Taking Gillmor’s advice

"Who are your influences?" Jimmy Rabbitte asked the prospective Commitments.

Well, mine are legion. But one of the major influences that caused me to start a blog was Dan Gillmor. He made a pitch at the last-ever meeting of Knight Ridder editorial page editors about the virtues of blogging, back in January 2005. Four months later, this blog was up and running, in spite of the fact that there was no way to accomplish one of his prerequisites to maintaining a blog: "First, you’ll need more FTE’s." We all refrained from laughing at that, because it wasn’t funny. As you know, we have had to do with fewer and fewer people here at the newspaper since then. But I blog anyway, because I made the mistake of starting it, and I’m obsessive.

A digression, if you don’t mind (and if you do mind, tough; the one great reward of blogging for me is that it provides an unlimited outlet for my penchant for digression): Why was that the last KR EPE meeting? Well, there never was much point in editorial page editors gathering. KR publishers (and now, McClatchy publishers) had and have all sort of reasons to gather or engage in conference calls, because they’re all part of one big business enterprise. But the corporation’s policy with regard to editorial pages is that they were independent and not to be influenced by corporate. KR would occasionally get us together anyway, in some vague hope that we would voluntarily trade good ideas or something. They didn’t do it often (the 2005 meeting was the first in five years), but they did it. Actually, that last meeting was the only one in which Tony Ridder sort of broke the rule: He spoke to the group, and had a researcher make a presentation, in an effort to persuade us not to endorse in presidential elections. His points were that it was a distraction from our main mandate, which was local issues, and all it did was make readers mad at us. The assembled editors rather pointedly ignored his advice.

Anyway, back to Dan Gillmor. He popped up last week in the form of a quotation sent to me by a reader, saying various smart things about the future of newspapers and related platforms. Here’s part of what he said:

    (E)xpand the conversation with the community in the one place where it’s already
taking place: the editorial pages. Invert them. Make the printed pages the
best-of and guide to a conversation the community can and should be having with
itself. The paper can’t set the agenda, at least not by itself (nor should it),
but it can highlight what people care about and help the community have a
conversation that is civil and useful.

Increasingly, I find that I engage in the very inversion that he recommends. I write a lot of stuff on my blog, we have all sorts of discussions about it, and I end up plucking something from the blog and turning it into my column for the paper. This week, my Sunday column will be, almost word-for-word, this blog post inspired by a Robert Samuelson column.

When we newspaper types first ventured into the online world, we basically took what we had already put into the paper and then posted it on the Web. To a great extent we still do that, although you’ll see more and more breaking news that hasn’t been in the paper, plus video and other multimedia extras.

But increasingly for me, the paper is a place where highlights from my blog appear. That doesn’t make the blog more important than the editorial page, far from it. I still have far more readers in print (although my online readership is broader geographically, and increasingly when I hear from national media, it’s as a blogger, not a newspaper editor), and the blog is still sort of like New Haven is to Broadway — a place to try out ideas before putting them on the bigger stage.

But the evolution continues.

10 thoughts on “Taking Gillmor’s advice

  1. Susanna K.

    This is why I think it’s a shame that the Saturday editorial page was taken out. Of all the sections of the paper, why excise one of the most important, the one where this crucial conversation is taking place?
    Move the Living or Sports section to the web instead. I need something to read over my coffee on Saturday morning, and I’m sorry but the Aiken Standard op-ed page is usually only good for a 3-minute read, if that.

  2. Richard L. Wolfe

    Brad, You made a good decision. Personalities and politics aside it is a great blog and I for one thank you for it. My only suggestion is that one day a week you have an Open Forum where we can talk about what’s on our mind without subject matter. Besides it would save you some typing. Love the blog!

  3. Brad Warthen

    Thanks, man. We aim to please.

    And Susanna, I’m doing everything I can, and then some. I’m trying really hard, every day, to figure out how to keep doing the other six days a week — AND provide the Saturday copy, which I’m going to be here late working on tonight — with a staff that’s half the size of what it was.

    Sure, I could give up the blog, but I think it’s very important, as Richard so kindly says, to have this experimental, interactive forum. So I put a lot of time into it (just ask the people around me; they think I’m crazy.)

    And I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t translate — I don’t do Sports. One can’t trade off for another.

  4. Ralph Hightower

    Your blog is a welcome addition to the online version of The State with the ability to address more topics than can be covered in a print edition.
    But Lee would probably say that your blog is nothing but a waste of Internet bandwidth promoting communist MSM ideas.
    Dan Gillmor is right that it should have additional staffing; but that’s corporate America, doing more work with less people.
    It was sometime ago, but I remember reading an article where a paper in California offshored their reporting to India!

  5. p.m.

    Let me reiterate that no matter how much grief I effort to give you, Mr. Warthen, this is the summa cum laude of blogs, the cat’s pajamas, the toppermost of the poppermost, the Salvador amongst the Dalis.
    And why is that, you ask?
    Well, first and foremost, because no topic has the chance to get stale, in light of your incessant posting.
    And, next and last, because I’m here, and I don’t go places that aren’t worth going, oh no, not since Minnesota and Fargo.
    We don’t always agree, but it is a pleasure to pelt you with disagreement.

  6. Ralph Hightower

    I thought Fargo was a funny movie! I also worked with a guy from Many-Snow-Da; he loved working in Columbia, sweet tea, boiled peanuts. Rick was a great coworker; I loved hearing his tales of spinning their cars on the frozen lakes of the state of a thousand lakes.

  7. p.m.

    Thinking “Fargo” the movie was probably not fair to Fargo the city, I made sure that my wife and I drove to Fargo on, believe it or not, a vacation in Minnesota, when I don’t fish or water ski.
    Fargo in the movie was paradise compared to the real Fargo. We drove around for more than an hour in a city of 98,000 people looking for a restaurant into which we might dare step. After we were sure we had seen every inch of Fargo, we went back to the first restaurant we saw.
    We have regretted it ever since.
    I can understand why anyone from up that way would enjoy Columbia. There are actually places in Columbia where it’s safe to eat.

  8. Ralph Hightower

    I actually enjoyed working up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa from mid-April to the first of November 1994 (I had made provisions for absentee voting in the primary, but had not made provisions for absentee voting in the general election since I expected and planned to be home in South Carolina).
    I waterskied on the Mississippi River and the Cedar River, which overflowed its banks in 1993 and 2008.
    When I was in Cedar Rapids, I thought of driving to Fargo, ND to visit the Hooters Restaurant, but decided against it; it was too Far to Go for one restaurant. One Saturday, I drove to Hooters of Omaha for lunch and then to a Kansas City Hooters for dinner. Hey, I needed a hobby when I was in Iowa.
    I convinced my wife to take a vacation trip to visit friends in Illinois and Iowa, the Iowa State Fair and the Mall of America and to visit the Hooters in Cincinnatti that I missed on my move back home and the Hooters in Davenport that opened after I returned home and other Hooters Restaurants along the way.
    If you want to see a state fair, visit the Iowa State Fair. Their state fair is huge! I am sure that there are others that are bigger, but there is no comparison to the South Carolina State Fair. Iowa’s state fair outclasses South Carolina’s state fair.
    But I had to get used to drinking unsweet tea in Iowa; forget about pouring sugar into ice-cold tea to sweeten it up. My wife would ship up peanuts for me to boil. On an interview trip back home, I flew back to Iowa with a dozen Hardees Steak Biscuits without the biscuits since the Hardees in Cedar Rapids didn’t carry steak biscuits.

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