The Honolulu Advertiser entered the brave new world of Web logs on July 24, admittedly a few light years after the rest of the world caught on to the phenomenon of blogging, where writers provide online diaries on just about any subject.
Blogs date back to the mid-1990s but really hit the mainstream about five years ago. News organizations like ours have been a little slower to catch on, mostly because news pages have been our primary focus. But the blog explosion was bound to happen, with or without us. Technorati, an Internet search engine that tracks blogs, estimates there are 50 million out there, and the world of blogs doubles every six months or so. Each day, more than 175,000 blogs are created, or about two per second.
Those are staggering numbers, and they reveal the extent to which blogging has become such a prevalent form of communication and information.
Our foray into the blogo-sphere has been in the planning stages for a while. We wanted to start with staff members who were willing to commit to the job for five days a week and had something to offer readers outside their regular newspaper writing jobs.
We found five hardy souls who would be familiar to Advertiser readers: sports writer Stephen Tsai, Island Life writer Catherine Toth, business writer Dan Nakaso and political writers Jerry Burris and Dave Shapiro. Dave's daughter Treena, who covers government issues for The Advertiser, was so taken with the blogs that she started one devoted to parenting.
A few weeks into our new features, we are pleased with the results. On weekdays, we have gotten anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 collective page views on the blogs. The numbers have increased as we've been able to promote the blogs more effectively in the newspaper and more online readers have discovered them.
Our writers (and, we hope, our readers) like the instant feedback on an item and sometimes the debate that it sparks among readers.
"The benefit I sense is it stimulates a forum where people talk with, to or past each other, making little reference to what was originally posted by me," says Burris, one of the state's chief political experts. "That is, it sets in motion a conversation (nominally about politics), and I just get out of the way. That's a good thing."
Dave Shapiro, who writes the Volcanic Ash column each week, also likes the interactivity of his daily blog. The reaction (or lack of reaction) he receives has caused him to put more thought into each entry.
"Some topics draw more comments than others, and I'm learning more about what interests people most than I ever did from the column alone," he says. "They're going to have to continue suffering, to some extent, through what interests me most. But when an entry draws little comment, it makes me think about how to present the idea in a more compelling way that better conveys why I think it matters."
Indeed, some entries draw tremendous reaction, and some sit there with no comments attached, which can make a blogger feel a little lonely.
"The hardest part is coming up with interesting and/or universal topics that will generate reader discussion," says Nakaso, the Mind Your Business blogger. "The most disappointing part is that serious issues like the minimum-wage debate have gotten lackluster reader response while blogs like Joe Moore's recent tantrums have been deluged."
Catherine Toth's Daily Dish blog, filled with her everyday observations about television, fashion, relationships and other light items of interest, is highly popular, judging from the response.
"I think these blogs make our paper more personable," she says. "We're not just bylines anymore. We're people with families, with opinions, with boyfriends who don't fold laundry. And our readers are able to connect with each other, share their thoughts and concerns online. It has truly become a community."
That's probably the best summary of why we've developed these six blogs, and why we'll continue to look for others: to give readers another outlet to interact with The Advertiser.
As we move forward, we're looking for more topics to write about, and we'll be approaching writers inside and outside the paper to share their expertise. Dave Shapiro suggests something for the 18-to- 24-year-old crowd or younger. Treena Shapiro likes the idea of an entertainment blog. Toth thinks a health blog or something to do with fashion or restaurants or shopping would work. I'd like to find someone with enough surfing expertise and writing skills to do a must-read blog for those who can't get enough of the waves.
After all, we've got to do our part to add to those 175,000 new blogs a day.