I had an interesting conversation this weekend with a journalist for the Opelika-Auburn News. A friend of my roommate, this journalist (who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent) is a sportswriter who covers Auburn University sports and maintains a blog on the newspaper's website. We got to talking one night and I decided to take the opportunity to ask him a couple of questions about his thoughts on newspaper blogs and websites.

We have spent a good amount of time talking about newspaper blogs here at TBR (see Todd's post from November) , and have come to the general conclusion that newspaper blogs just aren't that good.

I now realize that newspaper bloggers aren't the ones to blame. After talking with this journalist, I realize that newspaper bloggers are slapped with a variety of restrictions that significantly limit them in their blogging endeavors.

For example, this journalist told me that he isn't allowed to link to any other newspapers in his posts, either as source material or for the purpose of expanding discussion. He said that the general feeling among editors is that "people will follow the link and never come back". The same restriction applies for both local/Alabama papers in the same market as well as national news outlets. This journalist told me that while not linking to other local papers is somewhat common sense, refraining from linking to major news sites, such as Sports Illustrated, ESPN, or the New York Times, limits the information he can use in his blog posts and is incredibly frustrating.

I understand that newspapers might be weary of "sharing" their traffic and audience with other sites. But forbidding your bloggers from linking to external sources is just plain silly. It's commonly known that links are like a form of currency to bloggers. When you you link to other bloggers and external sources, your audience automatically increases. My journalist friend noted that while the newspaper allows people to comment on his blog, "no one ever comments". Maybe this is partially due to the paper's "no linking policy", which clearly limits a blogger's online network.

This journalist I spoke with said that he really likes to blog. In particular, he enjoys the freedom that th blog gives him, as he can address topics that he otherwise doesn't get a chance to write about. He also said, however, that maintaining the blog is becoming increasingly frustrating: because the paper puts such strict restrictions on his blog, there is a minimal response from the community. Without the conversation created by links and comments, this blogger sometimes feels like his blog is "just another column". Clearly, maintaining this newspaper blog would be more rewarding both for this journalist AND the newspaper he works for if it gave the author and audience a true opportunity to connect. 

Hearing this story from my buddy was really disheartening, and speaks again to the point we've made repeatedly that newspapers need to ditch their outdated, top-down models and open the floor to discussion. It will be interesting to see if redesigned and restructured sites like USA Today have an effect on the way most newspaper do business online.