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Blogs Fit to Print?

BOSTON, Mass. — Next week a new newspaper will debut in Boston. Much like the community paper Metro, it will be handed out free to commuters each weekday morning.

Still, it’s an odd time to start the free daily, called BostonNOW. The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald have been cutting staff as they lose reader and ad revenue to the Internet.

But BostonNOW plans to buck the trend by taking some Internet attractions… and putting them in print. WBUR’s Business and Technology Reporter Curt Nickisch reports.

TEXT OF STORY

[SOUND OF DJ MUSIC IN CAFE]

CURT NICKISCH: In a cafe in Cambridge, a DJ mixes some background tunes, as BostonNOW’s editor-in-chief John Wilpers makes his sales pitch to a dozen local bloggers. He tells them they’re the ones plugged into what’s really going on around Boston. And if they’re writing about happenings anyway, Wilpers says, why not let him publish their blogs in the newspaper?

JOHN WILPERS: And I think it would be more fun that way, because then we’re not sending a reporter who might have absolutely no interest in it, and a limited amount of talent and time, whereas you guys have the time the talent and the interest.

NICKISCH: By printing blogs alongside the usual newspaper fare, Wilpers tells them BostonNOW will do a better job of covering what’s relevant. And he wraps up by touting something these bloggers don’t have: one-hundred-fifty-thousand people reading what they write. That’ll be the circulation – far more than the few hundred hits most of these bloggers get online.

WILPERS: If I discover a real star, I’m gonna ride you and you’re gonna ride us, to the point where either you go off and make more money someplace else, or we come up with a way of keeping you around.

NICKISCH: It may seem odd that these web writers would even consider penning for Old Media, but most here are intrigued.

JADE SYLVAN: It sounds cool. What he’s saying sounds possible, and it sounds like it could really take off.

NICKISCH: That’s Jade Sylvan – she blogs about her life as an unpublished writer. She loves imagining her name in print. Another blogger, Mike Mennonno, likes the idea of the new paper. He’s just wonders whether his online musings would be a good fit.

MIKE MENNONNO: You know in the summer I do a lot of photos in the garden, talking about that. You know my love life, I do a little bit what I call slogging, which is you know about the sex life. All of that is in my blogosphere. I find that a little bit difficult to kind of figure how that would work.

NICKISCH: It could though, says John Wilpers. As editor-in-chief, he’s going to work with bloggers to tailor their postings for a general audience. That’ll be tedious, and at first, he expects only about ten percent of the newspaper’s content to come from web contributors. *But Wilpers says eventually, half the paper could be filled by all the Boston blogs fit to print.

WILPERS: Right now there aren’t enough good bloggers out there. But: there’s not a market! And people are motivated by attention and by reward. And we’ll give them the attention and we’ll give them the reward.

NICKISCH: The financial reward is still up in the air. Bloggers won’t get paid at first; BostonNOW is still figuring a compensation system. That has critics worried the newspaper is less a model of citizen journalism than a business model based on cheap content. Lou Ureneck heads the journalism department at Boston University. He thinks a low budget for bloggers will show through.

LOU URENECK: Are these extended letters to the editor, are they personal diatribes, are they uninformed columns? I hope it’s something better than that.

NICKISCH: Still others say this foray shows just how much the newspaper industry is struggling to reinvent itself in the digital age.

ROBERT KUTTNER: I think what you’re going to see is a lot of experimentation, with print and web cross-fertilizing each other.

NICKISCH: Robert Kuttner edits the magazine The American Prospect. He says most publications are trying to migrate more of their journalism online. BostonNOW is innovative, he says, by doing the opposite: bringing web content to paper. Even so, Kuttner’s not sure the blogosphere is a worthy substitute for conventional reporting:

KUTTNER: It turns out journalism is expensive. Because there’s a professionalism to it. As traditional media get all of these new competitors who have much less overhead, the question becomes: who’s going to provide the news? Most news still originates in newspapers.

NICKISCH: But the editor-in-chief of BostonNOW, John Wilpers, believes his blog-bolstered daily will break news. And he says it’ll be the news people are missing in today’s traditional press.

WILPERS: They’re telling us with their dollar bills that they don’t like us anymore; we’re not relevant to their lives; they’re not buying us anymore. Papers like now us will come in and we’ll say: you do have a place at the table, you do have a platform, we do respect your voice.

NICKISCH: BostonNOW hits the streets April 17th, and it’s just the first. Over the next few years, its publishing company plans to start nine more such newspapers in major cities across the country.

For WBUR, I’m Curt Nickisch.

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