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University News

Putting the ‘Blog’ in Daily Herald

By and
Sunday, May 29, 2011

The first step to running a successful publication is to stop referring to it as “the bastard stepchild of (other more successful publication).”

When we were first handed the reins to BlogDailyHerald from former Herald Senior Editor and blog manager Ellen Cushing ’10 last spring, there was no doubt in either of our minds that we had signed up for a year’s worth of blank stares when we told friends and professors that we ran “the Herald blog.” The fundamental problem with the blog from the start was that The Herald already had a website. And so for most of the 2009-10 school year, the only reason the blog seemed to exist was to act as a dumping ground for Brown-related news that didn’t quite meet the paper’s standards of professionalism and relevancy.

Our first semester on the job was something of a mess. Joined at the helm by Anne Simons ’11 and four day editors, our editorial board meetings consisted mostly of run-ins on the street and in the Ratty. Our new writer “recruitment strategy” was simple: We told freshmen, “If you write for the blog, you won’t have to do any work!” We had set an initial end-of-semester goal of at least 2,000 daily hits by December. By the time exams rolled around, our meager 1,000 visits per day weren’t even close to that number.

So, we changed things up. We completely restructured the editorial board around a risky, but ultimately much more tenable, scheme: We reduced the number of editors to five (one editor in chief, one managing editor and three deputy managing editors). We began to have weekly Sunday staff meetings. We created an email address to send out staff-wide emails (it’s still hard to believe that we went without one for an entire semester). We created a posting calendar. We embraced our electronic roots and got a staff Dropbox account.

Our goal was simple: We wanted to both demand more from our writers and build a community of bloggers who had formerly only been connected by a disorganized web of emails and blog posts. The weekly meetings were incredibly important to achieving this goal — we didn’t frame them as optional, and we told each of our writers they had to come prepared with two post ideas to present to the staff. We even had a meeting on the Sunday of Spring Weekend. (Note: Given the level of inebriation at that meeting, only David still thinks that was a good idea.)

But, our — and our staff’s — hard work ultimately paid off. By the end of the spring semester, the site regularly had upward of 2,500 hits a day. Those blank stares we used to get when we told people we worked for BlogDailyHerald? We have finally said goodbye to them forever.

At some point this year, we realized that just because we couldn’t cover the same news as The Herald, it didn’t mean there was nothing substantive for us to write about. After several semesters of trying to define what we do in contrast to The Herald, the only concrete difference we’ve been able to come up with is, “We don’t take ourselves quite as seriously.” Certainly, the writing on the blog tends to be quippier and more playful than in The Herald, and we use our medium to our advantage to make posts more engaging by including hyperlinks, photos and videos. The content on the blog is still meant to be informative and serve as a resource for students. We just have a different idea of what Brunonians are looking for as far as information goes.

Every day, for example, we post a “time-waster”: a site or video that is meant to enhance Brown students’ procrastination abilities, along with a comparison of the Ratty and V-Dub menus and a rundown of free food around campus. We have also developed recurring series that range from area restaurant reviews to Frosh-cessities (necessities for freshmen) to a weekly sex column that has covered pressing issues like the best places to have sex on campus — and get caught.

This year, the blog also took the lead in covering and investigating some of the biggest news stories affecting the student body, including the collapse of POLS 1510: “Great Powers and Empires,” the Fish Co. shut-down fiasco and the Crusaders for Traditional Marriage rally. We broke the Spring Weekend acts and extensively covered Spring Week happenings in our “12 Days of Spring Weekend” series, which, of course, included the details about the adventures of the blog’s Spring Week Furby. We jumped outside of your browser with our viral Spring Weekend wardrobe campaign “White Out for Diddy.” We even got Diddy to join in the fun (though we couldn’t get photographic evidence to that effect, due to pesky BCA agreements with Diddy-Dirty Money).

The biggest aim we have for next semester is to make BlogDailyHerald a central part of student life. Too lofty a goal? We don’t think so.

Brown is sorely in need of a cohesive online community. Student startup sites like BrownU.Me, Spotted@Brown and BrownFML haven’t managed to fill this gaping void (but eduHookups sure seems promising!). We’ve seen what low-budget (and, in our case, no-budget) college blogs can do for college campuses, like at NYU and Wesleyan, with NYULocal and Wesleying, respectively. We envision BlogDailyHerald having this same sort of unifying effect.

Looking back, it’s hard to say our main goal was ever to get other people to stop making fun of us when we talked about the blog and how excited we were. They still do — after all, we both still spend way too much time on it. Our aim was just to get everyone else to join in on the conversation.

Matt Klimerman ’13, managing editor of BlogDailyHerald, is afraid of sand. David Winer ’13, editor-in-chief, does not have irrational fears. See all the places they’ve gone this year at blogdailyherald.com.

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