Monday, May 12, 2008

Public Radio Blogs

MaSvo raised some good questions in her recent comment on my post "Blogging Explained."
Although I largely agree with your assessment of the WETA blog, I think it is a mistake to think that the defining (or necessary) element in a weblog is the interactivity.
After all, can't a blog be anything you want it to be? Who's to say whether WETA's blog is or isn't a blog?

While that's certainly true in the most general terms, I think we can make some distinctions between personal and corporate blogs.

IMHO, a personal blog is simply an individual expression. Some personal blogs primarily chronical the poster's everyday life, such as Constance Crabstick's "Fatuous Observations". Others are built around a particular topic that interests the poster, such as the "Comics Curmudgeon." And there's everything in between.

The personal blog most fits the model Common Craft described in their video. Post about what you're interested in, and eventually others join in the conversation and you've become part of a community.

The corporate blog has a slightly different function. Rather than being a gateway into an individual's personality, it's part of the public face of the company. It has to be consistent with what the company is about, and should reflect its corporate culture.

While an individual blog can be about whatever interests the writer, the corporate blog must be related to the company and what it does. But a corporate blog isn't just another place to park press releases. It's a real opportunity to let customers "get inside" the company a little bit, and for the blogging company to develop conversations -- and a community -- with its readers and customers. This helps builds brand identification and loyalty.

So what about radio? See the previous paragraph. Especially in public radio, which asks its listeners to fund the stadion directly, this kind of communication can be invaluable.

According to an Edison Media Research post about this very thing, Tom Webster wrote:
The blog is an equally important and increasingly more relevant outlet for consumer opinions, feedback and suggestions for improvement.
How important is it?

The web puts your station and your brand smack dab into the middle of the largest public marketplace in the world--vast and intimate at the same time. Because the distance between consumers and corporations is effectively reduced to zero, any conversation occurring on the web about your station is a conversation going on right outside your booth and right under your nose.
You have a choice--you can ignore the crowd congregating in front of your little stand in cyberspace, or you can welcome them, greet them, and give them an outlet to converse with you and with other listeners about your brand.
So while WETA's blog may fill the broadest definition of a blog, how well is it at doing any of the above?

Here's the point I was trying to make. WETA did have that kind of informational blog that invited comments, and then it changed to a record review column that said nothing about the station -- and let the readers say nothing at all.

I think they changed because they didn't like the comments they got. Webster had something to say about that, too:
If you are genuinely worried that you will be flooded with exclusively negative comments, maybe it's not the listeners who have the problem. One thing about taking the plunge into business blogging--you better have a good product, or you will hear about it.
So which public radio stations have good blogs? Researching for this post, I did find a few. Unfortunately, there's not a list (that I'm aware of) for public radio station blogs. Iowa Public Radio and Minnesota Public Radio both do blogs that fit the Tom Webster outline. They talk about things going on at their stations, relevant news -- and both allow comments.

But for the best examples of stations that "get it," I recommend KCRW and WFMU.

KCRW has a battery of blogs, (all with comments enabled) about the announcers, the engineers, and music news. Collectively they present the character of the station, and further the conversation between listeners and staff. KCRW has a huge Internet presence, and these blogs just strengthen their profile.

WFMU does the same thing in a different way (also with comments enabled). "Beware the Blog" is as eclectic and freewheeling as the station's programming. WFMU also has a massive Internet presence and gets a significant amount of contributions from listeners outside their coverage area (sometimes halfway around the world).

But what makes WFMU's blog unique is that it doesn't talk about the station per se, but about the kind of things the station airs. I've seen posts on this blog show up in many other pop culture blogs (like BoingBoing), and WFMU's posts are often the only ones from any non-commercial radio stations that appear on these more general-interest sites.

So what does that mean? It means that WFMU is reaching beyond the insular world of public radio listeners. Folks trace back the stories and discover the station. Then they become listeners -- and supporters.

Yes, WETA has every right to post professionally written record reviews and call it a corporate blog. But is it really serving that function?

Where's the conversation?

- Ralph

1) My criticism of WETA's blog is in no way one of Jen Laursen's writing in any way. He's a solid reviewer and essayist.
2) If anyone has other examples of public radio blogs they enjoy reading, please leave a comment! Short of visiting every station's website in the public radio system, I can't think of any other way to discover these elusive beasts.

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