Blog/print synergy: my strategies

For almost a decade I've used the Web -- and most recently my blog -- to research, develop, and enhance the articles I write for magazines. When I ran into Dan Gillmor at SXSW we discussed some of my strategies, and Dan asked me to write them up. Seems worth doing, so here goes. Much of this concerns the IT trade pub ecosystem specifically, but I think the principles will generalize. The basic pattern is simple: a story gestates in blogspace, appears in print and online, and then matures in blogspace.

Pre-publication phase: Announce story on blog, publish draft outline, solicit feedback. The preview of my .NET cover story was a good example of the role the blog can play in the pre-publication phase of a story. Among the purposes served by that posting:

Post-publication phase: analysis, feedback, enhancement. Since the advent of the Web, magazine sites have used the "TalkBack" device to enable readers (and authors) to comment on stories. This was a great way to work around the severely-bottlenecked "letter-to-the-editor" medium. In the blog era, there's another way to skin this cat: aggregate what readers (and authors) say on their blogs about the published article.

I think we'll see more of this TrackBack-like approach as time goes on. In fact, takes a step in that direction, following a suggestion of mine. Blog entries that reference stories, found by way of Feedster and Technorati, are collected into a database. Then a selected few are shown on every page, in a box labeled "Top Site Referrals." I find this label confusing, and would rather see something like "Bloggers talk back." But that wouldn't work well either because, currently, the items appear sitewide, not per-article. doesn't have the resources to collect all the substantive blog postings (and letters to the editor) that relate to each published article, and use them to advance the story in a coherent way. But as the author of a few of those articles, I have the bandwidth -- and the motivation -- to do exactly that. Here are some of the ways the blog can add depth to a printed story.

The rhetoric swirling around blogs and journalism often takes an adversarial tone. One of the reasons for that, I think, is the relationship of the two cultures to their primary sources. Bloggers feel obliged to cite them, journalists often don't. A startling example of this was the Dan Geer incident, which revolved around a PDF report on the Web. Every blogger who commented on the matter linked to that report. No conventional journalist did.

I won't always report everything that someone said to me, or cite every information source I've consulted, because I'm trying to tell stories here, and I want to keep the narrative lively. But using the blog to open a window onto my primary sources before, during, and after the publication of an article helps me -- and the various stakeholders -- in all sorts of ways.

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