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Newspapers woo bloggers with mixed results

Plenty of papers are blogging. But mixing old-time news gathering with new "citizen journalism" isn't always easy.

Explosive college basketball coach Bobby Knight once summed up his views on journalists, and in doing so may have unintentionally explained why newspapers are struggling to deal with Internet bloggers.

"All of us learn to write in the second grade," Knight said while the coach at Indiana University, according to a 1983 story in the Washington Post. "Most of us go on to greater things."

Blogs written by so-called citizen journalists are increasingly challenging newspapers for readers. According to a recent study by Forrester Research, blogs and newspaper Web sites now have the same audience share--about 17 percent--among Internet users between the ages of 18 and 24.

"Newspapers still have a larger overall audience," says Charlene Li, a Forrester analyst. "But blogs are catching up quickly."

Initially caught off guard by blogs, newspapers and old-guard news agencies are now racing to present their own. So far, the results have been mixed. While papers such as the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman are using blogs to give readers a news voice they never had before, other papers like the Washington Post are struggling with everything from charges of plagiarism in their blogs to being labeled with the word every editor dreads--boring.

Last week, the Associated Press, the century-old news agency, signed a cross-marketing deal with Technorati, a search-engine for blog postings. Technorati agreed to scan for blogs that include links to AP stories. The search engine will then create a Web page where it will display the blogs in addition to original AP stories.

The deal follows similar agreements between Technorati and Washington Post Co., owner of the Washington Post and Newsweek magazine.

Also in recent weeks, the Arizona Republic, Des Moines Register and San Jose Mercury News were among a group of publishers that signed up for BlogBurst, a blog syndication service. Under the terms of the agreement, newspapers can publish any of the more than 1,500 blogs featured by the service.

The Austin (Texas) American-Statesman rounds out the newspaper's travel coverage with one of BlogBurst's travel blogs. Jim Debth, who manages the Statesman's Web site, said connecting with a paper's readers now means including their voice. Besides BlogBurst, which is operated by Austin-based Pluck, The American-Statesman also offers tools on its Web site that enable readers to create their own blogs, which can then be posted on the paper's Web site.

Since starting the latter service last September, the newspaper has seen readers create 875 blogs, which are recording about 2,500 page views a day, according to Debth. He acknowledges that the blogs have yet to attract huge audiences, but the point is to offer readers a chance to connect with likeminded folks.

"The idea behind this is to create more of a community," Debth said. "You create community and you'll increase traffic and loyalty."

Ethical stumbles, journalistic detritus
Publishing content produced by nonprofessionals comes after scores of newspapers asked their own editorial staffs to write blogs. At many publications, the results were mixed. In March, the Washington Post was heavily criticized for hiring Ben Domenech, a former Bush administration aide, to write a blog for without doing more to check his writing credentials.

Three days after hiring Domenech, the 24-year-old resigned amid charges that he plagiarized material he had written for other publications. Domenech denied that he knowingly committed plagiarism, the Post reported.

The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, announced recently that it was discontinuing the column and Internet blog of Michael Hiltzik, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, because he posted comments on his blog and other online sites under assumed names. The newspaper said that while Hiltzik did not commit any ethical violations or print any inaccuracies, he violated the Times' policy of writing under pseudonyms.

Another hurdle for newspapers is making sure that their blogs don't bore readers, said Patrick Williams, managing editor of the Dallas Observer, a weekly publication. He says that too often newspaper blogs are filled with leftovers from stories too long to fit in the paper that day.

"They're filled with all the news not fit for print," Williams wrote. "They're a place where writers go when reporting is just too hard. Let us pray...that blogs can go back to what they should be: teenagers and college students talking about sex and music."

Despite his distaste for news blogs, Williams says he values news and he believes that news stories are what drive the need for blogs and not the other way around.

"If I were the king of journalism, I'd force newspapers to stop publishing for a month," Williams said. "Then let's see what would happen to blogs. Facts have to be the basis of opinion at some point. And if a blogger is collecting facts, then at what point does the publication cease being a blog and become an Internet news site?"