When newspapers began adding blogs to the traditional media mix, it opened up a whole new world for religion reporters who had all this content but only so much that could fit in print.
Now we’re seeing religion blogs withering away here and there while others pop up to fill the void. People have had this idea that blogs were the “leftover” content, the stuff you write in your mother’s basement. But time and time again, niche blogs that actually do some reporting carry the potential to do quite well.
An example of where you see religion reporters using the blog space well comes from Ann Rodgers, the religion reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rodgers has years of institutional knowledge that helps her distinguish when something is really new and interesting in the religion world. But, as is the challenge at many general interest publications, only so much of it fits in print and would be relevant to a Pittsburgh readership.
Summer meetings of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops tend to be rather slow and newsless — so much so that I rarely cover them. But this year’s June meeting in Atlanta was so packed with news on Wednesday that reporters couldn’t even get summaries of it all into their stories.
The Post-Gazette, therefore, opted to cover their plan to write a letter about jobs and the economy, and their 10-year review of their child protection charter for Thursday’s paper, and make the religious freedom story wait a day so we could give it decent space in Friday’s paper.
But there are always interesting moments at the bishop’s conference that don’t get into my stories, either because they’re more inside baseball than news or because they require so much explanation that I can’t justify the space. So while I’m waiting in the Atlanta airport I’m going to go through my notes and put down as many of those odds-and-ends as I can before my flight for Pittsburgh boards.
A nitpick might suggest Rodgers could give a quick summary and links to the stories that did go in print, but the post itself stands on its own. When I mentioned my love for this sort of idea, Bobby gave some healthy pushback:
In general, I’m not a big fan of dumping notes because (1) There’s a reason you hire reporters to focus on what really interests and matters to readers, and (2) It’s time-consuming and can become a burden to the writer. Ann Rodgers, most of the time, is not going to be sitting in an airport with nothing better to do.
That said, I agree that she nailed it with these notes. So maybe there’s a way to avoid the concerns above.
Meanwhile, the Courier-Journal‘s Peter Smith has a nice column today related to “Veggie Tales” and “The Blind Side.” Appears to be “notes” for print from the best of his blog. Not sure if a potential post could weave in that as well, but it seems to be another example of readers benefiting from a Godbeat writer’s expertise behind the scenes/beyond the headlines, although Smith gives his opinions as well:
Here’s how I responded to Bobby:
With shrinking newspaper space, this is a really great way to offer more for the readers. It should be optional, not mandatory, I hope. Of course, more and more reporters have to meet some sort of quotas, whether it’s traffic, number of stories, number of followers/fans, etc. Ann’s probably been to tons of conferences like this where she has all this institutional knowledge and fun little tidbits and until her blog, she had no outlet to share them. I don’t like dumping all notes, but boy, it’s fun for the insiders and shows just how much she knows. Michael Paulson did this really well for the Boston Globe‘s Articles of Faith for a little bit. Peter Smith, as you said, does this, too. I’m wondering if someone like the Washington Post‘s Michelle Boorstein could write a blog post, show how well the traffic is and make a better case for a more thought-out piece for print. The thing is, it’s so hard to know what exactly all of Pittsburgh’s readers want, but it’s a fun service for the rest of us. I think we’ll see more and more articles starting on the web that turn into more fleshed out, thought out, edited pieces for print. Yes, we’ve seen the concept work for breaking news, but we’ll probably see it even more in the days to come, similar to how book publishers are looking to blogs and Twitter for ideas.
Okay I’ve got enough written that I can do a post. Keep egging me on, Bobby.
To be clear, I’m not in favor of a “notes dump” for the sake of dumping notes. But I do like that Rodgers isn’t afraid to go too inside baseball, giving little snippets of things she found interesting. Thankfully for those of us who might not live in the Pittsburgh area to subscribe to print, she used her airport time to benefit those of us on the Internet.
Image of old computer monitor and paper notes via Shutterstock.