more visible on Forskning.no than they would be to start with if they blogged from a newly started independent blog. At least to a certain audience.

    I had forgotten Lisbeth’s list of research bloggers. We need a list like that for Norway!

    I’m sorry I didn’t respond to your email, Nina – I’m on maternity leave and so as a matter of principle I don’t read my university email. And being on leave I wouldn’t have been able to blog for you anyway.

  12. Anne

    “We decided to start – and build and develop the blog as we go along”

    Interesting apporach. Did you use the same apporach when you went online with your website? Somehow I doubt it.

    And I remembered another scientist-blogger: Spr¯ytvarsleren. His blog critizes newspapers etc that misunderstand the field of natural sciences and publish rubbish. An academic who teaches the public and discusses different issues with academics, critics and members of the general public.

  13. carstenhp

    Blogs and academics is a big topic. Forskning.no should get points for trying, but I agree in the critisism from Jill.

    This discussion touches into the problems brought forward by professor Olav Torvund (law, UIO), about which tools the university gives its employees. (http://blogg.torvund.net/2007/09/25/jeg-har-gitt-opp-uios-webhotell-og-lagt-ned-folkuionoolavt/)

    I blogged about that here: http://carstenhp.blogspot.com/2008/09/vil-ikke-universitetene-formidle.html (With good answers from Espen Andersen at BI and Jill.)

    The problem is also discussed here: http://nrkbeta.no/universitetet-i-oslo-er-nettsinker/

    (All in norwegian, i am afraid.)

  14. […] ikke helt vellykket … Jump to Comments Forskning.no har startet med blogger, og et knippe bloggere er invitert til ?• bidra. Jill Walker, landets mest kjente og i alle fall mest kompetente vitenskapelige blogger har kikket p?• bidragene, og hun er ikke s?¶rlig positiv, for ?• si det mildt. Les analysen hennes her. Her er hennes r?•d til Forskning.no. […]

  15. Jill Walker Rettberg

    So at least Forskning.no was/is trying to encourage more academics to blog, though – right? Of course their attempt may do more harm than good in terms of actually engaging more academics in online conversations. I certainly agree with you, Anne, that they should have planned more carefully in advance.

  16. Oddbj¯rn

    Merlin Mann recently published some thoughts on “WHat Makes for a Good Blog?”: http://www.43folders.com/2008/08/19/good-blogs. Regarding the Doddo example above; I think his blog is interesting because even if he isn’t a football expert, he obviously cares about it — and a blog without passion for its chosen topic is a waste of time for all involved.

  17. Raymond Kristiansen

    i have returned to this blog post quite a few times last days and every time I smile broadly: http://jilltxt.net/?p=2300

  18. […] F??rsteamanuensis at UiB, Jill Walker Rettberg, startet ?• blogge som doktorgradstipendiat, og har siden skrevet mye om hvordan akademikere kan bruke blogging i forskningen. Hun har ogs?• kommentert Forskning.nos bloggeinnsats. Bloggen til Sveriges utenriksminister, Carl Bildt, er at annet eksempel p?• at blogging er umiddelbart, tidsaktuelt, og at det er mulig ?• f?• det til selv om man har en veldig krevende jobb. […]

  19. […] In this blog post I will share some of the findings and questions that came to me during and after the reading of the first part of Lev Manovich‚Äôs latest book. I have tried to take into account the general ethics of blogging as described by Jill Walker (courtesy to Paulien for providing me with the link), which means that I have chosen not to be too lenghty, use links aplenty and invite reactions from co-contributors of this forum. […]

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