Editor and Publisher is at it again, with an article titled “Small Lake Tahoe, Calif. Daily Covering Massive Fire With Blog-Style Web“. Kevin Reynen, one of the folks behind OurTahoe, pointed to this article all about the constant updates the Tahoe Daily Tribune has been doing on the Angora Fire. And it’s completely true that the paper has been excellent at posting updates online, and passing just about every bit of information they’ve received along to the public. But they’re not doing it “blog-style”, as E&P says. They’re just publishing a daily “Breaking News” article, and then constantly updating it throughout the day. In the blog world that’s the equivalent of putting up one single post, then editing it over and over. You still only have one post.
“Blog-style” coverage would be if every single update they published came out as a separate item on their homepage. So you wouldn’t have to click through to see if anything had been updated, you’d just have to look at the top items on the page. And Kevin brings up one other advantage of doing things this way – RSS. The way the Tribune handled their updates, there was only one RSS entry for the whole article. So breaking news wouldn’t show up in an RSS reader, because it would just be buried inside an article you’d already read. Kevin tried to fix this by scraping their site and creating his own RSS, but even that effort was met with a lot of problems.
The blame in this case doesn’t sit with the staff and editors of the Tahoe Daily Tribune. They were doing exactly what they should have been, and they did a totally awesome job of it. All of the problems stem from the Content Management System they use, the publishing system that runs their website. The Tribune, along with the Nevada Appeal, Record Courier, and several other Sierra Nevada Media properties, use a horrendous piece of crap known as Publicus to publish their websites. Publicus seems to be a particularly hideous scourge on the web, used by newspapers all over the country and, from what I can tell, almost universally reviled by anyone who knows anything about web publishing. My own experience with Publicus has only been through reading websites that use it, but even through that slight exposure I can tell that it’s almost impossible to build a quality site using it. The concept of a “blog” essentially doesn’t exist inside the system, so to use it to push out any kind of frequent updates you’ve got to hack it within an inch of its life. It’s no wonder the staff of the Tahoe Daily Tribune isn’t running a real blog to keep up with the Angora Fire; they’re literally doing the best they can with what they have.
Now you’d think the folks over at Editor and Publisher would know all of this. It’s their job to follow what’s happening in the news industry, and the tools and techniques of online publishing have been a large part of that industry for many years now. So to see them look at a Publicus-based website, which is straight-jacketed into updating the same story over and over again to get frequent updates out, and to actually call that “blogging”, that makes me scratch my head in about a dozen different ways.
And it’s not like this is the first time they’ve done this. Remember the Waterfall Fire back in 2004? The Nevada Appeal pretty much pulled the same hack out of Publicus back then, updating the same article over and over to get news out frequently. Editor and Publisher did an article on their efforts (which now can’t be found online, but this Poynter column is a good substitute) at that time too. And what did they call what the Appeal had done? Blogging.
So there are pockets of the newspaper industry that still remain confused about what blogging is and isn’t. I guess they’re so entrenched in their once-a-day publishing schedule with the newspaper that any updates pushed out to their websites out of cycle must be “blogging”. I still think it would be exciting to see one of the local newspapers try their hand at real blogging, ditching Publicus for a real CMS and adopting more of a round-the-clock publishing schedule even for mundane news. I think I’m going to be waiting a very long time for that to happen, though. We’ll be lucky if the Appeal ever comes online with the new comment system they’ve been talking about for months.