Mike Sando covers the Seattle Seahawks for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash. His blog, Seahawks Insider last month won an EPpy Award for “Best Media-Affiliated Sports Blog.” Loaded with news, insight and even Excel spreadsheets (ultra-handy for fantasy sports addicts), Sando’s blog provides a strong model for newspaper journalists. Sando answered questions via e-mail for OJR.
Online Journalism Review: How did you get started on Seahawks Insider?
Mike Sando: Mark Briggs, our online editor, asked me to do a blog for the 2005 NFL Draft. It seemed like a good idea. Seahawks-related stories were often the most popular on the site, and the draft allowed plenty of time for analysis between picks. We were pleasantly surprised when the blog generated around 16,000 page views during the draft without any marketing. We literally had decided to do the blog ONE day before the draft. I have no idea how people found it that first day, but the fact that they did told us there was a lot of demand out there.
Sando: That is the question I hear most, generally from reporters fearful of increased workloads. I honestly can’t say how much time I spend specifically on the blog. There is a ton of crossover. Efficiency is the key. Blog entries are meant to be short, sweet and filled with helpful links. I’m pretty adept at keeping abreast of what’s out there online and turning it around quickly on the blog in a manner relevant to the Seahawks. If I work 12 hours in a day, maybe two of those hours are spent only on the blog.
OJR: Do you modify your voice when writing for the blog? And if so, how hard is it for a newspaper reporter to adapt to blogging?
Sando: The transition might be very difficult for reporters who are not Web-oriented. I’m online a lot of the time even when I’m not working, which allows me to monitor the blog as desired. Beyond that, the first thing reporters need to do is lighten up and realize that the blog is not the newspaper. If a columnist somewhere makes an off-the-wall proposal that has people talking, or if you want to throw out some analysis on the topic of the day, the blog is the place to do it. In that sense I have definitely modified my voice for the blog. That was a little tough to do initially, but after running the blog for a while, I’m figuring out what works and where I want to go with things. I used the word “analysis” and not “opinion” because it’s important for me to remain true to my identity as a journalist (that probably sounds higher-minded that I’d prefer, but hopefully the point holds up).
OJR: What reporting and information do you put in the blog that you can’t or won’t put in your newspaper stories?
Sando: Here’s a recent example: The Flint, Mich., paper published a story about former Seahawks receiver Daryl Turner, who enjoyed some productive years in the 1980s before disappearing in a haze of drugs and alcohol. It wasn’t something we needed to chase for the paper, but I turned it into a quick blog item. There are numerous other examples. The blog allows more room to discuss (and sometimes debunk) rumors, too.
OJR: Is there a difference in the feedback that you get for what you do on the blog versus what you do for the paper?
Sando: I get way more feedback about the blog. In years past, I might answer 15 emails asking the same thing. Now I address the matter once on the blog and that’s it; my time spent answering emails has almost disappeared. Along the same lines, having your own blog is sort of like hosting a radio show. It’s more about the host, whereas people don’t pay much attention to non-columnist bylines in the paper. For years I have written 350-500 stories per year for the paper, only to have people recognize me as the guy who spends 30 minutes a week during the NFL season as a guest on a sports-radio show. It’s not that the radio station had more listeners than we had readers; rather, it’s that the listeners were listing to me, whereas the newspaper readers were merely reading my stories. This is an important distinction. Blogs make reporters more relevant as individuals. This would seem to be good for reporters, long term.
OJR: What is the editing process for your blog, if any?
Sando: I post directly to the Internet. A blog with filters is not much of a blog, in my view. Immediacy is very important. The News Tribune trusts my ethics and my judgment. The paper also realizes, shrewdly, that online standards differ from print standards. This doesn’t mean that anything goes in a blog. Basic journalism values still apply and management has a responsibility to enforce them wherever its name appears. It’s just that reporters have more freedom on a blog.
OJR: What do you see as the potential risks for a newspaper reporting in blogging? What have you done to try to overcome them?
Sando: I think a blog will expose a poor reporter more quickly, while allowing a good reporter to flourish more demonstrably. Also, the comments section of a blog will test a reporter’s restraint. I’ve spent a fair amount of time maintaining the comments section by discouraging crassness, hot-temperedness and overall idiocy.
OJR: How have you done that?
Sando: In some cases I simply delete the unwanted comment. Some people thrive on stirring up trouble. It’s best not to engage them beyond issuing reminders as to the kind of comments we want on the blog: informational or inquisitive ones. I do not want the comments section to become a place where everyone with an opinion shares his; rather I would like people to bring information (in the form of relevant links, etc) or questions that might interest others. There will always be fluff in the comments section. The No. 1 complaint we get is that my comments do not appear different visually from the other comments (some people only want to ready my comments). We are taking steps to make my comments easier to recognize. Once that happens, I’ll be less concerned with what other people might be saying there.
OJR: Who are your role models and influences for your blogging, if anyone?
Sando: Mark Briggs, editor of thenewstribune.com, has been and remains a resource for me. He has helped me “get” what blogging is about.
OJR: Taking yourself out of consideration here, who do you think is doing the best job of blogging about sports?
Sando: Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe. His New England Patriots blog is solid. He understands what it means to feed the beast. In other words, it’s not a blog if you’re providing updates every five days.
OJR: What advice would you have for a journalist thinking about writing a blog for his or her paper’s website?
Sando: One thing to remember is that the absence of space limitations online should NOT be viewed as an invitation to ramble on about things. People want the blog to move along already. Keep the items short and keep them coming. Provide helpful links when you can, then get out of the way. Another thing to remember is to break news on the blog. Forget the notion that it’s better to break a story in the paper. It’s usually not. We’ll still hold something if it’s a project we’ve been working on, but we take the day-to-day Seahawks stuff to the blog first.