notes from the daily telegraph bloggers open house

Dailytelegraphywaiting17.50 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…”

Dailytelegraphnewsroom 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.

Dailytelegraphfood 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.

Dailytelegraphescalator Question (from me): Do you have a blog school where you teach your bloggers how to do it using tools like technorati, rss, etc?

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.]


  1. Hi Robin
    I’m the guy with the silver head of hair (which I blame on an excess of keg beer in my youth): I refer to the one behind the camera in your second picture.
    As you appear to hint yourself, it was surprising that Richmond launched straight into questions and answers. Result – a lack of focus, given that there were so many perspectives when you bring together disparate parties – the blogging journalists, the website designers, the commenters, the personal bloggers, industry gurus etc.
    As I suggested to Richmond on his Telly blog yesterday, he should consider kicking off next time with a slide show, and giving us some hard statistics on the Telly’s blogging platform – invariably more thought-provoking that they might seem at first sight, and he could then highlight key areas for discussion, and then structure the discussion slots accordingly.
    But that’s not to detract from having been allowed to get a privileged insider’s view of the Telly’s HQ, even if I and the handful of fellow commenters/private bloggers occasionally felt like a collection of garden gnomes.

  2. Sorry Jeff. Graham from NoodlePie did mention that to me almost as soon as I posted but I didn’t get the chance to correct it. He was the one they wouldn’t let take photos. Both you and the PressGazette were allowed to take and post video.

  3. Even now, I don’t think the Telly’s policies on cameras have quite gelled. Shane Richmond said we could bring our cameras, and would be allowed to take pix of most things. But there was no guidance from him on the day re the no-go areas, so yours truly clicked away merrily on that vast open plan news floor, not failing to note some hostile glares. As we exited I took one final picture on flash, whereupon our tour guide, Marcus Warren, the deputy digital editor, said pointedly “If you had done that just a few weeks ago, I would have grabbed the camera from your hands and smashed it to the floor.”
    My first thought was that the Telly’s news gatherers and associated snappers clearly do not operate on a do-as-you-would-be-done-by basis. Anyway, I mumbled something about there perhaps having been a misunderstanding, proffered an apology, and have opted not to post my stills or video footage from that area.
    For me, that was probably the only jarring note from the evening. In most other respects I’d say a good time was had by all.

  4. Hi Colin. I too was a bit surprised to see so many people happily snapping away in the Telegraph’s offices and also received some not-so-delighted glares when I took some photos of a group of journalists working at there stations. I decided not to use those shots, not just because they were a bit out of focus (hell, I’ll post anything!) but because the subjects seemed to give, with their glares, what I’d call an almost opposite of “consent”.
    Regardless, pretty impressive set-up they’ve got over there, don’t you think?

  5. Yes, it’s an impressive set up, Robin, but that part of the evening was the least satisfactory. We were warned that the paper was still far from being put to bed, and that the atmosphere on the newsfloor might therefore be tense, and our presence less than welcome. So it was not surprising to be whizzed past the work stations, and not see or hear what was occupying minds.
    This was all a far cry from my recent visit with the local Antiboulenc Association ( cultural/artistic society of Antibes where I live) to the HQ of Nice-Matin, the regional newspaper.
    How’s your French ? Here we are gathered around a desk. The editor is describing what goes into the final design and layout of the front page. There were 5 or 6 other workstations nearby with folk working away, but no one seemed bothered by our presence, or our taking photos. But Nice-Matin apparently has an open evening once a week, so the staff accept that being a goldfish in a bowl comes with the territory.

  6. I have just happened on Robin Hamman’s comment on the tour which I hosted round the newsroom earlier this month.
    I was, of course, joking when I suggested that, had he started snapping away in the recent past, I would have been obliged to wrest the camera out of his hands and destroy the thing.
    Yes, I didn’t allow NoodlePie to take pictures when he visited in November (I think it was). That was company policy at the time. We had only just moved in and no pictures had appeared anywhere of our newsroom in action at that stage.
    I’m sorry that Robin didn’t twig that my comments were in jest. We at the Telegraph thought that the event was a great success, so successful that we will probably invite guests back in June. And, as noted above, we made all pix of the evening taken by a Telegraph snapper available on Flickr anyway.
    I was also joking when I suggested that the atmosphere in the newsroom might be tense while the next day’s paper was being put to bed. I seem to recall that I even warned those on my tour that they might witness tantrums being thrown as deadlines approached. That was a joke too.
    One serious point, though, we have so many tours, mainly of other MSM delegations in search of a philosopher’s stone for the new age, passing through that those of us who actually work there do sometimes feel like animals in the zoo.

  7. Oh right, it was Colin Berry, not Robin Hamman who didn’t “get” the irony.
    My mistake. Apologies to Robin

  8. Hi Marcus. Seems my irony detector- usually quite sensitive – was temporarily switched off during that brief exchange. Glad then to hear that your “pointed” remark was in fact intended in jest, and I’m sorry if my attempt at candid reporting here has given offence – it was just me trying to avoid platitudes and tell how it seemed at the time. Pleased to hear that things went well generally, and that you have further Open House evenings planned.

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