17.50 Thursday: I’m on may way to The Daily Telegraph’s Blogging Open House, organised by Shane Richmond, the Telegraph’s Communities Editor and Blogger in Chief who announced the event – where else – on his blog. The evening will be a rare opportunity for members of the public to tour the Telegraph’s new state of the art, purpose built newsroom in Victoria as well as a chance to meet Shane, several of the other Telegraph bloggers and, of course, other audience members. They wouldn’t let Jarvis take photos when he went so I don’t suspect they’ll let us either. Other than that, I really have no idea what to expect other than trouble finding the place (I tried both googlemaps and streetmap but neither seems able to pinpoint the postcode)…
18.36: We’re inside. As often happens with these blogging things, of the 35 or so people who turned up, all but around 5 or 6 are male. Shane’s welcomed us by saying “I think I know everybody’s name, but not faces.” He then revealed that the Telegraph’s blogs get around 1500 comments a day – “we can just about keep up with them”.
Up on stage with Shane is Ceri Radford, the Telegraph’s assistant editor in bright red heals, and two guys from Inter-resource, the company that developed the Telegraph’s blogging platform.
I expected some presentations about what the Telegraph is trying to achieve with their blogs or how they do things but after making quick introductions, Richmond invited questions from the floor, the first of which is about whether online discussion could ever be relevant, civil and worthwhile. Richmond explains that, whilst there are trouble makers and some comments do have to be moderated out, the moderation process does help steer discussions and reinforces the need for users to make meaningful contributions.
Several bloggers in the audience also contribute to the discussion, mentioning but discounting so called “bloggers code of conduct” being discussed following the incidents involving Kathy Sierra.
Blogger Simon Dixon asks from the floor, “what’s the success metric here? is it that people feel they have a right to comment, to contribute? Or is it just about… advertising, clicks and things. What is the success metric and how are you doing?”
Richmond said, “we do send around the hits every week, but no one is coming to us [to complain]… we have lots of people doing niche stuff… this is a great way to build communities around those niches…in terms of how we’re doing, I think we’re doing well.” They started with around a dozen blogs and, when they saw that it did work, they needed to go to Interesource to build them a platform. Richmond says that in the past 10 months traffic has tripled. In the next few months, he’s hoping that they’ll be up to around 500,000 unique users a month.
Asked why the Telegraph didn’t just buy MovableType or another off the shelf blogging platform, Richmond explained that they wanted something that did exactly what they wanted to do and, as they had been working with interesource for around 10 years, knew that they had something that could do that.
19.00: Richmond invites the Telegraph bloggers up… It seems moderation is the hot topic today. The first question is whether the bloggers moderate their own comments or not. They don’t – Richmond has a team of three who moderate throughout the day.
Question: “Can mainstream journalists make good bloggers?”
Political blogger Ben says “I rarely get the opportunity to go into the comment pages but I do have opinions, but I do have them… and knowing how many people are reading your blog is rewarding… as is the instant feedback you get.” He then asked if one of the community members could explain why they commented, “do you want to be provoked or informed?”
One community member admits that half his comments never make it through – he likes a good argument and says “I probably got up your skin” at one time or another. Another blogger said it’s bound to be different things for different people, just as sometimes people get upset by the colour of Tony Blair’s tie.
Hilary, the fashion editor – “you don’t get the same raport through the paper… it’s like writing a letter to a friend”
Richmond then asked if any of the bloggers have had their opinions changed. Ben responded “Yes, especially on historical things where people know a lot more than me”.
A big guy in a suit, who I later realise is the “large” of the little and large politics blog, adds: “we’re more used to informing people…but I do read a lot of political blogs, pick up on points and expand it… politically, I look at Guido Fawkes, Conservative Home, Iain Dale, Labour Home, UKIP home, Lib Dem Voice. Those guys will all link to anything else… they’re the ones at the top…”
David Wilcox (who has also blogged the Telegraph open house) wants to know “do you feel any professional personality change…?” Ian says “being a telegraph writer is very much your day job, what they pay you for, and the blog is [extra]… it’s nice to just be able to write prose that’s sort of idiosyncratic as you want…”
Lila Das Gupta admitted she grapples with figuring out who her blog audience is. She doesn’t think it’s the same audience, one she knows well, who read the paper.
19.15: Richmond on commenters: “I feel many of these people genuinly believe the things they say… I wouldn’t dismiss those views, certainly not after moderating them.”
Question: “Is there a sizable opposition to blogging amongst the Telegraph’s other journalists?” Richmond: “I don’t think any of our bloggers doesn’t want to blog… pretty much everybody has volunteered…”
Deputy editor of the website: “I’ve heard some people who complain that some of these stories aren’t good enough for the website… there is some opposition, but it’s being steam rolled.”
Question: Is there a difference in the way you engage with a PR person or a press release on a blog than in the paper?
Ceri: In the paper, it’s straight forward, it’s a review. On the blog it’s more transparent. I’ll say I got a parcel from a PR.
Ben “I’ve gotten three stories out of the blog and two of them were from PR companies and they were generally interesting.”
Question: do you value comments as much as you do the letters you get by post?
“for each letter you got for a story, we figured there were ten thousand who felt the same way… personally, I value them [comments on the blogs] just as much if not more… I’m humbled by it. And the other way around.”
Shane said that they do allow a lot more links on the blogs than elsewhere on the site. They certainly don’t discourage linking out.
All Telegraph staff go on what the deputy editor describes as a “free your mind” exercise where, over a week, they learned about New Media – even the editors. But there is no “blog school”. The training included audio skills, showing them the systems of the new building, and they threw “mad stories” at them and asked them to use those systems to build web pages.
Shane – “I’m on a personal mission to introduce people to RSS. I think I’m up to three so I have around a hundred left.” He points out that he does put their style guides and other help documents onto his blog.
I managed to catch the beginning of the tour, so saw the new newsroom which really is impressive, but missed the nearly as impressive spread of food and drink that the Telegraph layed on for us as I was double booked that evening. No doubt other bloggers in attendance will help fill in the gaps…
[Update: The Daily Telegraph has set up a flickr account to share the professional photos taken at the event.]