Blogging for research
By Liz Donovan, Miami Herald
Weblogs started in the mid-to-late 1990s, although devotees claim they evolved from the 'What's New' pages that came along with the early World Wide Web and portal sites. The first journalism blog was probably Jim Romenesko's Media Gossip site (now Romenesko, on Poynter.org). In 1999 the first Weblogging software appeared, making it easier to create a daily posting list, Weblog/Blog became the preferred name, and blogging took off from there.
What makes a Weblog different from a Web site? Blogs have several unique characteristics: entries are chronological, usually reverse; individual postings are dated and time-stamped and usually have 'permalinks', allowing other sites to link directly to a particular posting; archiving is built in; some blogs have 'comments' so others can comment directly to a post on the site; bloggers generally provide links ('blogrolls') to other blogs or sites they read.
What does this mean to you? Well, blogging software is built to be used in lots of different ways. Everyone who uses it finds his/her own application. So for some people, a blog is a list of links. For some, a diary. For others, a place to post photographs. For Romenesko, a blog was a way to post links to fun gossip about newspapers and other media companies. For Gary Price (www.resourceshelf.com), it was for creating a newsletter listing new research databases and library searches. For Derek Willis (www.thescoop.org), it was a collection of interesting links that evolved into news of the latest investigative and computer-assisted reporting projects in newspapers, but he can imagine dozens more uses. For Jim Hunter, it's useful software to post news and resources for internal newsroom communication. For Leigh Montgomery it's "a great way to share some of the information we use for the stories".
Here's a little more about how those librarians and researchers use blogging:
Leigh Montgomery, the Christian Science Monitor: "A couple of years ago (an editor) asked us to compile a list of sites where readers could go for good, authoritative information to do their own research. This became the Links Library, and eventually the Web Directory: http://www.csmonitor.com/linkslibrary/index.html."
Later the editor got interested in blogging, "invited us to do a weblog - the Liblog. http://www.csmonitor.com/linkslibrary/liblog.html. In the spirit of the Links Library, where we would recommend good and authoritative sites for people to conduct research, the links we write about are informative, high quality, or just fun to know about but also of value. A lot of very encouraging readers and particularly librarians have written us to say that they enjoy it. We get a few suggestions as well."
The Monitor's is the only newspaper site I know of that features a blog by the library staff. Several papers do promote blogs by reporters and editors, though.
What's the con? Some researchers and journalists tend to shy away from blogs, especially for the two reasons cited by Michael Jesse in a NewsLib discussion last year: "(1) Links to content on other websites will expire over time, or the link will still work but the specific story you linked to is now gone and replaced by something completely different -- so blogs tend not to age well. (2) Linking to other websites sends eyeballs AWAY from your own website." Some also debate whether blogs should be edited like any other story.
But others say the value is in other (internal) applications. Gary Price: "The value of weblogs after you remove the (fad, hysteria) is the software and ease/speed of placing content online ... For me the lasting legacy of weblogs will be the ease of publishing, the ability to update in SECONDS, and the almost non-existent learning curve. You get the idea. It's the software that's important."
He gives this example, among others: "Breaking news story. Start a blog (in seconds) with links, Web sites, search strategies for LN or other prop databases, etc. Again, add content in seconds, really! Everything is in one spot. Send e-mail reminders to promote usage."
Jim Hunter, Columbus Post Dispatch, agrees: "Starting with the library staff Intranet page about 2 months ago we started a weblog to share bits of information (including links) and other work group related information. Because it is SO EASY to post to, the weblog rapidly became compelling reading ... theory is this: We are creating a communication tool for the newsroom, with content supplied by the users."
Derek Willis, staff writer at The Center for Public Integrity (and former researcher at the Palm Beach Post) suggests blogging software would be a great tool for logging research requests. Also: "For librarians working on a long-term project, a weblog could help to track progress and actions - it probably would help the reporter, too. Moreso if more than one librarian works on the project." Also: "weblog software makes it easier to update/publish webpages with new resources in the library. If you want reporters to be more active in using the library, give them a reason to be familiar with its holdings by checking an oft-updated page several times a week."
Derek also says searching is a positive feature of weblogging software: "many of the blogging apps support pretty robust searching. MT (Moveable Type), for example, can use either the Berkeley DB or MySQL as a backend for its entries, either of which makes searching easy through Perl or PHP scripts (there are plugins to make it easy)" Also, Derek's own site at thescoop.org is one of the few I know of that's set up to categorize posts by topic.
My two cents: I love the ideas for internal blogging, and hope to try out some of these on our intranet. But I also really think librarian/researcher blogs on our newspaper sites would be a welcome addition. I always cite the blog by Sheila Lennon at the Providence Journal: Subterranean Homepage Blues (http://www.projo.com/technology/shenews/). An online features editor, Sheila posts long excerpts from other blogs and news stories (so you don't have to click out), links to fun sites (people will be so pleased they will come back), and regularly breaks news on the blog by doing research into things she finds that don't make the mainstream news. This is something that librarians are born to do.
I don't worry about dying links, because I think the value of a current news blog is the latest posts, not the archive. And I think if you provide really, really interesting stuff, readers will come back to you, even if they click out, to see what you find interesting.
Where to find out more:
http://edonovan.home.infionline.net/BLOGGING.HTM (has links to bloggers, blogging software, search tools, info on RSS/XML, Wikis ...)
Other news division/newslib bloggers:
Want to start blogging? Here's howSimplest method: Go to www.blogger.com. Sign up. Create a blog name (address will be blogname.blogspot.com if you have Blogger host your site; or you can set it up to FTP your posts to a site you already have). Choose a design template, they offer a dozen or so. Choose some simple setup options, like time zone, archive schedule, etc. Write your first entry. If you want others to be able to post, use the "invite" tool to enter their e-mail addresses.
Now every time you go to blogger.com and log in, you'll be presented with an empty post form to start writing in. You can make links in the entries by typing info about the link, highlighting it, and pasting the URL into the link form. You can also make text bold or italic.
If you know some HTML, you can do more complicated things like creating bulleted lists, adding a photo, etc. You can link to a photo on another Web site, or to a photo that you've posted to another Web space, if you have it. You may also eventually want to make some changes (like links lists, graphics, or formatting) on your template, which will also involve some HTML.
If you want to do more complicated things, like spellchecking or sending your blog entries out by e-mail or by an RSS/XML feed, you'll need to sign up for Blogger Pro, which costs a few dollars a month (Pro is temporarily unavailable so I couldn't check current cost and features). You may also want to pay to have the banner ad removed from your site, for $15. Or, you have the choice of upgrading to Blogspot Plus, which allows you to store other files and photos on Blogger's server (this is $50 to $100 annually depending on file space).
If you have Web space and want to use something with more features, though, you might want to consider Moveable Type . This software is free but a donation is requested. You also need to know some Perl programming to install it on your server, although the folks at Moveable Type will do it for a fee. This software can also be used for commercial purposes (an intranet?) for a small fee. Moveable Type is popular with bloggers who appreciate the things it can do: generating RSS feeds, writing scripts to search or categorize the posts, etc. There's also a new (in beta) software from the same creators which is simpler and provides blog hosting, at www.typepad.com/. This software will not be free.
The third popular blogging software is Radio (http://radio.userland.com). This software runs on your desktop; you post to Radio's Web space or to your own site. RSS and a newsreader are automatic with Radio; setup is easy and lots of cool tools, like automatic categorization, are provided; and once you have a Radio blog you are automatically part of a community which provides information on referrers, traffic, and other sites. Cost: $39, including a year of Web space if you want it. Just download the software and sign up. This also might be a good bet for an intranet since it works through firewalls.
There are other blogging products out there, Greymatter and others: Google lists dozens: http://directory.google.com/Top/Computers/Internet/On_the_Web/Weblogs/Tools/Publishers/.
Last Updated: 08/18/03