Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Board

I don't understand the New York Times's new(ish) blog, The Board.

I don't understand what makes the posts on the blog different from the editorials on the op/ed page, and thus why they have a blog at all. Their explanation is:

The Board is written by The New York Times editorial board, a group of journalists with wide-ranging areas of expertise, whose primary responsibility is to write The Times's editorials. The Board will include a variety of posts that give background to the day's editorials, cover other major topics of the day, or provide first-person take on an aspect of politics or society that we might not address in the editorial line-up.

And I guess they do that, kind of. But they're missing some important elements that we've already come to associate with blogs, and which I think have to be present for a blog to be successful.

First, voice. These blog postings read no differently from articles on the op/ed page. Which are neatly written, I might add, but again, for that I'd just go to the op/ed page itself. Blogs need to be written with a more personal tone, one that takes down the curtain of formality between writer and reader. That doesn't mean bad grammar (nooooo!); it does mean being playful, allowing oneself parentheticals, and being on the whole personable.

Linked into that is the second element, transparency. Blogs are supposed to be a way to see into worlds we wouldn't otherwise have access to--usually people's thoughts. So the content of an ed board blog shouldn't just be background on the week's news, but explanations as to editorial decisions and how those decisions were made. What do you get together and talk about, guys? And what kind of coffee do you drink when you do it? It's those details in addition to your high-value content that will make The Board worth reading.

Lastly, timing. Blogs react to news, and they do it fast. I expected the Board's blog to provide mini editorial-type commentary to news stories breaking throughout the day. Their own authoritative take, with their wonderful perspective and resources as NYT ed board members, of the same things that we're all hashing out on our blogs. This week that's the Kindle, Facebook's most recent challenge to our ideas of privacy and the possibilities of the Web, the Golden Compass protests, and similar widespread issues. If they're not careful, someone's going to take their authority away just because they are in fact missing from that space.

Because I'm sure that one of the reasons that the NYT launched a blog for their editorial page was to confirm its continuing authority. Lots of companies are doing this now, and media/publishing companies feel the threat of obsolescence most of all, as thought dissemination is now threatening to find a new home rather than in the printed pages of newspapers and books. But you can't just throw a blog up: you need to react to the new demands that these new technologies place on content. The NYT has a chance to be at the forefront of that change, but they're just not doing it yet.

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