Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Nick Wingfield on how reporters use blogs

Just got this email from the Infocom Group.

Wall Street Journal Tech Scribe Reveals How Journalists Use Blogs in Reporting — and What PR Practitioners Should Do About It

According to the most recent Annual Euro RSCG Magnet Survey of the Media, conducted in partnership with Columbia University, more than half (51%) of journalists use Weblogs regularly — with 28% relying on them for day-to-day reporting. Sounds like an impressive — perhaps even inflated — statistic, right?

Not according to Wall Street Journal tech reporter Nick Wingfield. “Those findings sound conservative — particularly when applied to tech journalists,” he says. “In my case, I’m definitely part of the crowd using them in [my] reporting. Do my colleagues in Detroit check the auto industry blogs? Maybe not as much. What about reporters in DC — do they go to the political blogs? Probably.”

Wingfield’s point: “Certain industries and beats have embraced the medium more quickly than others. For example, the reporter who covers agriculture and farming probably isn’t going to find as much information for reporting in blogs. But in tech beats — it’s become part of the job. There are a lot of superb blogs out there and many [of us] are cherry picking out interesting stories there.”

Digging deeper, Wingfield reveals the following ways journalists actually use blogs during reporting — and shares a word of caution geared toward PR practitioners seeking to include blogs in their media relations efforts:

1. Journalists use blogs as tickler files when researching stories. “Blogs break big news on occasions,” says Wingfield. “That’s really useful to us. For example, the blogs were abuzz during the week of January 10th with leaks about what Apple’s product plans were. People have dissed blogs about being hit-and-miss in terms of accuracy — but in that case, they really shined. They [blogs like ThinkSecret and MacInsider] had the most amazing product leaks I had seen, including [information about the] Mac Mini and the iPod Shuffle.”

In addition: “In the days before blogs, trade pubs and newsletters would pick up on these types of stories — and the mainstream media would pick up the trades as tip sheets and not give them credit,” Wingfield recalls. “Crediting has gotten better, but the point is that these [blogs] can help us research story ideas. In this case, I didn’t really use [ThinkSecret or MacInsider] as tip sheets to do my story — but it helped me be prepared.”

He adds this caveat, however: “The Journal broke the Apple Intel [chip] news two or three weeks before they announced the deal. We broke it — and the blogosphere reacted, so it goes both ways.”

2. Journalists use blogs as sounding boards. “I also use blogs to see and hear how people in this fairly technical area think about a [certain product or announcement],” Wingfield continues. “Blogs will debate the merits and demerits of deals between companies, for example. They’re not research tools exactly, but they give you a sense of what people think. Also, after our story [ran], I went to those blogs to see what their reactions were to it.”

3. Journalists use blogs as digests of the day’s news. “Blogs also do good jobs of surfacing other stories in the mainstream media that I may not have caught,” Wingfield says. “This is useful in the RSS era — I have a newsreader cherry picking headlines from blogs and it saves me a lot of time. I also see the things they are linking to on other sites that I might not have hit myself.”

4. Journalists don’t “flog the blog” — they see blogs as useful websites. “The term ‘blogs’ is meaningless in a way,” Wingfield says. “Once they’ve become a useful tool, they’re really just a bunch of websites with useful information. They bear little resemblance to the epitome of blogs — which is a very personal, introspective diary. The blogs reporters use aren’t that.” His point: “It’s silly to conflate useful websites with real news information and rumors with those other kinds of sites.”

So what does all of this mean to PR practitioners? “Employee blogs, CEO blogs and other types of sites might be good tools for PR people to reach out [to their publics],” Wingfield says. “But whatever you [put online] has to have real information, be entertaining and original — and it can’t just communicate the corporate mainline. In addition, blogs are not a substitute for building relationships with reporters. They may help get information out — but you still [need to call the media],” he concludes.

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