In the US, newspapers have struggled to come to grips with both the threat and the opportunity presented by the Internet. At a recent conference on blogging, I met Monica Guzman, a staff blogger for one of Seattle’s two daily newspapers, the Seattle Post Intelligencer and she shared some of her thoughts about blogging for a newspaper and the future of journalism. She has worked at a number of newspapers including the Houston Chronicle, the Midland Daily News in Michigan and Foster’s Daily Democrat in New Hampshire. Monica was the Seattle P-I’s first online reporter and currently writes its most popular blog, The Big Blog.
In addition to her work on The Big Blog, Mónica gives a weekly radio round-up of the week’s most talked about stories Wednesday afternoons on Seattle’s KOMO 1000 and serves on the advisory board for the University of Washington Information School’s Masters of Science and Information Management Program.
FPP– How did you become a staff online reporter for the Seattle PI?
MG – I was first hired here as a Hearst Newspapers fellow, to cover youth and tech culture in Seattle through a blog and weekly column. When that was finishing up, the paper decided they wanted to launch a news and conversation blog that appealed to younger people and had a younger vibe. So they hired me to stay on.
FPP – How do you choose the stories to blog about?
MG – First, it’s got to be interesting. I look at what stories are getting people talking, scan local blogs, local news, reader comments, Google Trends, national news and my own inbox, then make my choices based on what could spark interest and conversation among my readers.
FPP – Does the newspaper put any restrictions on what you blog about or how you blog?
MG – The newspaper demands that I be journalistic, that I be held to the same standards as any other reporter in the newsroom. Beyond that, I have a lot of flexibility with form and content. I’ve been able to develop a voice and style.
FPP – Do your blog posts go through the same editorial review process as stories in the print version of the newspaper?
MG – All my blog posts get edited, but often at a faster pace than stories meant for print.
FPP – You have a number of other contributors to The Big Blog; what do you look for in a guest blogger?
MG – All the contributing bloggers are members of the P-I staff. I’m open to including guest bloggers from the public, though. I think it would be a wonderful way to bring new voices in.
FPP– How would you characterize your blog’s readership in terms of size, demographics, and / or interests?
MG – Can’t really go into size, except to say it’s one of our most read blogs. Demographically, readers tend to be young and tech savvy.
FPP – From your perspective of reader reaction, what have been your most interesting or controversial posts?
MG – Last November I wrote a post about the beginning of the Amanda Knox casethat became the most commented item in seattlepi.com history. This year I wrote one about Bristol Palinthat also sparked strong conversation. On the local side, earlier this year I wrote a series of posts about the videos a woman in Belltown [a Seattle neighborhood] took of allegedly criminal activities in her alley and then posted on YouTube to highlight the problem. It was a dense story with lots of angles and got intense reaction, too. In general, though, posts about strong local symbols — like the viaduct, Starbucks and the Sonics — especially those in which I analyze conversations going on in other parts of the site — tend to get strong reaction.
FPP – How do you (and the newspaper) measure success for The Big Blog?
MG – I measure it by the quality of the conversation. We have our ups and downs on that front, but I’m confident that despite the sometimes vitriolic comments we get, the conversation is steadily improving. Readership and content value is also, of course, critical.
FPP – What types of stories would you like to write about, but haven’t tackled yet?
MG – When you write a blog, it can be tough to tackle stories that take a lot of time to report and develop. I sometimes miss writing those longer kinds of stories, but am learning how to achieve depth in chunks.
FPP – Which journalists – in any media – do you admire most and why?
MG – I LOVE Ben Smith at Politico.com. I think he’s a great model for neutral yet personable blog journalism. He’s thorough but not longwinded, he puts content above form and he’s managed to write an interesting political blog without coming down on one side or the other. When he speaks out, it’s to make an observation about the interplay of politics or how aspects of the campaign are being perceived. The strength of his content and his choices in picking what to write about and how give him extraordinary authority.
FPP – How do you think newspapers could best use the Internet in the future to build readership and generate new sources of advertising revenue?
MG– I think it’s important to enable reporters to engage with readers online and in person, to show their human side in their work and to make it as easy as possible for them to use whatever media they deem most appropriate for their work. The Internet makes all these things possible in ways we’re still just beginning to explore. As for ad revenue, that’s a toughie. I’ll leave that to the experts.
FPP – What would you like to do next in your career?
MG– I’d like to keep working in online journalism. It’s got so much promise and it’s so exciting. I’m not sure what form that would take in my career — two years ago I never would have imagined I’d be doing what I’m doing today — so I’m just going to keep going and see what’s next.
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