The New News
Do you think Google should help people find articles and posts from the news companies that are suing them over copyright issues? The search giant has no choice but to send traffic to people who are willing to make their content available on generous terms, and to avoid indexing content that others claim copyright to. This has always been a factor driving online citizen journalism. It turns out that corporations, nonprofit organizations, religious groups, and political campaigns can also be journalists, and that their journalism can have just as much influence as citizen journalists or media moguls if it’s well researched and well produced.
The Origins of Newsblogging
“Newsblogging” is a term I more or less invented to describe a style of blogging we stumbled onto in 2007, and then refined at the online PR firm, Patron Saint Productions. Our process was innovative and our results were extraordinary, so I spun the service off into a separate company in 2010. I partnered with a former employee, David Reich, to create SixEstate Communications. I believe that newsblogging will rapidly spread in the coming years and we’ll see an increasing proportion of news stories produced by private organizations, not media outlets. Let me explain why this is happening.
No Time to Blog
We came up with newsblogging when we found ourselves between a rock and a hard place with the new technology. The rock is blogging. It enables “principals” — CEOs, celebrities, spokespersons, political leaders, etc. — to communicate directly with their constituents. The thing is, those constituents no longer want to hear from me, the PR guy, the intermediary. They want to hear from the Big Kahuna herself or himself. The hard place, however, is that the Big Kahunas don’t have the time or journalism skills to blog effectively. The Big Kahunas are supposed to manage people, make appearances and run companies, for the most part, not write. They don’t have the two hours of concentration required each day to research and write a post worth reading.
Ghost Blogging Gets No Respect
The answer some PR firms and marketing departments came up with was to hire ghost bloggers; but ghost blogging defeats the whole point of blogging, because readers want to hear from the Big Kahuna directly. If you don’t disclose that you’re using a ghost blogger, you violate all kinds of ethical guidelines regarding transparency, authenticity and disclosure. You risk breaking securities laws. And you risk being outed in a potentially embarrassing way. If you do disclose you’re using a ghost blogger, people lose respect for the credibility of the blog. While people are comfortable with the idea of politicians using speech writers, they’re uncomfortable with the idea of blogs using ghost bloggers, even when this fact is disclosed.
Blogging’s Increasing Importance in Marketing
For my firm, the biggest problem became that blogging is too important to leave to the principals. If the Internet is going to be how people discover and learn about your organization, and the main way of navigating the Internet is via search engines, and those search engines display a strong preference for content on blogs, well then you’d better be blogging, whether the CEO’s good at it or not, because otherwise you will become invisible over time. It’s not that blogging is a good idea; it’s blog or disappear. We found a way out of this tight jam with newsblogging.
Enter Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson. Kaiser is one of the largest HMOs in the U.S. and Halvorson is the company’s outspoken leader. In 2006, he put together an outline of what he thought was a compelling plan for health care reform, published it in a book called Health Care Reform Now!, and pushed it to the center of the health care debate as U.S. presidential candidates took their stands leading to the 2008 election. We were hired to push this agenda online.
Goldman Sachs and Blog Tours
I had stopped doing blog tours after a fiasco with Goldman Sachs Vice Chairman Robert Hormats. If folks think there’s no civility at town hall meetings, they should see the comment streams when controversial figures do blog tours. The ugliest side of America is revealed in the anonymous nastiness that passes for “discussion” on the Internet. There is no way I would recommend a top CEO try to engage in an open debate on the Internet on a subject as supercharged as health care reform. The conversation becomes dominated by rude and profane people who chase the intelligent commenters away.
Newsblogging is Born
For Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson, we suggested a compromise. We would produce a blog, but instead of it being ghost-written by someone pretending to be George Halvorson, we would hire a journalist to blog the news, and Halvorson would add the “color commentary” when he had time or when the news begged for it. At the time, I had George “Loki” Williams on my payroll. George runs the blog SocialGumbo — a top social media blog — and has a long history of investigative journalism at the local level. So I put him on the health care beat.
“Riding the News”
Every day, Loki would ride the news feeds for the biggest stories in health care reform, then write them up on the blog. His job was to find good journalism on the issue, summarize it and point to it on the newsblog. Rather than adding one more voice, the blog was a survey of other voices, and as such it became quite successful. How successful? The screen capture below shows the Google Blog Search results. We were the number-one “related blog” on Google for the phrase “health care reform” 30 days after we launched the blog.
The CEO Stayed Hands-Off
In 30 days, we had a top-five health care reform blog. We didn’t lose that position for a year, and only then because we stopped blogging. Our original contract was to produce the newsblog for 90 days. That became six months, then a year. In all that time, Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson, never added commentary to the blog. There was no need to. In 2007, our experiment was over, and a whole new way of blogging was born: newsblogging.
It’s Not About YOU!
The way we newsblog, we don’t cover news about the company. Our focus wasn’t reporting on Kaiser Permanente. Our focus was to report on health care reform and generate awareness for Halvorson’s prescription for change. By hiring a journalist, we could be sure to get a daily post up on the blog, which is essential for search-engine visibility, but is difficult for principals to commit to. Every newsblog post contains:
1. Copyright-Permissible Image
2. Optimized Headline
3. Transparent Byline
4. News Post
5. Quote from Respected Source
6. News Citation
7. Image Citation
It’s About The News
To give an example, Loki would set up a Google Alert for “electronic medical records” to see who’s covering that issue. Electronic medical records, or EMRs, are a major part of Halvorson’s platform and have been adopted as a major plank in virtually every health care reform proposal, in part because of Halvorson’s compelling evidence about the efficiencies and improved care they generate. If Loki found someone at a credible news source who has written something about EMRs, then he’d cite him or her on the newsblog. Loki would often add quotes from George Halvorson’s writings to his posts, integrating the client’s views with the current debate online.
Optimizing a Blog Post
What makes this a complete process for us is when we hook the hired journalist in with the rest of the team. Loki suffers from spellus atrocious, which not only results in typos but also in an aversion to spell-checkers. So prior to being published, his posts were passed to an editor, the amazing Rachelle Matherne, owner of FiveByFivePR firm. Rachelle wouldn’t just fix the spelling, though. She’d fact-check, link-check, grammar-check, then optimize paragraph length, sentence length and keywords, categories, and tags. Finally, she’d tweak the headline and schedule the post for release. We got so used to Rachelle’s treatment that none of us blogs without a net anymore — it’s too dangerous.
Images That Won’t Get You Sued!
Then there’s the art department. We decided right away that every post had to have a piece of artwork that somehow went with the story, and that we had to have permission to use the art. We quickly expanded the definition of artwork to include images, video embeds, slideshows, or any other visual component. Most of the art we found through Flickr using CreativeCommons.org, but we now have several sources, both paid and free, that we draw from. We also created rules for artwork credits and citations. It’s still stunning to me to see how many blogs use copyrighted artwork without permission or citation. They are begging for trouble.
Good Content is the Best SEO
As time went on, we’ve refined the formula based on watching the stats. Every post had to have a news citation from a credible news source and a link to that source. We found that mentioning celebrities caused traffic to spike, then drop back down. It’s very seductive to analyze traffic results and engineer blog posts that pop in the Google Alerts, but the focus has to stay on good journalism. One of the main benefits of a newsblog is that it gets your viewpoint across to the media. If a journalist visits your blog and sees the posts are nothing but a bunch of keyword-laden references to celebrity news stories, it doesn’t advance your cause even though it brings traffic.
A Visibility Machine
At one point, I stepped back and looked at the beast I had created: the newsblog. What amateur blogger could compete against a professional journalist, proofreaders, copy editors, optimizers, and traffic analysts? Some amateurs can compete with pure passion. But there are only five top spots for any keyword or phrase. You have to manage several blogs to afford the overhead of a blog-polishing department, but the rewards are worth it. If you run a top-five blog, you’re not only at the top of the blog search results for your term, but you also make the Google Alerts for that term, which are sent via email to other people watching those terms.
The Power of Google Alerts
The reach of a top-five blog is stunning. You don’t only make the alerts for your target keyphrases. Because you’re a “top blog” you make the alerts for almost anything you say. If you mention a healthy restaurant on your health care blog, you might hit the alerts for the restaurant’s name because you’re a “top blog.” Your reach is also magnified by RSS, which makes it easy to parse your content. Anyone who was following the term “health care reform” using Google Alerts would see top blog posts from Kaiser Permanente’s newsblog in their daily alerts. That’s why blogging is too important to leave to chance. Blogging is the road to online visibility — if you blog effectively, your content gets visibility in numerous search engines and alerts engines.
Adding Social Networking to Newsblogging
Does this newsblogging thing sound like a juggernaut to you yet? Let’s add gasoline to fire: hook the newsblog up to Twitter, Facebook, and the other social networks. The newsblog we’ve created for the radio industry, Radio 2020, was our next big experiment. The following image shows the blog traffic graph when we added the social networking hookups at the end of 2008. When you hook the blog up to your social networks, you can blog in one place and have it appear throughout the network, as a tweet or status update, or a post.
Credible, Reliable, Transparent
If you’re like me, your head is spinning right now. How could this be possible? How could corporate journalism outscore conventional journalism? Where’s the credibility? The reliability? The transparency? In newsblogging, they’re all there. We don’t originate stories as much as call attention to them. That turns out to be a very valuable service. In fact, that’s what a good news anchor does, isn’t it? — guiding us through stories rather than being the story. Our journalism wins out because it’s better produced, more accurate, more “fair” than conventional journalism because we can’t take a stand. We’re hired guns. Our news doesn’t have the slant of the pundits or the authority of the CEOs. It’s just the news. Told well. From an organization’s perspective, transparently revealed.
Is Corporate Journalism Legitimate?
Is newsblogging good journalism? Why is Rupert Murdoch’s journalism any better than, say, the United Auto Workers’ journalism, when it comes to covering the auto industry? Both publishers have an agenda. Ratings is an agenda. The question is whether or not the agenda is revealed and whether or not the news is well reported. After seeing what passes for journalism these days — video news releases provided by corporations who pay to have them inserted as stories in newscasts, sometimes even without disclosure — newsblogging adheres to a higher standard. If your reporting is good and you’re transparent, there’s no reason your news shouldn’t have market share just because it’s produced by your organization.
Why Search Engines Love Newsblogs
Going one step further, I would add that search engines prefer news made this way to news made the old-fashioned way, with gatekeepers to stories who charge a price for admission. Search engines want to point people to the best, most authoritative matches for their searches, but if they’re prohibited from scanning the contents of your news, it makes it difficult for them to know what you have and send readers your way. On the other hand, if you produce your content on a blog, essentially copyright-free, the search engines can see it, index it, and point to it. Search engines like and reward those news providers with meaningful information and targeted traffic.
Newsblogging and PR
Newsblogging gives organizations the PR opportunity they’ve always dreamed of: the ability to tell the news your way. NewsCorp gets their say on Fox News, in The Wall Street Journal or The New York Post. Even Comedy Central gets to tell the news its way, through The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Newsblogging allows you to tell the news your way, with a professional journalist and supporting editors and optimizers. As long as your news is well researched and well produced, and the process is transparent, you have as much credibility as the news produced by these corporations. And you’ll be rewarded with a premiere position in the search results for your target keywords.