Christopher Schmitt

designer, web developer, author, strategist, dreamer

Working with the web since 1993, Christopher Schmitt directs Heatvision.com, Inc., a small new media publishing and design firm. The author of several books, including CSS Cookbook and Photoshop in 10 Simple Steps or Less, Schmitt is also a contributor to many web development magazines.

FROM THE ARCHIVE

Two Things To Avoid When Changing Blog Strategies

6 years ago

Growing up in Tallahassee and ultimately going to Florida State University, I’m more than a little partial to following the sports news from the school. Yes, it’s a big college football town, but I also like catching up on basketball and baseball, too. (The former is trying to make a run for the NCAA tournament for the first time in years and the latter went to Omaha for the World Series last year.)

However, quality news about the sports section doesn’t come from the school’s Web site, where at best it’s repository of schedules and copies of Associated Press summaries of games. So, I go to newspaper Web sites to get the latest news and information.

One such site was a blog my brother turned me onto called The Chopping Block, a blog named after the school’s war chant.

Over the past year or so, it’s been a great insight as it was authored by Andrew Carter, the FSU sports beat reporter for the Orlando Sentinel. The blog posts have been intelligent, fair, and good natured even though some of the blog commentors are sometimes, well, trolls, but that happens pretty much anywere on the Web, especially with sports fans.

And then, it happened.

The Orlando Sentinel decided to change things up and add more bloggers into the mix.

They then proceeded to do two wrong things in initiating that change.

The first thing they did was not announce the change before it happened. If you respect your blog readership and want to retain those readers, you are going to have to let them know what you intend to do and ask for input–even if you are 99.9% sure you are going to go with what you think is best.

The Internet is a one-to-one medium, not one-to-many like newspapers. Each person reading the blog has a connection through Carter in his words and relevant postings. The people who come back, come back to pick up on what Carter had to say because he had built up a reputation through his work.

Instead, readers came to the blog with a new author penning blog posts. My first reaction to the post? The blog had been hacked. It wasn’t till later that day that Carter posted and announced that there were new blog authors joining the group.

In my brief career working with newspapers, if there was ever a major change to how newspapers were to present a section of the newspaper or a change in a columnist, there would also be some warning or heads up to the readers. Often times, this would be a letter from the publisher or a short note from the relevant editor. Why wasn’t such a common practice in their print world transitioned over to the blog?

The second thing the Sentinel did wrong was to pick people who don’t offer a similar value that Carter brings.

The goal with this new direction, as Carter mentioned, was to have the blog be more “frequently updated” and “more active”. I would definitely agree that by adding more people to the mix, the blog will and has already met those goals within the few days since announcement happened.

However, instead of additional beat reporters, the new stable of bloggers include Sentinel staffers who give their “fan perspective” like Mark Blythe, whose first post was only two sentences and pure smack talk pap.

From what I’ve seen so far–and granted it’s only a few days worth of new material–there isn’t any new insight, no behind the scenes of press conferences, or thought-added pieces as to why certain decisions have been made. In short, there’s no more additional information I couldn’t have read elsewhere or concluded on my own. The brand or value the blog has given has been diluted.

While I don’t doubt the new bloggers for the Chopping Block can learn the ropes of how to better utilize the medium, my expectations based on how newspapers have handled their presence online have left me jaded. I expect the signal-to-noise ratio in this blog to increasingly worsen.

I’m not against Sentinel making money through a more robust online presence and, yes, this is their blog, their Web presence. They can do with what what they will.

I started out as a graphic designer for newspapers, but I found out early on that the Web was going to change how news spreads. After designing for a new medium, there are also new rules in engaging with your customers.

In order to survive, I believe newspapers should make a more committed transition to the Web in earnest like The Christian Science Monitor or Detroit’s two dailies.

Newspaper executives and managers need to realize that the Web is different than print and not just in terms of how one publishes. With a one-to-one medium, you can make money publishing it, but the need to respect the reader, the community, is more important.

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Designing Web & Mobile Graphics

by Christopher Schmitt

New Riders, 2013