All the news that’s fit to blog

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.

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  • http://ResonateNews.com Raymond Billy

    I agree with you. There are some items that are interesting to those of us who care about religion, but wouldn’t necessarily be considered newsworthy for a general-interest publication. There are doctrinal debates and clerical matters that people like me find fascinating, but the average person might yawn at — especially if they don’t happen to be a member of the religious group being discussed.

  • Suzanne

    I’ve always enjoyed “reporters notebook” type sidebars for big events. Generally they have a lot of vignettes that may not fit into the flow of a larger story, but really give a sense of the scene.

    Jamming all of them into the story tends to make it too unwieldy. As a writer, I appreciate a device that allows me not to have to do that.

    And as a fledgling blogger, I appreciate the advantage that this medium provides.

  • Jerry

    I know this is not what you wrote about, but the topic title sent my mind into another direction. I find a lot of religion news these days on blogs such HuffPo and CNN. And given the state of a lot of religion reporting these days, I’m not sure that news blogs do much worse a job than the regular media does.

    To the specific topic you discussed, Sarah: More than once I’ve asked for an expansion of a story online where there’s no word limit. So, in general, having a reporter expand on the story is something I appreciate. But, of course, like everything else, it can be done badly.

  • http://www.post-gazette.com Ann Rodgers

    Thanks for the kudos. Actually I would have loved to put links in. There were two reasons I didn’t.
    One was that only one of the stories in question had been published at that point. But the main reason was that I ran into a technical problem with our blog site and was unable to post anything myself. I had to send my text to an overnight editor and ask him to post it for me. (Thank you Matt Kennedy!). It would have been too much to ask him to find and insert links.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    Who knew Sarah would quote from a private e-mail!?

    (Just kidding. She did ask to make sure it was OK.)

  • Jerry

    Bobby and Sarah, why not discuss the issues in public so we can put in our 2 cents? :-)

    Seriously. I would find it personally helpful to know when you folk disagree and why.

  • Passing By

    I’m a Catholic and readily admit that most of isn’t news for general consumption, but it war a lot of fun for me. And since St. Anthony is one of my favorites (I lose a lot of stuff), let me share a fine old Catholic prayer:

    Holy Tony, come on down,
    Something’s lost and must be found.

  • MJBubba

    The blog sites that Jerry notes in comment #3 get a lot of exposure through such headline aggregators as Google News and Yahoo News. I never tailored Google News, so I take their default headlines and links. They often put stories and editorials from HuffPo and CNN religion blogs in their “spotlight” section. However, I do not ever recollect them spotlighting any orthodox Christian blogs. Since HuffPo and CNN share the sensibilities of the “mainstream” mass media, the divisions between orthodox Christians’ sources of news and the lamestream are growing.


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