Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Learning the basics of conversational editorial

A portion of my life these days involves trying to explain blogging and the world of conversational media to B2B journalists. And these journalists are divided into three distinct camps.
First, there are the bright and ambitious. Some of them have started blogs of their own. All of them are aware of the blogosphere and are participating by posting comments on other blogs. All of them have at least a passing understanding of the fundamental shifts in media.

The second group -- much larger than the first -- consists of people who don't understand a thing about conversational editorial, but think that they do. These folks tend to think only in stereotypes and to demonstrate shockingly low levels of curiosity. They don't read blogs. They often don't think anyone should read blogs. And they like to defend their ignorance with the sort of flawed logic that can give you a headache: "I practice reporting -- I do research, conduct interviews and collect facts. Bloggers don't do these things. I know this even though I have never researched, conducted interviews or collected facts about blogging."
When a publisher convinces someone from this group to create a blog, you'll get the lamest product imaginable. It will be "irreverent." It will likely use words such as "curmudgeon" or "rant" in the title. It won't be conversational. There won't be a feedback function. It won't have external links. All you'll get is a poorly written column that appears in reverse chronological order.

The third group, growing smaller every day, is completely unaware of what has happened in the past few years. They don't know what a blog is. They are still upset that the company started a Web site and they don't believe they should have to write for it. They have never heard of Jeff Jarvis, let alone Adrian Holovaty. They are print reporters, and they never miss an opportunity to tell you that. They are often quite delusional about their writing ability and their influence in the industries they cover. And each and every day they grow less valuable to the companies that employ them.

If you have people on your team from Group 1, you should celebrate.
If you have people on staff from Group 3, cut them loose.
But if your reporters and editors are stuck in Group 2, there is still hope.
Start by showing them this pdf file from a presentation by Amy Gahran to a group of science journalists. Then send them this post from Amy's blog and tell them to listen to the audio file.
After that, if you haven't noticed a new open-mindedness among these reporters, a new willingness to engage readers, then put them into Group 3 and start asking other people to take over their responsibilities.

tags: , , , , , conversational media


  1. Hi Amy,
    I like the phrase "conversational media," although it's not mine. I think I first heard it used by marketing and advertising people.
    Sometimes I use the phrase "conversational editorial" too. That seems to draw a line between using blogs, etc. for editorial purposes and using them for marketing purposes.
    And "conversational editorial" is a phrase I may have actually made up myself :> At least I don't remember hearing it elsewhere.
    Thanks for the info on your other handouts.

  2. Hi Amy,
    I'll look forward to the feedback...positive and otherwise.

  3. When I first read the post, I thought you wrote “controversial editorial” instead of “conversational editorial.” But perhaps either title would apply.

    Maybe I’m naïve, but I find it strange that there are even many Type 2’s or 3’s out there. This type of participatory journalism will be mainstream sometime in the future, perhaps the near future. It’s just too useful for it not to be. I guess I can see why a publisher wouldn’t want to spend money on a blog right now if it’s impossible from a revenue standpoint, but I find it incredible that there are journalists out there that aren’t at least curious about it.

    I’d love to see some rebuttals to your post or explanations as to why journalists seem to be hesitant about embracing conversational editorial, but I probably won’t since those types aren’t reading it.

    (I liked the “curmudgeon” zinger. Why do journalists love that word so much? If I had a buck every time I’ve heard a seasoned journalist described as curmudgeonly…)

  4. Perhaps the type 2's would be more interested if blog sites were a little bit easier to read. Graphics and editorial presentation on many are a mess, and I would imagine confusing and intimidating to people new to the medium.

    I like yours, Paul, and Jeff Jarvis' as examples for being user-and reader-friendly.

  5. Hi Matt,
    It is shocking how many Group 2 and 3 folks are out there. I find this to be such an exciting time in journalism. But some reporters and editors see only threats, not opportunities in change.
    And way too many of the insecure types try to justify their fears by adopting the cynical pose of the curmudgeon.

  6. Paul,
    Conversational media is a better descriptive phrase than weblog. Think you've pegged the categories quite well. There's also the bellicose editors threatened by the very existence of bloggers and positively certain there is no value to be added. I would add them as a sub-category to Group 2 -- no visible curiosity whatsoever.
    Wendy Hoke

  7. Hi, Paul (and Amy!)--

    First, I've also heard the term "social media" to refer to blogs and podcasts. I like the term in particular because it does refer to the more-than-two-way genre of communication.

    Second, as I read over your article, I was struck by something I told my students (back when I taught) that more traditional journalists might benefit from hearing: Pay attention.

    That is, if the nature of communication is changing, perhaps you should pay attention.

  8. Hi Wendy and Heidi,
    I think the two of you have hit upon a fundamental problem with the members of Group 2 -- they are neither curious nor attentive.
    And those are awful traits for a journalist.

  9. You forgot a fourth camp. Journalists who embrace the blogging world, thrive in it, interact with bloggers both-ways every working day, and now just take this for granted.

    We have more than a "passing understanding of the fundamental shifts in media" but a deep, well-researched, informed and enthusiastic view of these.

    There is of course a certain amount of truth in the the us-and-them scenario you portray, but in reality, it's a bit naive, and passé, and shows a rather passing understanding of the fundamental shifts in media that are actually taking place every day.

    To see just one example, look for my first name on this blog ( ), in relation to relief efforts for the Pakistan Earthquake, or on any of the avian flu blogs, to see how journalists and bloggers are already working together every day.

    Declan Butler, Ph.,D
    Senior reporter, Nature

    7 rue Guy de la Brosse, 75005
    Paris, France
    Tel: (33) 1 43 36 59 90 or or


    * Check out my avian flu news and resources (

    For science, read Nature (

    …and for top science journalism:

  10. Hi Declan,
    Thanks for the comment.
    I would include the people that you are talking about -- journalists who embrace the blogging world and interact with it -- as part of Group 1.
    I think of the folks in Group 1 as anyone who is open-minded and at least somewhat informed. I described them as "having at least a passing understanding..." And that group would include those with more than a passing understanding.
    Nonetheless, I do believe that it is worth making special mention of people like you and the rest of this subset.
    As a blogger, I thank anyone who is willing to explore this new form of communication.
    And as a journalist, I thank anyone who is willing to explore the future of our industry.
    But I assure you, there is nothing naive or passé about my description of this issue. I work with people from all three groups every single day. The members of Group 2 and 3 are real. And they often have considerable influence in their companies.

  11. Thanks Paul
    Yes, group 2 & 3 people are abundant in the industry, but I think it's also important to highlight the group 1++ subset, as the way we work can serve as an example of why this perceived dichotomy between journalism and blogging is somewhat passé. Rather than harking on about wht, I agree, is a real problem, we could perhaps be more effective by highlighting concrete examples of why journalism and blogging are symbiotic, as examples for others to follow.

  12. Hi again,
    That's a good point. And it is something that I try to do in this blog.
    I applaud the good. I point a finger at the less than good. And I try to get everyone thinking about the differences between them.

  13. I think a big part of the hesitancy to get into conversational media--and the distain in which it's held by so many journalists--is born of fear. We've had total control for so long that our fingers have atrophied around the reins to the point where letting go, or even loosening up a bit, is too painful to contemplate. So we dismiss it as a fad or something done by pajama-clad incompetents.

    It's really a tough attitude to change, even in those who grudgingly realize that our world is changing without asking our opinion, much less approval.

    I like to think of myself as being a Group 1 member. Being involved in the blogosphere the past few years has enriched my professional life in profound ways, made me a better journalist, and a much more valuable member of my readers' community (or so they tell me).

    Most of the journalists I know (who mostly fall in Amy's Group 1.5) know this, acknowlege it, and still won't/don't/can't take the plunge themselves. It's fear, it's loss of control, and it is, frankly, a whole lot of work they just don't want to take on. Their eyes kind of glaze over when I talk about it.

    Can you get people like that passionate about social media? If not, I'd rather they stick with their day jobs, because social media without passion becomes just the sort of dreck those who dismiss it think it is.

  14. Hi Sue,
    Good point. But I doubt very much that there are many "day jobs" left for these people.
    The audience is demanding a new way of interacting with the press. The publishers are demanding new products to serve a new style of audience.
    And journalists who won't take the time to develop new skills -- hell, journalists who won't even listen to the people who have taken the time -- are wearing signs around their necks that say "fire me."

  15. Here’s a rebuttal, or a caution, from a journalist on blogging.

  16. Hi Matt,
    Thanks for the link.
    I'll leave it to Mr. Jarvis to respond to Mr. Carr.