Behind the Cameras
Reporters share dark side of news in "blogs"
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/11/2004 8:00:00 PM
What's a Blog?
Excerpt From Steve Harrigan's Fox News Blog
Fox News Baghdad correspondent Steve Harrigan doesn't tell viewers how he sleeps with his helmet and flak jacket next to his bed. Or that car bombs sound different from mortar fire. He saves this for his Weblog, a free-form online journal, informal and interactive. Readers are encouraged to discuss issues and e-mail comments.
Harrigan is among a handful of TV personalities who are committed bloggers.
Fox News anchors Greta Van Susteren and Linda Vester, as well as the Fox & Friends morning crew, all host Weblogs, known as "blogs,"on Fox's Web site. NBC News Iraq correspondent Kevin Sites mans one, too. The idea behind the blogs: flesh out news stories and share off-camera insights. On occasion, reporters reveal personal asides.
"The blog is the dark underbelly of the news, the considered reaction or gut feeling after the news is finished being told," Harrigan explains in an e-mail from Iraq. His goal is to show another side of war reporting. "You can nod your head at the news and make informed, logical decisions. But a good blog is a punch in the stomach."
In a recent entry, he illustrates the bravado of U.S. Special Forces: "The Special Forces guys did not wear names on their uniforms. Some had their blood type, so in place of the name would be A POSITIVE in big letters. It was like saying F-you. I'm SF. I don't need to wear my name."
Not that his blog is all news, all the time.
Harrigan likes to regale readers with his exercise routine: running up and down the stairs at the Baghdad Sheraton. But he contends that the serious dispatches extend his news reports. Think of it as broadcasts transferred to the Web—with a twist.
The four Fox News blogs average about 50,000 hits per day. Kevin Sites' blog averaged about 28,000 hits per day in June. Do they drive traffic back to TV?
Fox says there isn't a noticeable spike after postings. Instead, the success of a TV anchor or correspondent may drive viewers to Weblogs, though ones like Harrigan's are rare.
ABC News anchor Peter Jennings used to pen a daily e-mail (an industry favorite) but stopped it last year. He pored over every word, insiders say, and it became too labor-intensive. Now the World News Tonight staff, like many networks, sends out a generic daily e-mail, the day's headlines or a preview of upcoming shows. Blogs, by contrast, aren't promotional.
In fact, so popular are blogs that MTV, TV's bastion of the hip, is turning a cult blogger star into an MTV News correspondent. Ana Marie Cox, who writes irreverent Washington political blog wonkette.com, will report on-air and online from the Democratic convention.
Even staid AP will offer a blog during the conventions, starring Pulitzer Prize-winner Walter Mears and Washington reporter Nancy Benac.
Of course, blogs are not just the province of journalists. Everyone from techies to ordinary people has latched on to the latest Web craze. News anchors are a more recent entry.
Van Susteren started her news journal last year, as did Sites. The Fox & Friends blog, written on a rotating basis by hosts E.D. Hill, Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade, is a month old.
Its hosts take different approaches. Hill dives into news, like the importance of the European Union constitution. Doocy might chat about his kids. Kilmeade revels in off-camera anecdotes, such as a recent Fox & Friends pool party. "It gives us another way to interact with our viewers," says Hill.
Merrill Brown, media consultant and former editor-in-chief of MSNBC.com, agrees. He calls blogs the new wave of online journalism, Web pages that keep the news current. "In this fragmented world," he says, "anything that can connect programming to audiences is of value."
But not every news organization is a fan.
Sites started his blog www.kevinsites.net while working for NBC and MSNBC. When he briefly took a job with CNN, the network ordered him to shut it down. "They felt it wasn't appropriate for one of their staffers to do something independent or on their dime," he recalls. Now back at NBC, he has resumed the blog with the network's blessing. He tries to make it informative and insightful but avoids getting political.
"Readers want to share your adventure," he says. "What you see in the paper or on TV tends to be the cleaned-up version. I didn't tell you I had to sleep in the dirt to tell a story for TV."
Both Sites and Harrigan have loyal and vocal readers. "Some people think I am a right-wing propaganda machine; others think I am a Communist," says Sites. "I love the diversity of opinions." Harrigan also welcomes the audience interaction—and the personal catharsis. He says the blog allows him to take certain liberties TV doesn't permit.
Says Dean Wright, editor-in-chief of MSBNC.com, "Blogs are a way to keep in touch on a more intimate basis than the traditional model of writing a story."
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