On a typical afternoon, Abbi Tatton and Jacki Schechner take their place on the set of CNN’s The Situation Room and wait for Wolf Blitzer to kick it over to them for an occasional 90-second report from Blogland.
For this segment, called “The Blog Report,” the two comely gals poke at giant touch screens and read aloud from blogs. Sometimes, they talk to a blogger. Then they go back to reading from blogs, which contain “expert voices that don’t necessarily have a media outlet,” said Ms. Schechner.
In other words, they are the citizen journalists’ professional journalists.
“What we’re trying to do, and what CNN is doing with The Situation Room, is to recognize that there are lots of different places to get opinions, information, perspectives,” said Ms. Tatton. “We’re bringing in diverse elements to help the story along.”
Technically, they are “Internet reporters” for CNN, a designation that makes them the cable network’s first full-time journalists of the World Wide Web. But the world—or the Web, at least—has come up with another handle for Ms. Tatton and Ms. Schechner: the Blog Chicks.
“Rrrreowww,” said The Daily Show’s Rob Corddry during a segment mocking cable news. As in: “Those two blog chicks on CNN are kinda hot-dot-blogspot-dot-rrrrrreowwww!”
In addition to giving the tinglies to CNN viewers and a voice to citizen journalists everywhere, the Blog Chicks are one possible answer to television news’ most loudly lamented conundrum: how to lure younger viewers without alienating older ones. Ms. Tatton and Ms. Schechner are supposed to appeal both to a tech-savvy audience hip to the latest in online communications, and to an older generation of people who actually watch CNN and have no idea what these so-called Web logs are anyway.
David Bohrman, CNN’s Washington bureau chief and creator of the segment, explained the purpose of an MSM outlet (that’s blogspeak for “mainstream media”) setting out to explore the blogosphere. The information that Ms. Tatton and Ms. Schechner find on blogs is important. But “filtering it and judging it and weighing it is complicated,” he said, “and that’s where the CNN DNA comes into play.”
“It’s sort of like Blogs 101,” said Mr. Bohrman. “Or the Reader’s Digest of blogs. Or Blogs for Dummies.”
But at the same time, it’s not. The Blog Chicks “treat the blogs and the Internet as a beat,” he added, “as something to cover.”
The idea first came to Mr. Bohrman last winter, when CNN president Jon Klein wanted to air bloggers’ opinions of President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address. The network invited Andrew Sullivan and Wonkette’s Ana Marie Cox to comment after the speech. “They were good,” Mr. Bohrman said, but not what he had in mind. Having worked for a short time as the chief executive of Pseudo.com, an interactive news site, he came up with the current format, which he proposed to Mr. Klein.
Mr. Klein gave him a one-week trial period. Mr. Bohrman paired Ms. Tatton, a British-born CNN producer, with Ms. Schechner, whom he’d recruited from Pseudo. They did short segments during Inside Politics and were absorbed into The Situation Room when the show premiered this summer.
In the Hobbesian blogosphere, the reaction was strong. The segment is “even more static and ponderous than the usual screeching head segment,” wrote one blogger. It’s “almost as entertaining as watching Don Imus do his radio show.” Their report is a “20-second train wreck,” proclaimed Wonkette, two of whose contributors once live-blogged “The Blog Report,” using the pseudonyms “Joe Klein” and “Eason Jordan.”
Ms. Tatton and Ms. Schechner also have their fans. “I think that there are a lot of interesting possibilities and I hope they experiment with the format and break some new ground for CNN,” blogged a blogger who appeared on the first installment of what was then called “Inside the Blogs.” (Lost? No matter. At a certain point, this whole exercise becomes its own hall of mirrors. “We’re really trying hard not to feed that,” Mr. Bohrman said.)
Some opportunistic twit—or a hopeless romantic—has formed a blog dedicated to worshipping Ms. Tatton, called I Luv Abbi Tatton, in which the slightest changes in Ms. Tatton’s tan, for example, are monitored with restraining-order-style obsession. “Ms. Tatton is even prettier than Princess Leia,” the blogger writes, which should clear up any ambiguity about the sort of person who loves the Blog Chicks.
Fifty years from now, television historians might look back on the early days of “The Blog Report” as a seminal moment in the evolution of the medium—a quaint, remedial and yet visionary development in the relationship between broadcast and broadband news. Mr. Bohrman envisions an expanded role for his Blog Chicks, in which they eventually “force their way on the air” more and more frequently. He imagines a time when the format might expand into its own show.
Or, conversely, maybe the Wonkette army will have its way: CNN’s experiment will fade into memory; a new idea will take hold and heave cable news into a more tech-savvy future; and the detractors will devour Ms. Tatton and Ms. Schechner like so much blog food.
But, said Mr. Bohrman, “there will always be a need for places like CNN or people like Brian Williams at NBC. You need people whom you’ve learned to trust, who are fair judges of information,” who can separate the bad sources from the good ones.
“There’s a big difference between a Google search and the selection of pieces in an evening newscast,” he said.