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NYTimes Gets Blogospheric (Kind Of)

“A blog is nothing more than a piece of technology… We’ll use the technology our way.” – Jonathan Landman, The New York Times Deputy Managing Editor

It seems there really is no such thing as an internal memo these days. Jonathan Landman – The New York Times Deputy Managing Editor - recently sent out a memo to his staff about blogging. The context here is these are a series of new blogs related to their Red Carpet site. Here is a snippet:

But our new blogs are more than running commentary. Look at Carr’s. It’s full of links to film publications and blogs and web sites. It encourages responses from readers and hopes to start a lively conversation. Nothing is more important to the future of our web ambitions than to engage our sophisticated readers. Blogs are one way to do it.

It’s worth spending a little time thinking about blogs, and about ourselves. Blogs make some newspaper people nuts; they’re partisan, the thinking goes, and unfair and mean-spirited and sloppy about facts. Newspapers make some bloggers nuts; they think we’re dull and slow and pompous and jealous guardians of unearned “authority.”

It’s a pretty dopey argument. Indeed, some blogs are lousy. So are some newspapers. Some blogs reject journalism. Some practice it.

The point is, a blog is nothing more than a piece of technology. It allows people to compile thoughts, connect with others and interact quickly with readers. People can use it any way they want to. It has no inherent ethical or moral quality, though it does have its own special power.

We’ll use the technology our way. Our bloggers will have editors. They will observe our normal standards of fairness and care. They won’t float rumors or take journalistic shortcuts. Critics and opinion columnists can have opinion blogs; reporters can’t. (To quote Carr: “If the Carpetbagger delved into plot or relative quality – they didn’t turn me loose for my refined cinematic taste ? flying monkeys would come out of the ceiling here at headquarters and behead him.”) We’ll encourage readers to post their thoughts, but we’ll screen them first to make sure the conversation is civil. Some bloggers will accuse us of violating blogospheric standards of openness and spontaneity. That’s life in the big city.

We will use blogs to convey information, sometimes in conventional ways, sometimes not-so. Our notions of journalistic responsibility are perfectly compatible with spirited fun. Do we put David Carr online to be witless? Um, no. Actually, we think he’s pretty witty in the newspaper.

Blogging does impose obligations. Blogs have to be updated frequently. They have to be carefully tended. There are costs; David Carr and Damon Darlin will be spending time they could be using to write newspaper articles. Their bosses have decided that’s an advantageous tradeoff. I agree.

Most of this is pretty much true for companies embarking on blogging – especially the cost part. But in some ways the NYTimes misses the point in the same way so many companies do – it isn’t about the great writer or rock star exec you’ve got – and whose lucid and clever opinions you are about to unleash on an unwitting public.

Blogs are about building a community and establishing dialogue. As others point out, to them it seems to still be a publishing tool (his memo refers to it as a “technology”) - which at its most basic level it is, but at its most important level it isn’t. His memo barely gets to this point – instead pointing to the fact that they will “screen” posts to ensure the conversation is civil. Fair enough. But how about a memo to the community you are trying build that stimulates them to participate? Rather than ask your employees for their thoughts – how about asking the NYTimes readers for theirs. They are the community.

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