Inside the Times’ Blog World

Which New York Times blogs are doing well and why? That’s a question some members of the masthead are asking

Which New York Times blogs are doing well and why? That’s a question some members of the masthead are asking as preparations are made to reduce the newsroom by 100 bodies in the coming weeks.

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Here’s a peek inside some of the Times’ most popular blogs, as offered by the editors:

Wendell Jamieson, deputy metropolitan editor for the Web who oversees City Room, the blog about New York for New Yorkers:

“Blog is a funny word to describe it, right?” Mr. Jamieson told the Observer. “It’s really just a daily news report. We use the word ‘blog’ for lack of another term.”

City Room debuted in June 2007 to provide breaking news, feature articles and reader conversations. Some of its reports include emergency landing of Flight 1549 in the Hudson River; M.T.A. fare hikes; popular baby names; bicycle racks; the history of Jewish delis; and the city’s dog-scooping law.

Sewell Chan, City Room’s bureau chief, wrote in his recent Talk to the Newsroom feature, that “[t]he tone of a blog post might often seem more conversational and less comprehensive than most traditional news articles, but we don’t put anything on the blog that we would not be comfortable seeing in print. (Admittedly, we have experimented with first-person accounts, contests and even poetry.) We do avoid the opinion and mean-spirited snark associated with some blogs; snark isn’t our thing.”

But if City Room has one of the most unique voices among blogs–it’s one editors hope readers want to hear.

“City Room allows you to be very parochial in your coverage of New York City,” Mr. Jamieson said. “We believe in covering New York for New Yorkers and going deep on things that only a New Yorker would really be fascinated by.” Like, say, studies on architecture or neon signs with burned-out letters that “take on new (and unintended) meanings.” “We do all sorts of stunt-type things,” said Mr. Jamieson, like asking readers to get in on the rivalry between Montreal bagels and New York bagels.

Mr. Jamieson said City Room will be rolling out new columns and features in January, although he wouldn’t go into detail. “We’ll leverage metropolitan staff’s deep knowledge of New York City institutions,” is all he’d say.

As far as other fancy multi-media type stuff, Mr. Jamieson isn’t concerned about keeping up with the latest blog gadgets. “Look, it’s good stories–whether they’re read the on the computer or a good newspaper. No matter how many slideshows you do, who cares? It has to be a good story, a strong one for City Room. That’s what matters to us.”

Vindu Goel, deputy technology editor of Bits, the tech news blog:

Bits launched in June 2007 among an increasingly crowded technology news market, but took a long-view reporting style in contrast to the quick-paced, casual tone at other tech sites.

“We don’t cover all the breaking news in the blog the way that, say, TechCrunch does,” Mr. Goel said. “We use [Bits] for some analysis that goes more in depth, with additional information about a story.”

Bits has 12 contributors, including four editors. Mr. Goel said e-readers, the Google Books settlement and even the Netflix competition prize were popular subjects for the blog. Covering news like the Microsoft-Yahoo partnership deal, were also important milestones for Bits. Several posts about the subject worked better on the Web because by they fed news-hungry readers from the niche tech crowd.

Mr. Goel said Bits “is constantly working on” the voice of the blog. How can they make tech jargon accessible to the Times‘ broad readership without making tech nerds feel like they’re reading a toaster’s manual? Readers will usually tell them when they go wrong in the comments section, Mr. Goel said. “The interactivity is the best thing about the blog,” he said. “We will get legions of comments, sometimes hundreds of comments, from all kinds of broad, general interest types of folks, asking how do I upgrade Windows Vista to people who will have a very heated about LED lighting.”

Commentors have to register for and Bits editors monitor posts to weed out the YouTube-like junk–no cursing or spam allowed. “We want to try to provide the readers with a better discussion,” he explained. “People are expecting a little bit more from the comments.”

Nick Bilton, a former user interface specialist for the Times, recently returned from working on a book to become Bits’ new lead writer. He wrote in an introductory blog post that he hopes to open the discussion between readers and reporters even more. “The beauty of a blog is that it allows for conversation, not just oration, and I’ll do my best to be part of the discussion,” he wrote.

“I also hope to bring a new style of telling stories to the blog,” he continued. “I don’t believe storytelling is an art form of words alone. It’s ocular, auditory, interactive and asynchronous. As I settle in and take off my training wheels, you can expect more graphics, audio slide shows, videos and data visualization on Bits.”

Mr. Goel said, along with more multimedia features, he also hopes to include more “light and fun” posts between breaking news items.

“People take the Times so seriously sometimes,” he told the Observer. “But I think it’s okay for us have have a little fun too.”

Tara Parker-Pope, lead writer for Well, a blog with the latest medical research and societal trends affecting personal health:

“It’s difficult to compare blogs because we all have different goals,” Ms. Parker-Pope told the Observer. The Lede might be gathering the most crucial daily news and helping Times readers understand it, while City Room is live-blogging breaking news. “For Well, we want to put readers’ daily health conversation at the heart of the blog.”

Ms. Parker-Pope “sifts through medical research and expert opinions for practical advice to help readers take control of their health and live well every day,” according to the blog’s description. But Well has also become a gathering place for readers to connect with Ms. Parker-Pope and the handful of running, nutrition, and other experts who occasionally contribute to the blog.

“On some days, my posts are based on my interests as an individual, as a single parent or a person who is trying to start exercising again,” Ms. Parker-Pope said. “Those things are often reflected in the blog, but it’s really to reflect what other people,” she said.

“Well has a specific journalistic mission which is to really tell readers about their own lives,” she continued. “Readers really like to learn about themselves and talk about themselves–we all do.”

They also like to comment–a lot–and send Ms. Parker-Pope tips for stories. One of her favorite articles came from a readers’ question, asking whether doctors and nurses should wear scrubs on the subway. Some commenters have become contributors. Kairol Rosenthal, a regular commentor on the blog, eventually wrote about cancer for Well.

Ms. Parker-Pope left The Wall Street Journal in 2007 to write about consumer health for The Times and she said she has never been closer to her readers.

She even trained for a marathon with them, and shared her experience, with a Web-based application called Run Well

Ms. Parker-Pope expects to expand on more running and recipe coverage. As far as multimedia features, she’d like to do more–if only there was more time.

“The limits to the blog are always about time as a resource,” she said. “My goal is to continue serving this audience, engage them and interest them and surprise every now and then.”


Inside the Times’ Blog World