By Steve Outing
Be sure to check out a Boston blog aggregator site called Universal Hub. It’s a great example of what all local news organizations should be doing (IMHO).
Universal Hub is an independent website run by Adam Gaffin, who trolls all the blogs having to do with Boston and picks out the best items each day to highlight. (Here’s a story about Gaffin and his increasingly popular site: “Master of Hub Hits.”)
The significant thing here is that Gaffin doesn’t just pull in RSS feeds of blogs; he’s using his personal judgment and considerable effort to find the most interesting stuff out there, then he writes a short item about the blog item, with a link to the original.
He also spends time searching for new sources, since new blogs show up all the time. He is, in effect, acting as a beat reporter where the beat is Boston-area bloggers.
What news publishers often do with non-affiliated local blogs is simply set up automated feeds for blogs that they think might be relevant to their audience. Some hand-pick local bloggers to be included on the news website.
I think where those models can be improved on is in bringing in a human editor to bring out the best of local blogs. Readers of a vetted summary of local blogs can be assured of reading something interesting — and saving the time of tracking local blogs themselves. It’s a great service in that it helps readers who may be interested in what Boston bloggers have to say avoid the dreck and just see the good stuff.
An interesting angle with Universal Hub is that it is open for others to post blog items, but few do (other than post comments, which many people do); the site is primarily a platform for Gaffin, who has become a local news commentator and media critic.
So here’s my tip for the day: Assign someone in your news organization to the “blogger beat.” Gaffin is an excellent role model. While it might be nice to hire someone to do this, let’s be realistic; most news companies today will want to use existing staff. Considering that the person assigned to this task will be significantly enhancing the local coverage of your news website, it shouldn’t be too hard to argue for a sole reporter to make the move.
If you remember the San Francisco Chronicle’s Herb Caen, you may catch the similarity between this kind of job and what the “three-dot columnist” did so well for so many years. Where Caen published based on tips sent and called in by readers, Gaffin is serving a similar role on the web with blogs as the sources.
Caen was, I think it’s fair to say, the most popular thing about the San Francisco Chronicle. Perhaps a Gaffin-like blog “columnist” today might fare as well.