As recently as a year ago, it was inconceivable that much of Old Media would embrace blogs. It was probably even harder to imagine that most bloggers, known as much for independence as outspokenness, would willingly succumb to a Big Media bear hug.
But attitudes around blogging are changing fast. With new blogs appearing daily -- there are 34 million now, up from 9 million a year ago -- and more people reading blogs, the mainstreaming of the blogosphere is well under way. And newspapers are realizing that to remain relevant, they need to get more bloggy.
It's a sign of the times, then, that a startup has come up with a way to accelerate the blending process. Pluck Corp., a blog-technology outfit, has launched a service that pulls together the posts of 700 bloggers and makes them available for traditional publications. Already, some big name traditional outlets, such as The Washington Post (WPO), Gannett newspapers (GCI), and The Austin American-Statesman, have signed up to give the service a whirl.
TRIED-AND-TRUE MODEL. Newspapers already employ their own bloggers and are increasingl;y featuring podcasting and so-called Really Simple Syndication (RSS), a format for syndicating and distributing Web content. Pluck's service, called BlogBurst, represents yet another way for traditional media to experiment with blogging technologies.
"Our main interest is we want to make sure that we're interacting with our readers the way they want to interact with us," says Karl Eisenhower, managing editor for multimedia at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive.
The service will follow a tried-and-true syndication model, says Pluck CEO Dave Panos. Blogs that have been invited include tech site Micro Persuasion, celebrity-gossip site Jossip, and The Agonist, which focuses on business and political affairs. Pluck chooses the blogs it wants to include with an eye to covering a broad swath of topics, including sports, travel, and cooking.
MULTIDIRECTIONAL MOVES. Pluck employees then vet and review the blogs before pulling together a feed of the best posts for publication partners. The newspapers then put the posts they want into different sections of their online sites. The goal is for newspapers to sell ads in these sections. Pluck would then take a cut of those sales and give a portion to the best performing bloggers. Some bloggers see BlogBurst as a prime opportunity for broader exposure. Steve Rubel, author of Micro Persuasion and an Edelman public-relations executive, says he signed up as an experiment, to get first-hand experience with how syndication might work.
"As journalism moves from unidirectional to multidirectional, it will involve co-creation," Rubel says. Pluck allows newspapers to tap into the blogosphere without expending too many resources, he says. This skill of co-creating and aggregating is one that marketers will also have to learn in the future, Rubel argues.
Though an innovative step, BlogBurst raises its own questions. By syndicating blog content, it risks making that content into a commodity that appears on a host of newspaper sites across the Web. And while it's a simple-to-use tool that newspapers can wield to trawl through blog postings, it risks giving newspapers an artificially narrow pool of blogs for editors to choose from. "Why does a publication need to pay for this?" asks Jeff Jarvis, a media consultant and blogger at BuzzMachine. "Why not just link, excerpt, and aggregate?"
FILL IN THE BLANKS. At least for the early stages, it might just come down to a question of time and resources. Using BlogBurst to sift through interesting posts is easier and speedier than trolling the entire Net, say some publication partners. And the blog posts can be used to fill out niches, building up sections, such as travel, where it may not be feasible to hire another reporter, says Jim Debth, general manager of The Austin American-Statesman's Internet site. For some, the service may prove indispensable.
Yet as more reporters become familiar with blogging, the need for a separate syndicate service may one day seem quaint.