/ 22 August 2007

SA journalists embrace blogs

Chaos broke out on the South African blogosphere recently, and it was all caused by a journalist.

Columnist David Bullard devoted not one, but two Sunday Times columns to hurling insults at bloggers, calling them “scrofulous nerds”, “narcissists”, and “wackos” whose blog sites are the “air guitars” of journalism. The affair was rather melodramatically dubbed “Bullardgate” by the blogosphere which reacted terribly seriously to Bullard’s baiting words by calling for his head.

The ironic result was that Bullard then, himself, started a new blog (blogs.thetimes.co.za/bullard) which rapidly shot up the blog rankings as he continued to spew provocative invective against bloggers, in amongst the odd car review. His blog became an overnight success as his abusive mutterings actually started to grow on bloggers.

Not all journalists chose to launch their blogs on a wave of controversy. Ray Hartley, editor of the new daily The Times, took an unprecedented step for a major newspaper editor by starting a blog describing the behind-the-scenes process of getting his paper up and running (blogs.thetimes.co.za/hartley). Hartley, too, built up a fair audience in a short amount of time and in fact broke the very first images of the newspaper’s mockups on the blogosphere. The blog certainly played its part in drumming up some free buzz about the new paper.

The blogosphere is not entirely a new place for South African journalists. Anton Harber, former Mail & Guardian editor who is now an academic, has been blogging about media issues on a quiet, but intelligent, blog called the Harbinger for some time now (www.big.co.za/wordpress). Harber was probably the first major media professional to take the plunge. One of the country’s biggest online publishers, IOL, has also been running an editorial blog for a while now looking at editorial issues, called “Inside IOL” (blogs.iol.co.za/insideiol).

Even the Financial Mail recently joined the blogosphere. In fact one of the reasons award-winning journalist, Duncan McLeod, started his blog, FM Tech (www.fmtech.co.za/), was that he had grown frustrated watching the dailies and websites scoop his weekly magazine. McLeod says blogging is another important outlet for his opinions on his beat in the IT industry.

McLeod’s new blog is an example of how the media can make blogs work for them. In only a couple of months of its existence the blog secured its first advertising contract and built up a growing community, providing plenty of commentary.

Says McLeod: “I am hoping to attract a younger audience than reads the FM print edition. But hopefully the blog will entice people into reading the print edition, too. I want to use the print medium to drive people to the blog and the blog to drive people to print.”

However, for now, he says the bread and butter is with print. McLeod reasons that if he has breaking news that he knows will stay exclusive to him, he would typically publish it in the FM magazine first. But if there’s a good chance that his story would be scooped, he’d then take it to his blog first.

Journalists hitting the blogosphere is a trend that brings together two powerful publishing formats. A weakness of blogging, unlike traditional journalism, is a lack of adherence to recognised codes of conduct or ethics. On the other hand, blogs are perhaps able to deliver stories in a more conversational and informal way than traditional journalism.

So what we potentially have here are blogs by journalists that draw on the strengths of both journalism and blogging. And that’s a powerful publishing blend.

Matthew Buckland is publisher of Mail & Guardian Online. Read his blog @ www.matthewbuckland.com