News Leadership 3.0

January 19, 2009

In Philadelphia, breaking news on a blog

Chris Krewson: From The Source quickly becomes one of Philly.com’s most popular blogs

Chris Krewson is executive editor online/news for The Philadelphia Inquirer, where the newsroom late last year started a news blog, From The Source, which has become quite popular. I asked Krewson in this guest post to review key steps to starting the blog and to describe its impact to date. Here’s Chris:

“Why don’t we start a breaking news blog?”

My editor, Vernon Loeb, asked me that question in late 2008. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s newsroom was certainly no stranger to breaking news at the time; we’d won a 2008 state Associated Press award for best online coverage of breaking news, for the fatal shooting of a police officer. And we’d made great strides in leveraging the work of our reporters during big news days, most notably the 2008 Pennsylvania Primary, the Phillies World Series win and follow-up parade, and the 2008 general election.

But this was something different.

So we gave it a try.

What to post?

The Inquirer had an all-purpose blog, called “From The Source,” which was originally created for a prospective NFL draft pick to send reports of the process. Later, our TV critic used it to blog from Los Angeles. We used “From The Source” to file breaking news reports while the Phillies made their World Series run, so that seemed the most logical place to nest the breaking news blog, at least for the moment - because we did not know whether our users would find it useful, or not.

We knew our users would contribute news items, so we went out of our way on the blog to beef up a “how to contact us” area, with our online desk phone number and e-mail prominently displayed.

We used our ace in the hole to get things started. When The Inquirer launched its morning breaking news team in January 2008, Vernon asked all the newsroom’s desks (SMASH, business, education, metro, sports and features) to file “advance items” for the Web site. These three- to five-paragraph items were filed the night (or the Friday) before, brief dispatches noting the start of a trial, or the expected earnings of a company, etc.

So we stocked the breaking news blog with those, gathering them in one place.

We also planned on using the blog, from the start, with AP Alert-style notices - basically telling users we knew news was happening, but didn’t know what the story was. For the past nine months or so we’d struggled with what to do with information like that; posting news in a blog format helped us get over the mental hurdle that “we didn’t have enough for a story.”

Sometimes, particularly on big stories that call for a comprehensive ‘write-through,’ we consciously move things out of the blog and into a story. And we’re still feeling our way on this. Still, I’m glad we’re trying this approach to the news; the rapid-updating feels like a much more “web” way to cover news.

The tech

Interestingly, there’s something about the way we blog at philly.com that focuses much of our blogging efforts on news, rather than the traditional definition of a voicey, breezy blog: Our platform changed from Movable Type to the same CMS we use for news stories and photos, Clickability. That means instead of using cumbersome text links that don’t update as the blogs do, we can treat blog posts and stories in exactly the same way. We often lead philly.com with blog posts, which in my experience is difficult-to-impossible most places.

As a result, even before we started this breaking news blog, seven of the top 10 blogs on the site were newsy: News about the Eagles, the Phillies, gossip, national politics and more routinely beat out even philly.com’s venerable Attytood.com, by the Daily News’s Will Bunch.

So we had a feeling we’d do well by posting breaking news in its very own blog.

And we were right.

The Results

We launched in mid-November, and came in at no. 11 on the list of blogs on Philly.com. That was pretty good for an out-of-the gate response. But we really gathered steam the next month, December - the Inquirer From The Source blog was no. 2 on Philly.com, only after the Daily News’ powerhouse Eagles blog (and that gained a ton of traffic during the team’s improbable late-season winning streak that drew them into the playoffs). But only a little less than 6,000 views separated us. And the breaking news blog still accounted for nearly 12 percent of all blog traffic on Philly.com.

So far in January, the local news has been slower - and we’re also diverting some staff reporting into the Inauguration blog, which is the latest iteration of our political blog, the former home of some of our most potent breaking news blogging. But we’re no. 3 on the site (after Eagles and the NFL in general) and nearing 10 percent of all views. The Eagles are not going to the Super Bowl, so I’d anticipate that internal competition dropping off.

I’d rather have the Eagles win a Super Bowl, or at least get there again. But I’ll settle for a strong blogging effort that gets this newsroom more aware of what our online users are looking for, and figuring out how to get it to them.

Comments

The Inquirer has done a great job with this blog - spreading the gospel in the newsroom that yes, news starts early and so should we, and that yes, we should tell people as much as we know as we know it, even if that story may develop over time. Other sites should take note; this is a very effective way to energize your Web news report and prevent the “didn’t I read this before?” feel of day-old news in the morning.


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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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