Sunday, March 7, 2010

Why Do Newspaper Hire Bloggers?

Why do newspapers hire bloggers, when most of the content they produce does not appear in the print newspaper and can only generate revenue online? For instance, the Washington Post has 99 active blogs, by my count.

A naive line of reasoning could go as follows:

(1) Generic Blog generates $5,000 a month in advertising revenue.
(2) If the newspaper pays Generic Blogger less than $5,000 a month, Generic Blogger can move his blog to his own domain and enjoy free hosting at one of several blogging services.
(3) If the newspaper pays Generic Blogger more than $5,000 a month, Generic Blogger will be willing to stay because he cannot make more money with the blog elsewhere, but the paper will lose money on the blog every month.

You might protest that most newspaper blogs are written by reporters who already work at the paper and are producing valuable content for the print edition as well. But blogging represents an opportunity cost for reporters: time spent blogging takes away time from reporting, writing, and polishing stories. Simply put, if reporters weren't working on blogs, they could put out a better print product.

However, a newspaper blog may indeed generate more revenue for the newspaper than the blogger could get by going it alone. Employing the blogger at some salary between the two amounts makes both sides better off.

Newspaper blogs benefit from network effects. A Washington Post blog has a built-in audience that a rogue blog doesn't. Post blogs can cross-promote one another, as well as other Post content. The printed paper can tease to blog content, generating more interest in the Web site. And blog content can be published in the print edition occasionally to fill space.

A blogger employed by a newspaper instantly has more credibility than most other bloggers, and we would expect such a blog to attract a relatively larger audience and therefore generate more revenue. By lending its masthead to bloggers, a newspaper is giving them a tacit endorsement of quality. Readers know that a newspaper blogger who is consistently being antagonistic or making shallow and erroneous arguments will eventually get the boot, while a self-published can rant on and on for years, no matter how little expertise he has.

There are some downsides for the blogger to working at a newspaper. The blogger must submit to the paper's editorial guidelines, and it's never more fun to work for someone else than to be your own boss. The paper may assign the blogger other reporting tasks or switch his beat to something less enjoyable. Additionally, the paper may decide to discontinue the blog. But blogs are more mobile than you might think, especially if the blogger has built a name for himself. A good example is Jon Weisman's Dodger Thoughts, which has had five homes in eight years, most recently moving from the Los Angeles Times to ESPN.com.

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