Daily posts, perseverance make the difference in building newspaper blogs

[Editor’s note: Sports fans whose memories extend more than 15 years will recall that Indy Car racing once was North America’s most popular form of motor sport. But a split among rival sanctioning organizations robbed the sport of sponsors and fans, clearing the way for NASCAR to become one of the country’s most popular sports.

But die-hard Indy fans endured and, for them, Curt Cavin’s blog on the Indianapolis Star website has become the place to go to for daily coverage of the newly re-unified IndyCar Series. (Heck, I read it every day.) I asked Curt to share with OJR readers his experience in growing the blog. – Robert]

As a 20-year reporter for the Indianapolis Star, I had been doing a motor sports Q&A online weekly for about five years before I learned my company was tracking viewer traffic on its blogs and basing some coverage decisions on those numbers.

I was discouraged that my contribution never earned a spot in the newspaper’s top 10 as the Indianapolis 500 is such a captivating and historical event for our community. Then I learned that my Q&A wasn’t being considered a blog because it was written weekly and not in the true spirit of a blog.

To this day, I’m perplexed by what a blog actually is. Oh, sure, I understand the term and I grasp its definition, but at its core the entry is written communication. Regardless of its label, I knew people were reading what I was writing; I just had to prove it.

That day, I vowed to answer questions from readers each morning to see if that made a difference in the blog tracking. I figured if I answered a half-dozen questions after breakfast (and sometimes before), people could get in the habit of reading when they arrived at work.

A month later, the newspaper’s next tracking report was distributed to the editors, and I snared a copy. The motor sports blog was third overall behind Indiana University basketball and a camera positioned atop a bank building where falcons were nesting. I was a distant third, but I was on the map.

Motivated, I continued to update my “blog” daily for about six months, even on Christmas morning. Because I didn’t always receive a copy of the newspaper’s tracking information, I didn’t know realize what a fan base was building, but it was.

From my perspective, more questions meant more opportunities to communicate what I knew about the sport and my experiences in it. I made conversational and friendly, showing my vulnerabilities and enjoyment of life and the sport. It was blog-like, one might say.

The other benefit was, some questions led to news tips, which led to breaking stories, which led to pats on the back from my boss, which led to better job reviews and more money in my paycheck. This cycle has grown exponentially, one day at a time.

In the height of racing season, I receive about 150 questions a day and answer about 10, almost all before 9 a.m. Nearly every reader submission offers a word of thanks for the effort I’m making.

I’ve come to realize that my company does not allow me to write on my off days, but the readers have understood. I haven’t kept track, but it’s safe to say that I have received questions from all 50 states and two dozen countries. Many of them have followed me to a weekly radio show that began in 2007.

Last fall, an online question about a couple of race fans getting together over cheeseburgers led to other readers inquiring how to be invited. When similar questions poured it, a friend suggested a community event during the Indianapolis 500 weekend that became known as the Carb Night Burger Bash.

About 700 people attended and more than $8,000 was raised for local charities. All because of a blog.

By the way, this Q&A has tracked No. 1 on The Star’s website almost every day for the past two years. Now the falcon camera is a distant third.

About Curt Cavin

Curt Cavin, a staff reporter for the Indianapolis Star, has covered the Indianapolis 500 for more than 20 years.