"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.