City Pages Debuts Weblog Section

Traffic on site growing

While most newspapers’ Web sites offer little more than what’s in the printed edition, the City Pages (Twin Cities) has debuted a “Twin Cities Babelogue” section that features more than 20 Weblogs from its writers, editors and freelancers. The Weblogs range from inward discourses on soccer and music to newsier outtakes on City Hall.

“It’s kind of frightening because we’re self-publishing; there’s no editor or copy editor,” says G.R. Anderson, Jr., a staff writer for the paper covering City Hall. “But at the same time the writer’s voice comes through a little better and you can play around stylistically. It’s a nice way to explore your craft.”

Bloggers have become the latest stars of the Internet, posting immediate commentary and reporting on stories that the traditional media is slow to notice. When then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott appeared to lament former Senator Strom Thurmond’s failed presidential candidacy, a candidacy that featured a segregationist platform, it was the online blogging community that immediately stigmatized Lott for his remarks, prompting the mainstream media to take notice belatedly.

For print journalists, Weblogs can be a way to update stories they’ve already reported in the paper or give readers a edgier, quirkier take on events than they would provide for a broader readership base.

City Pages Editor Steve Perry started experimenting with Weblogs in the fall and debuted the more complete Babelogue section last month. “I really only had two concerns: whether people on staff would enjoy doing it, and whether they could meld the subjects of their blogs with the beats they cover for the paper.”

Perry did not want his reporters and editors to view the Weblogs as a separate assignment or one other thing they had to do before clocking out.

“We figured this had to work organically to work at all. In other words, it has to dovetail with the rest of people’s jobs as staff writers. It can’t be one more start-from-scratch chore on top of all the writing and editing they already do for the paper.”

So far the blogging experiment has been a success. Readership, while modest, continues to grow. Ten percent of the visitors to the City Pages Web site frequented the Twin Cities Babelogue, up from only 1 percent just three weeks ago.

And judging by the Weblogs themselves, the writers seem to enjoy the broader parameters of the blogging medium. One blog is titled “Complicated Fun,” another “Inablogadavida.” But not everybody thought the Babelogue section was a good idea.

“I’m a Luddite and knew absolutely nothing about the whole universe of Web logs and cared even less,” says Brad Zellar, a senior editor at the paper. “I figured it was going to be a waste of time and lobbied openly against it. Turns out, however, that I’ve taken to it.”

Zellar explains that Weblogs can be a natural extension of the usual writing and reporting staffers do, including posting updates and reader responses. In addition, he says, “It also has the potential to be much more interactive than the usual stuff we do. You can solicit ideas and feedback and you do, in fact, get response.”

One advantage of Weblogs that few people recognize is just how far-reaching they can be. “The curious thing about blogs is that they don’t go out to the traditional places that an alt weekly’s Web site will go,” Zellar says. “It’s like a pyramid scheme. Somebody links to one of your blog items, and somebody else links to that link, etc., and all of a sudden you’re getting e-mails from Seattle or Paris or Prague.”

Anderson, who posts regular updates to his “City Haul” blog while veering as well into discourses about the Yardbirds, offers the caveat that Weblogs are not inherently entertaining or of value. “At their worst, they have two problems: One, they are too navel gazing; they become an exposed diary. Number two, they become a ‘look at what I found on the Internet.’ That’s a trap a lot of us have avoided.”

He adds, “Blogs don’t have to be dumb.” And Zellar says, “Ultimately I really think — and hope — that it’ll be just one more way to make the paper more interesting to people and to engage those people who do stumble into the place in some kind of freewheeling dialogue.”

Matt Pulle is a staff writer at the Nashville Scene. Editor’s note: Nashville Scene is owned by Village Voice Media, which also is the parent company of City Pages.