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What's the purpose of tv and radio blogs?

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Robin Hamman | 19:43 UK time, Wednesday, 15 November 2006

A couple of weeks ago Andrew Grant-Adamson, who teaches journalism at the University of Westminster, used his blog to ask "What's the Purpose of Newspaper Blogs?".

Lots of, perhaps even most, print and broadcast news/media organistions have launched blogs. Research I conducted back in August showed that 6 of the top 10 UK daily newspapers had launched journalist blogs and Grant-Adamson's survey of newspaper websites turned up dozens of examples of these:

"The raw figures gathered this afternoon are Times 40, Telegraph 32, Guardian 12, Sun 10, Mail 5, Mirror and Independent none that I could find."

Not stopping there, Grant-Adamson began analysing the number of blogs linking, according to technorati, to first The Times blogs and then to The Telegraph's.

According to Grant-Adamson, the most linked to blog at The Times is that of religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill who has 772 links from 160 blogs and a technorati rank of 15,049. Second place at the The Times is the blog of columnist David Aaronovitch who had 162 links from 90 blogs (rank: 28,569), closely followed by The Times News group blog with 202 links from 87 blogs and a rank of 29,614.

Over at The Telegraph, Grant-Adamson found that Shane Richmond's technology blog was way ahead of the pack with 658 links from 160 blogs and a technorati rank of 19,501. Second and third on the Telegraph blogs list, as ranked by technorati, are the blogs of Brussells correspondent David Rennie, with 321 links from 41 blogs (rank: 76,288) and Beijing correspondent Richard Spencer with 49 links from 33 blogs (rank: 96,051).

What does Grant-Adamson say about this?

"A check through the Technorati rankings, unsatisfactory as they are in some ways, seems to confirm the view that some bring little benefit to their papers.

Really? Do the technorati rankings of newspaper blogs really tell the story that Grant-Adamson says, that they bring "little benefit to their papers"?

First of all, I'm not entirely sure that technorati's mechanism for ranking in working properly. It seems to me, and others, that the rankings are a bit flakey, at least some of the time. [Grant-Adamson himself mentions that rankings did seem to fluctuate whilst he was doing the research]

Secondly, there are lots of other benefits to be brought through newspaper and media organisation blogs:

  • joining in, as Jeff Jarvis would say, the conversation
  • becoming a part of the culture of participation
  • bringing journalists closer to their audience, as the BBC's Nick Robinson does in the comments
  • letting the audience to, as Dan Gillmor suggests in his influential book We The Media, help investigate the story and better inform our reporting
  • making controversial editorial decisions more transparent as Helen Boaden recently did on BBC News The Editors blog
  • etc etc...
  • I'm not saying that links from blogs aren't important - they are increasingly important because of the way that google rank is determined (ever tried typing liar in?) and also because links FROM bloggers are increasingly driving web traffic - WashingtonPost.com Executive Editor Jim Brady says that one-third of the referrals washingtonpost.com gets now come through blogs (via Jeff Jarvis).

    Guardian Unlimited's Head of Editorial Development,Neil McIntosh, seems to agree with the point that simply counting the numbers may not tell the whole story and posted the following response to Grant-Adamson:

    "...not sure *counting* blogs adds much understanding as to *why* newspapers run blogs, but at Guardian Unlimited we see them as a useful way to have a dialogue with readers, and do things with the way we tell stories that we could not otherwise do. It also gets our journalists used to writing in a different way; blogging is, for me, the first form of journalism born from the web."

    Shane Richmond also responded to Grant-Adamson's research, saying that, as AG amicably summarises, the purpose of the Telegraph's blogs is about "filling more niches, unlimited by space, experimentation, interactivity and personality."

    Another interesting part of the debate has been that both The Telegraph and Guardian have made some of their usages statistics for blogs known.

    Shane Richmond, at The Telegraph, reveals that:

    "In September the blogs got 357,000 page views, almost 12,000 hits per day. We had 34 active bloggers at that time, so that equates to roughly 10,500 hits per blogger. The site isn’t even a year old yet so traffic is at a decent level. Page views have more than doubled in the last six months I’m confident that we will be able double them again in another six months."

    As for The Guardian's Comment is Free, Jeff Jarvis is loose-lipped with some figures, revealing that, as of the 16th of October, "To date, CiF has played host to 6,000 blog posts and 240,000 responses." The Guardian's reader's editor reveals even more, stating that Comment is Free had 2.7 million page impressions in June (no doubt it's higher now), equivalent to over one-third of the total PI's on the Guardian Unlimited network of sites.

    So where is all this leading me? The BBC has a lot of blogs that, thus far, have fallen beneath the radar of this debate. As the Senior Producer heading up the BBC Blogs trial, I couldn't help but start doing my own technorati searches to see how our blogs fare...

    Below, I've listed the top ten BBC blogs, according to Technorati. Most of the BBC's 43 blogs aren't "claimed" so I have listed them in order of links and numbers of blogs linking rather than strictly by technorati rank.

    1. BBC Blogs links: 6,494 rank: 178 [see current]
    2. The Editors links: 1,379 rank: 4,865 [see current]
    3. World Cup links: 611 rank: not claimed [see current]
    4. Nick Robinson links: 533 rank: 10,638 [see current]
    5. BBC Persian 412 links rank: not claimed [see current]
    6. World Have Your Say links: 387 rank: 38,217 [see current]
    7. Pods and Blogs links: 211 rank: 41,342 [see current]
    8. Rooze Hafton (Arabic) links: 130 rank: not claimed [see current]
    9. Island Blogging links: 126 rank: not claimed [see current]
    10. Talk About News Night links: 112 rank: not claimed [see current]

    For comparison sake, I also had a look at links/rating for the Guardian's Comment is Free portal page (links: 25,975 / rank: 70) and the Telegraph's Blog portal (links: 3,956 / rank: 3,047).

    We also keep track of other quantitative metrics, as I'm sure the newspapers that Grant-Adamson has looked at do. I can't be specific about how much traffic any individual BBC blog is getting, but I can say that the list above, based on links and technorati ranks, doesn't exactly mirror our list of top ten based upon unique users or page impressions.

    The BBC's network of 43 blogs had over 2.06 million unique users in October and generated over 5.7 million page impressions. Nearly all those blogs launched in the last six months and the number of people finding, reading, commenting on and linking to them is growing rapidly.

    Since launch, and counting only those on our main blogging platform (we're using two), the BBC's bloggers have made around 4000 posts and we've had, across those blogs, well over 100,000 comments. When all the blogs are taken into account, the average post generates between 20 - 30 comments and several blogs get 100 or more comments on nearly ever post. That is, I think, a good measure of highly engaging content. We don't keep track of what number of those comments is spam, but the number is surprisingly low as a percentage of the total - probably upper single digits although, having not dug around for the exact number, I base that more on a gut feeling rather than actually statistical certainty. It should also be noted that many of the BBC blogs have associated websites where audiences have other opportunities to interact with BBC staff and each other through message boards, have your say debates, comments on article pages, etc.

    Are the numbers important? Well, I can't argue that numbers aren't whilst at the same time bragging that the BBC blogs currently get significantly more traffic and higher numbers of comments, if not always more inbound links, than either the Guardian's much talked about Comment is Free or The Telegraph's blogs.

    But we need to keep those numbers in context. The BBC is a relative newcomer to blogging. The idea of blogging - and by blogging I mean fully engaging in the use of blogs as a technique, not just as a technology - can, on the face of things, sit awkwardly alongside some of the BBC's editorial values: truth and accuracy, impartiality and diversity of opinion, editorial integrity and independence, serving the public interest, fairness, and privacy.

    Bloggers outside the BBC often thrive upon, and many blog readers expect, the expression of strong opinions. The biggest challenge for the BBC has been to enter a world where, in some respects, our name and our values, as well as audience (and regulators) expectations of us actually make it difficult for us to fully engage. I think that our biggest successes, so far, have been:

  • Making it more possible for audiences to scrutinise our editorial processes
  • Engaging with our audiences in new ways
  • Finding, in some instances, a more personal voice
  • Inviting audiences to contribute to the blogs and to BBC programmes via the blogs
  • To experiment more freely with editorial ideas and technical innovations
  • These successes, and our failures, don't show up in the technorati rankings, the number of inbound links, or in the number of users or posts or comments. Yet it is the elements I've listed above that are, at least at this point in time, the most important and meaningful to me. I'm sure each of our bloggers has their own thoughts.

    If Grant-Adamson had asked "What's the purpose of broadcast media blogs", I probably would have responded with the list above. We're in this space to open up, engage with our audiences, find the appropriate voice, encourage participation and experiment with ideas and tools. Even if there was no technorati we'd still be here, mucking about, trying to figure out why media companies and news organisations blog.

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