The Only Way For Journalists To Understand The Web Is To Use It
3 min read

The Only Way For Journalists To Understand The Web Is To Use It

Reading Colin Mulvany explain how he’s come to understand the dynamic nature of online content distribution through his own experience blogging, and Howard Owens advocating that this is why every journalist should start a blog, I realized that the problem isn’t just a lack of understanding about blogging, or social networking, as Colin frames it.

The problem is, framed more broadly, an inability to understand what I like to call “web-native publishing” — but let’s just call it web publishing, because complexity is the root cause problem here.

Here’s Colin’s aha moment:

I now understand. I have been a producer of web content for years on a creaky CMS that only partially takes advantage of the Web 2.0 tools available on any WordPress blog. I just didn’t see the big picture of why this is important for all of us in the newspaper industry to grasp. If I didn’t get it, then how will my non-blogging co-workers, who are already apprehensive about change, ever understand?

If you haven’t already, my advice is to get an education in Web 2.0. Start a blog. Feed it. Share it. Our very survival as an industry will be predicated on how well we interface with this expanding social networking universe.

The fundamental different between print publishing and web publishing is that print distribution is a linear process, while web-native publishing is dynamic and non-linear, particularly when publishing on a web-native CMS like a blog:

Linear Print Publishing

  • Article gets sent to layout/design
  • Article gets sent to print production
  • Article gets sent to the press
  • Article gets put in the mail or on a delivery truck
  • Article arrives at subscriber business or home
  • Subscriber reads article
  • Maybe a letter to the letter is generated

Dynamic, Non-Linear Web Publishing

  • Post appears on web page, readable by anyone on the web
  • Post appears in RSS feed and is fed into dozens of different feed readers, read by subscribers
  • Post gets links from other blogs and other websites, yielding more readers and more links
  • Post gets submitted to social news sites, e.g. Digg, StumbleUpon, or Reddit, yielding more readers and more links
  • Post gets bookmarked on social bookmarking site, e.g. or ma.gnolia, yielding more bookmarks, more readers
  • Post gets shared on social networking/communication sites like Facebook or Twitter, yielding more readers, more sharing
  • Post gets emailed or sent via IM — more readers
  • Post appears on news aggregator like TechMeme or Blogrunner, encouraging more links, and more readers
  • Post gets indexed by dozens of search engines, starts to appear in search results — more readers, more links, more sharing
  • Readers comment on post, encouraging click-throughs from RSS, adding content for search engines to index, and spurring conversation and more linking, more sharing
  • Tags are indexed by Technorati, more readers
  • More readers subscribe to blog RSS
  • Blog is added to blogrolls, more readers
  • Links generated by post increase search authority, generating more traffic, more readers, more links, more sharing

All of these processes feed each other and interconnect. The best posts will start to snowball, driving a huge traffic spike and increased activity across all of the above.

So here’s the real reason why people like Howard Owens keep encouraging journalists to blog. Print publishing is easy to explain and understand. Web publishing, in contrast, is counter-intuitive — it’s multi-faceted and complex.

The only way to really understand web publishing intuitively is to DO IT.

But it’s not just about blogging. Colin’s post is about web distribution of video and multimedia. Twitter is a form of web publishing.

So it’s not about understanding one format, it’s about understanding the WEB. It’s about understanding that putting content on the web isn’t just putting content on a page, same as a printed page — it’s putting content on the NETWORK. It’s understanding that, unlike print publishing where subscriptions control distribution, on the web PEOPLE and LINKS control distribution.

The only way for journalists to “get” the web is to use the web.