10/04/2012

On newspapers, over-branding and “blogs”

Newspapers have one brand that really matters: The centuries’-old name at the top of the masthead. Anything that falls beneath that logo is held to a high standard of credibility. Secondarily, the byline attached to each published piece can hold its own allegiances — and those bylines are also important. But I’d love to see a world where we stop with the over-branding, where we stop launching “blogs” with catchy titles and columns with fun labels.

For example, at The Seattle Times (yes, I get to pick on the Times because I work there), we have multiple labels and taglines for various bloggers and personalities: The Seattle Sketcher, The Today File, Politics Northwest, Happy Hour, Northwest Wanderings, Weekend Plus, Lit Life, ArtsPage, All You Can Eat, The Hot Stone League, The Brewery, Tails of Seattle, Nicole & Co, Names in Bold, ReelTime Fishing NW, Weather Beat, Sound Economy, Sunday Buzz, Microsoft Pri0, Take 2, Popcorn & Prejudice, Field Notes, Ed Cetera, Matson on Music. These are just a sampling of the various “brands” and voices under our media company’s umbrella.

Some of these labels are based on various CMSes that power the content.Various blogs have titles and taglines, and that’s useful for us internally when we’re trying to communicate and divide ownership. It also stems from print where various pages of the newspaper have different titles at the top so you can easily spot what you’re looking for as you flip through the pages.

What you end up with design-wise is a stack of labels on labels on labels (A Morning Memo within The Today File as part of the Local News section):

But the one and only brand that matters, no matter the medium? The Seattle Times. Sure, there will be loyalty to certain bylines. And if we have an intellegent system — like, say, ProPublica’s investigative pages that let you filter by author, topic and length or see what’s new since the last time you visisted –  then people will still be able to find what they’re looking for without the various labels. Newspapers are using labeling/branding to solve a metadata problem.

At the end of the day, a reader doesn’t care if one piece of content looks different from another set. They don’t know which blog post or article originated from which CMS. And they probably aren’t searching for content by the name of a section (though I wish I knew how to use Omniture so I could have real data to back this claim up). If they’re anything like me, they’re stumbling across headlines from searches for news keywords, from social media and by going to a highly-curated spot like the homepage or a mobile app.

On a related note, I agree with Boyle: Stop calling them “blogs”

You may remember a post I wrote a few months ago about the convoluted life cycle of a newspaper story. Part of this problem is the fact that we differentiate between “blog posts” and “articles.” We struggle with how to best use our resources and deliver content to our readers because we don’t know when to stop blogging and switch to a print story in a different CMS. This workflow disconnects the content from each other, making it hard to follow one story. But at the end of the day, it’s all journalism. It’s headlines. It’s pieces of information. We’re making our (already hard) jobs even harder by mucking it up with rules about content types. We’re wasting valuable brainpower thinking about things that don’t actually matter to the end reader — like when to stop writing blog posts and switch to an article.

Andy Boyle pretty much says it all:

It’s time to stop bifurcating your content as blogs and news because they run on separate systems. It is all content, so why not call it that? Even if you have outside people writing posts on your website that are unmoderated by your staff — that’s still content that’s part of your media outlet’s website. I don’t have any research proving this, but in my short journalism career many media outlets just slapped the name “blog” on something because it lived in a different CMS. We should stop this. Please.

[...]

If it’s opinion content, call it that. If it’s news content, great! That’s what it is. Start thinking of it all as content as opposed to “this is a blog post” and “this is a news story.” If you copied a news story and pasted it into a blog post, DOES IT SOMEHOW CHANGE? No. It does not.

 

That’s all.

Up next: Why we should all get rid of our editorial boards. (Oh, wait, I want to keep my job. I’ll hold off on that one…)