Friday, February 24, 2006

Paper that Fired Reporter for Blog Now Linking to His Blog

The Houston Chronicle fired reporter Steve Olafson three years ago because he posted criticisms of the paper on his blog. Now E&P is reporting that the paper is linking to Olafson’s blog from their online edition:

Since November, when the Chronicle launched an expanded and redesigned Web site, the paper has been linking to his blog., the same blog that got Olafson fired, is now among the 60 or so blogs featured at the Chronicle Web site's "BlogWatch," which has been spotlighting local web outlets for more than three months.

The editor who decided to link to the blog had this to say about the ironic development:

The man who chose to link to the blog is Dwight Silverman, the Chronicle's interactive journalism editor and a 16-year veteran of the paper. When asked about the irony of linking to Olafson's work, he said "it is not ironic. He is a blogger and the posts he writes are well-written and I am interested in what he writes."

Well I have to disagree with Mr. Silverman, it is in fact at a minimum “ironic”……………..Here is what Olafson had to say about the links:

"I think it kind of makes them look silly, but it is a good thing that they give exposure to blogs," says Olafson, who still lives in Brazosport, Tex., south of Houston. "I get 30 or 40 hits through them each time they highlight it. I don't mind it."

I think he got it spot on: they look silly, but it is a good thing that they are linking to non-MSM sources. That they would select Olafson’s blog is again slightly ironic. Lots of papers are slowly moving deeper into the blog arena within their online offering. To me it seems most at first are merely an online duplication of the paper product with the same types of stories and same types of MSM source links (AP, NYT, WaPO, etc.). The first big and scary move for most papers is to add a comment section to their blog entries. Getting direct, interactive feedback that is published for all to see is no doubt an early concern of the MSM. For all these years it’s been their product that they decide what information the subscribers see, and blog comments change all that completely and dramatically.

It’s my observation that the comment sections can become more of a chat room than an interactive tool for debate and information sharing. Lots of comments seem to bring out a sophomoric crowd that can be more interested in a personal pulpit than truly the exchange of information and civil debate. You can also get the same crowd of comment posters over and over that after awhile don’t really add anything new. That’s ok and it seems that lots of people enjoy that element of the new online newspaper blogs. I personally see more potential there than merely a chat room.

The thing that I think we are now just beginning to see are links to more blogs and non-MSM news sources in their online posts. I think the newspapers that are moving in that direction clearly understand for them to be a new media source, they have to include the new media. The local STL paper the St Louis Post Dispatch and the STLToday online edition have a pretty comprehensive blog offering already. Although I have issues with the papers coverage at times and find the Editorial team to be extremely liberal and without any objective value, the online blog product is really making some head-way. If you have not visited the STLToday Blogs, you should visit and take a look around.

The linking of Olafson’s blog by the Houston Chronicle does make the paper look a bit silly given the history, however as Olafson stated, is a positive development when online MSM products start including the new media and blogs in their offering……………………………………………..