News Leadership 3.0

August 18, 2009

In California’s state finance meltdown, State Worker blog flourishes

Formula for success: Hot issue, big interest group and an inclusive approach make this blog’s most popular

The Sacramento Bee and blogger Jon Ortiz have a winning formula with the State Worker Blog, which recently passed its one-year anniversary chronicling California state government’s financial meltdown from the perspective of its employees.

It started with a hot running issue that’s lasted a lot longer than many expected. It has a well-defined constituency of about 240,000 state workers. It got 52,000 hits its first week in late July 2008, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger threatened to pay state workers only the federal minimum wage until he settled a budget dispute with the Legislature.

Since then, monthly hits have increased more than ten fold, it gets somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 unique visitors monthly and it’s the most popular blog on

Ortiz has taken those advantages a step further with the goal of covering “politics from the bottom up, instead of the traditional top down way” that focuses on officials,  press conferences and other events. “Instead my aim has always been to go from the ground up and talk about how the troops in the trenches see these battles.”

“It’s an exchange,” Ortiz said in an interview. “It’s not writing about them. It’s more than that. It’s letting their knowledge permeate the journalism.”

The result is a blog that attracts frequent comments. Ortiz said he also gets about 200 e-mails a day, many of them tips that turn into stories.

Ortiz estimates about half the blog commenters are state employees and about half are not. He targets a weekly print column at a more general readership.

He tries to post three times a day. “Many times the news will drive me beyond that.” Once he had 10 posts in a day. “The news just kept hammering me.”

Ortiz offered advice for anyone starting a blog:

1. Get to know your audience.
Get out and talk with people. Ortiz occasionally posts an open invitation to lunch on Twitter and 10-12 people may show up.

2. Pay attention to the comments.  Elevate comments that are particularly thoughtful or provocative into the main blog or set up a feature to highlight good comments. Respond to questions in comments. Let people know you’re looking at what they’re saying.

“There’s a lot of flaming between commenters, and sometimes they take shots at my journalism, but I view it all as part of the conversation,” Ortiz said. “And I sometimes get good tips or suggestions in comments, so I always read them.”

Ortiz is enthusiastic about the way the blog enables users to participate. “There’s no way we can learn everything there is to know about state government. There are people who know more than we do. We can fight that or we can embrace it and I chose to embrace.”


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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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