Monday, April 03, 2006

Blogs appear to go mainstream as Time Inc. hires two practitioners


Monday » April 3 » 2006

Time's bold move into blogs

Mark Evans
Financial Post (of Canada)

Friday, March 31, 2006

Without being too melodramatic, the blog as a disruptive and rebellious
medium could be dead. Perhaps the most obvious indication blogs are
becoming part of the mainstream is Time magazine's recent decision to hire
two high-profile bloggers -- Ana Marie Cox and Andrew Sullivan -- to write
for the magazine and the Web site.

Instead of being dismissed as just forums for online rants or digital
diaries written by broken-hearted teenage girls, blogs have quickly
emerged as credible communication tools.

As a result, it's no surprise to see newspapers and magazines embrace
blogs as a new way to engage consumers, particularly younger ones who
spend more time online than reading and watching television.

Quebecor Inc., for example, is trying to jump-start its digital strategy
by launching blogs and other user-generated content. "I think there is no
other future for conventional media ... than to migrate to this model,"
Pierre Peladeau, Quebecor's president and chief executive, told reporters
earlier this week.

One of the big challenges facing traditional media that launch blogs
and/or hire well-known bloggers is maintaining the unique culture that has
allowed the blogosphere to flourish over the past two or three years.

A big part of a blog's appeal is authors pretty much have free reign to
write what they want -- be it commentary, criticism or ideas. Blogs are
free-wheeling creatures that -- at their best -- reflect the personality
of the author in a way that is difficult for newspapers and magazines,
which have to follow a format and engage in self-censorship for legal
reasons and editorial accuracy.

So what happens when blogs are institutionalized by the mainstream media?
Does it mean posts have to be edited and approved before they appear
online, rather than being controlled by the author? Would this take away a
blog's voice and vibrancy? And do readers see blogs as something they want
or expect from the mainstream media ?

These are questions that will need time to be answered because it is still
early days for blogs -- despite there being roughly 50 million in

To date, many newspapers and magazines are in experimentation mode and
trying to figure how to blog and who should blog. Do they hire bloggers or
cajole their staff reporters to write blogs as well ?

Among newspapers around the world, The Guardian in England has a
reputation for having a forward-thinking blog strategy. This includes a
group blog called "Comment is free," which features columnists from the
Guardian and Observer newspapers along with other writers and commentators
with a wide range of interests.

In the U.S., a study by journalism students at New York University of the
100 largest newspapers cited the Houston Chronicle, Washington Post and
USA Today as the "top blogging newspapers."

An informal study by NYU professor Mark Hamilton found Canadian newspapers
are lagging behind. An exception was the Toronto Star, which has eight
writers who blog.

Om Malik, a writer with Business 2.0 magazine and a highly popular blogger
(, said it was inevitable "big media" would eventually discover
blogs, and part of their strategy would be hiring some of the
blogosphere's biggest stars.

"In my opinion, blogs are the new black," he said. "I think Time made a
brilliant move in hiring Sullivan and Cox because we are all looking for
big media validation."

Mr. Malik said he expects more newspapers and magazines to hire
professional bloggers because writing a blog on a consistent basis can be
a challenge. "I have made this argument time and time again; people don't
realize how tough it is to write original stuff [for a blog] and be a
reporter," he said.

In hiring Mr. Sullivan and Ms. Cox, Time has realized blogs are not a
passing fad but an increasing part of the media landscape.

The company's willingness to experiment with and embrace new digital
content should not come as a surprise. Even before the dot-com boom
happened, Time Warner invested US$75-million on a Web site called that featured free content from many of its magazines.

The site was closed in 1999 after five management changes -- probably
because it was ahead of its time.

Rather than stay on the sidelines and watch rivals move into the
blogosphere, Time is taking a bold step forward. If it means blogs lose
some of their funky, cool cachet, so be it.

© National Post 2006

Copyright © 2006 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks
Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.


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