Thursday, June 15, 2006

Blogging Revolution or Empty Gimmick? I'll Report, You Decide

It's getting to the point where people can slap words like "blog," "interactive" and "on demand" on just about any media offering to get some attention.

My case in point this time around: an operation called Tampa News Blog.

A friend at Mother Times turned me onto a press release announcing the debut Wednesday of this new outlet, which promised to be "the first known news blog that provides only local news and does so in an interactive blog format" -- a finely-honed definition if ever there was one.

Turned on at noon Wednesday, Tampa News Blog is to be the first of 50 city-specific local news blogs offered by the Orlando-based Blog Spot Network (at least, according to their release). Along with an array of posts featuring news stories culled from all the big local news outlets, there are places for users to place free classified ads selling everything from boats, cars and condos to houses and recreational vehicles.

But the problem with the new Tampa News Blog is that, well, it's um....


I mean, the idea of a site which gathers together some of the free content spewed online by the Times, Tribune, Bay News 9, et. al., makes loads of sense. But there's not many stories here and the subject matter -- Tampa Police Debut Rescue Vehicle, RNC Site Visit to Tampa Coming in August -- is hardly the most interesting stuff available.

Seems to me that the mainstream news outlets all have good to middlin' collections of local news online, and quirky blogs such as Sticks of Fire and the Weekly Planet's Blurbex get the super-local, interesting stuff. So why should anybody read Tampa News Blog?

They better figure out an answer to that question, quick. Because people will only be impressed by fancy catch phrases for so long.

When it Rains...Well, You Know...

The media gods decided to make all hell break loose this week, media news-wise, which makes bloggifying it all quite a challenge.

Do I chortle at Dubya's awkward attempt to embarrass Los Angeles Times writer Peter Wallsten for wearing shades during a Presidential press conference, only to find out later that Wallsten is legally blind and has a optic disease which gets worse upon exposure to UV rays, like, sunlight? (Wallsten gets the grace under fire award for shrugging off Bush's faux pas, by saying "I never told him.")

Do I marvel at the way CNN ran several in-depth stories Wednesday on cyber-activist B.J. Ostergren, a Virginia woman who makes the point that too much personal information is available through government records online by posting personal information of celebrities she's discovered online -- including Gov. Jeb Bush's social security number?

Why do I marvel? Because CNN aired incredibly similar profiles of Ostergren and her work in May of 2005, featuring her on its news show Daybreak and Lou Dobbs Tonight. How much press does this woman need for the same protest and stunts?

Do I wonder about the way ABC anchor Bob Woodruff dropped by ABC News headquarters in New York Tuesday -- an appearance one ABC News staffer said left few dry eyes in the building? It came one day after New York magazine published a blistering account of the jockeying for the World News Tonight anchor chair which cast new anchor Charlie Gibson as a tough, ambitious guy who pushed Diane Sawyer and Elizabeth Vargas out of the way to seize the job.

Why do I wonder? Because the New York story also cast Woodruff as a slowly-recovering shell who recently "had a piece of prosthetic skull put in his head" and whose "memory and speech are still shaky." Woodruff's fit look and sure speech seemed an effortless, living rebuttal to a story filled with lots of gossipy, anonymously-sourced material.

Do I puzzle at the way Tribune Co. seems to be unraveling before our eyes -- as the company's second-largest shareholders call for the business to break up its array of TV stations, newspapers and other media outlets to improve the stock price (see the letter here). The New York Times had a compelling piece Wednesday about the Chandler family, former owners of Tribune's Los Angeles Times, and why they oppose current management's efforts to buyback stock and prevent shareholders from forcing a sale as happened to Knight-Ridder.

Seems these days in media, bigger isn't necessarily better.

Finally, do I wonder at the apparent lack of news available to the folks at the Newspaper Association of America's trade journal Fusion, which decided to feature a Q&A with yours truly in its Summer 2006 issue?

At least I have an answer for that one: I'm going to be grateful for the attention and keep my mouth shut. These days, any publicity is great publicity.


  • At 12:53 PM, June 15, 2006, formerly mr anonymous said…

    thanks for alerting me to the new blog. they have already responded to what they term your 'attack.' actually, w/o it, no one would have known they exist.

    they cd also use a sense of humor. they didnt quite hear the irony in yr 'ill report, you decide' headline.

    that sd, it sounds very ambitious. clearly aimed at draining some of the ad revenue that the spt and trib wd like to collect for online exposure. and maybe it will work.

    readers like me increasingly appreciate the chance to talk back to what they read. this new blog offers that, altho they appear to be carefully screening all comments which do not instantly appear. thats worrisome.

    the spt makes feedback easier than the trib, which is way behind on that, as it is on so many things.

    one cant help rooting for some new underdog to win these new media wars. i wdnt bet on the oldskool trib or spt.

  • At 12:57 PM, June 15, 2006, Eric Deggans said…

    I hear you, although I remain skeptical about blogs which depend so heavily on local newspaper reporting for the content they are presenting. already offers free classifieds, which includes space in the print edition, several blog areas where you can comment on our articles or post your own stuff and an array of reports and material which is pretty expansive. i'm just not sure what they are doing that we aren't...

  • At 2:16 PM, June 15, 2006, Anonymous said…

    Who needs another blog when we have yours, Eric? So lets change the subject.

    I was almost banging my head against the wall today while reading the piece about Ice Cube. How has this guy become a big mainstream star? Every time I look at him, all I think of is the virulent anti-white racism that dominated his music a few years ago. Do you think a white guy who used to spew anti-black hatred would get the same forgiveness from Hollywood?

  • At 2:40 PM, June 15, 2006, Eric Deggans said…

    Re: Ice cube and anti-white sentiment --

    My instincts tell me a white guy wouldn't be able to get away with it. But Eminem had a bunch of early raps where he dissed black people but didn't pay much price -- mostly because Dr. Dre and lots of other black rappers supported him, and news of the material didn't come out until he was already a star.

    I think you make a good point about Cube. Members of Public Enemy have a similar history -- even though they kicked out a member in the '80s for making anti-Semetic statements.

    I think Hollywood has overlooked such stuff from Cube, Chuck D., Russell Simmons and others because they view that early stuff as a shtick -- which clearly they don't believe now because they do business with so many white folks.

    That's the priviledge of power, I guess. But I am surprised more critics who write about Cube don't bring it up...

  • At 3:05 PM, June 15, 2006, Anonymous said…

    Somewhat simple and obvious question here: Can Tampa News use content generated by other organizations to produce their own advertising revenue? The St. Pete Times had me take down a website that framed their content a few years ago. How is using the RSS feeds any different? Seems like a doomed enterprise on that basis alone. It won't be allowed to make money before someone sues it back out of them. If they do get away with it, it will be a useful precedent for all of us.

  • At 3:15 PM, June 15, 2006, Eric Deggans said…

    As any good lawyer will tell you, the devil's in the details.

    Blogs ranging from the Huffington Post to Romenesko's Media News offer similar links to stories with brief descriptions of the content you will find when you click through. So I'm not sure how Mother Times got you to stop posting stories, but I've been told by many that hyperlinks to other websites is not a copyright violation....

  • At 3:53 PM, June 15, 2006, Anonymous said…

    actually, w/o it, no one would have known they exist.


    btw eric, is there a more boring ongoing story than the tired fcat? i should have posted this yesterday: every time the fcat scores are released, there's a photo of one (or more) women (never men ironically) -- mouths agape -- reacting as if they just won the lottery.

    sure enough, today's paper, front page: a happily surprised woman reacting to fcat results.

    man, you could see that coming straight down central avenue.

    in the story, the same regurgitated "fcat is good because... fcat sucks because..." quotes. and the same almost cliched take on how the bad schools will get better next time.

    it's like a combination of two things: a romance novel about a cubs season. same things happen, same quotes, just different names and the result is the same.

    can't your photo editor instruct someone to get, just maybe, a shot of some administrator bawling or pitching a fit because of the low scores? you know, just something different?

    it's the same every time around and i honestly don't know what subject is covered to excess more in the times: fcat or the rays.

    the annual stingray shuffle story is more interesting than the fcat broken record.

  • At 4:52 PM, June 15, 2006, Anonymous said…

    Hi Eric, my idea was similar to what I'm doing with the Tampa Tumbler. Except one didn't tumble local blogs, they tumbled local newspapers. At any point during the tumbling they could post comments (which was the novelty of the thing, you could comment in one place for a variety of local news sources). After a few days of the thing running, someone from the Times sent me an e-mail telling me to stop...which ultimately I did. You're right, though, now that I think about it, seems everyone is doing it nowadays - just without the frames. That seemed to be the thing.

  • At 5:03 PM, June 15, 2006, Eric Deggans said…

    RE: FCAT -- I agree that we all could stand to try covering the FCAT in new ways. But because there is so much riding on these results, i think it is unrealistic to expect that we won't focus on how each school performs and whether the accomplishes what Bush says it does.

    As for the triumph photo -- i'm not sure if we know how schools have done before we get there to take the picture. If we do, I would say you have a point about featuring too many shots of people triumphing asa opposed to doing badly...

  • At 10:37 AM, June 16, 2006, tommy from sticks said…

    Blogging Revolution, indeed!

    Even overlooking the errors in the hyperbolic press release, they are not really saying anything. It seems these gentlemen don't really get it.

    The opportunities online are about creating community, not rehashing news.

    Thanks for the link, Eric.


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