Blogging the Big Break

Until September, The Blotter didn't get much attention. Launched by ABC News in April, it was designed to be a lot
like an "old-fashioned police blotter, where events of note were
recorded as they unfolded."
Then Brian Ross used it to break the Mark Foley story.

"We shy away from using the word
blog," said Simon Surowicz, an 11-year veteran of ABC's investigative team and the
multimedia producer who manages the Web site. "It seems to have the
connotation of being something less than news."

Ross said the Sept. 28 story on the Foley e-mails that he posted on The Blotter was indeed news. Like any other news story, it was backed by reporting. It met his standards.

At ABC News and elsewhere, blogs, once seen
by the traditional news industry as competition, are going mainstream.
A recent study by The Bivings Group, a Washington public relations agency, found that 80 of the top 100 newspapers in America, ranked by
circulation, have blogs
. That does not include the Web sites of
broadcast news organizations such as ABC.

Ross said he likes The Blotter because it lets him post news quickly. It is staffed by ABC's 10-person investigative team, the same team that produces segments for "World News Tonight," "Nightline" and "20/20." And although the team is led by Ross, every member -- even those who handle more coffee than news tips -- has the chance to pitch stories to The Blotter. And nearly every story the team produces appears there before it is broadcast.

Most importantly, said Ross and Surowicz, The Blotter encourages dialogue between the public and the reporters. Readers can post comments directly to stories on The
Blotter. They can also submit anonymous tips to Ross and his team.



The
comments -- which can be viewed publicly at the bottom of every story
-- are moderated by an outside agency, according to an ABC News policy. Posts that include curse words, links to outside
Web sites and criticism of other news organizations are modified or removed. More
than 5,000 comments were posted to the Foley stories.



Those
comments, though, are not routinely reviewed by Ross and his team. The
reporters stick to sifting through the hundreds of anonymous tips
submitted via another section on the Web site. The comments feature of
The Blotter, Surowicz said, is simply designed to foster debate among
readers.



"It's a bulletin board," he said. "It's a message board."



When
he has time, Surowicz takes a glance at the comments. It is always
lively. And, he said, it's a great way to see what people are talking
about.

Under what circumstances does your organization post stories online before printing or broadcasting them? How can readers respond? And how do you use those responses? Tell us here.

  • patwalters

    I'm a freelance journalist whose writing has appeared in newspapers and magazines, including The St. Petersburg Times and The New York Times Magazine.

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