Saturday, May 21, 2005

In the morning, our paper will publish its 2005 Spoleto special section and, with it, the URL for our first blog, the cleverly named Spoletoblog.

(For those of you who are "From Off," Spoleto is a three-week arts festival in Charleston, S.C. Each May, it brings world-class music and theater to our small, historic city. Piccolo Spoleto, a companion festival, offers a wider array of arts at more affordable prices. Together, the two festivals transform Charleston each spring. It's a big deal for the newspaper and the community ... even though, in all fairness, most of our citizens have little connection to the festival. More on that in another post...)

Hence, this is an interesting moment for us. Some people are excited about the experiment. The new boss, who truly impresses me, understood the importance of blogging from the moment I suggested we try this. He required zero pitching and made things happen immediately: no committees, no studies, no ego-soothing. On the other hand, some of my coworkers don't yet know what to make of all this. They're waiting to find out if this is safe before they touch it.

On Friday, I made this comment in an administrative post (now removed in preparation for the public go-live) on the subject of blogging and its audience. It's something bloggers tend to understand instinctively, but for people who come to the medium from the newspaper world, where publications are products to be marketed and maximized, it's a subtle concept:
The blog will be promoted off the Spoleto page, but I'm downplaying the idea of heavy-duty promotion. Why? Because it's generally a good thing for a blog to grow with its audience, and vice versa.

The success of Spoletoblog won't be measured by the size of its audience, but by its quality. Do we reach the people who are interested in the subject? Can we become the first stop for anyone who are passionately about Spoleto?

That's success for a blog, and it depands far more on good content than it does on promotion.***

For those of us in the online "New Media" conversation, Spoletoblog represents a moderately interesting experiment. I've invited more than 30 reporters, editors and critics to participate as authors; we've avoided all the typical newspaper control-freak tendencies on free expression; and we're doing this completely outside our in-house web operation.

In fact, I'm the one running it: A features writer, not a web guy.

For us, it's a good experimental subject. If it works, we'll take the lessons and apply them to other projects. If it flops, well ... Spoleto will be over in a month, and we won't look foolish if the blog just fades away. Come to think of it, should this thing fail, the only person with anything on the line is ... me.

Please feel free to drop me a line, pass me feedback or suggest improvements.

*** The blog "quantity v. quality" subject came up in an interview I did in March with Dave Slusher of The Evil Genius Chronicles fame. It occurred to me that perhaps the goal of podcasting wasn't mass audience success and that building a relationship with the right audience was more important. I asked Dave about it, and he launched into a brilliant examination of the idea. Clearly, Dave had been giving it some serious thought. He went on to do a Clambake riff on the topic, and it remains one of my favorite podcasts. It also stands out as one of my favorite interview moments of 2005, one of those rare events when you ask the question that someone has been dying to answer. Those of you who do interviews for a living understand the sheer joy of such an experience. dc