Thursday, August 28, 2003

Eric Takes the Dive

Congratulations to the Chicago Tribune's Eric Zorn for diving into the weblog format recently (Trib registration is free, and you can use the same user name and password at the Trib-owned LATimes). As the first real staff blogger (though he'll also keep his print column) at a major-circulation daily (with the arguable exception of the WaPo's media critic Howard Kurtz, who doesn't technically write a blog, but something pretty close most days), he'll be closely studied by the newspaper industry, which has dubbed such hybrids as j-blogs. This really shouldn't be that big a deal--Dan Gillmor has been blogging for a long time--but he's always been seen as the exception, in large part cause he operates in the Silicon Valley's hometown rag, the San Jose Mercury News. And traditional newspapers have so many hang-ups about editing control, and (like the PD and its sister Newhouse-chain papers) there are complicated issues of union rules that keep the print and online staffs strictly separate.

I remember Zorn only slightly from my time living as one half of a newlywed couple in Chicago's Lincoln Park in the late '80s, sharing one small Ford Fiesta and an at-the-time impossibly pricey $500-a-month one-bedroom apartment across the street from John Barleycorn pub. But then, in a town and a paper dominated by the likes of Mike Royko and Bob Greene, it was pretty hard for a guy like Zorn, writing mostly about suburban small-bore stuff, to stand out above the din of two nationally known bigfoots. But Royko and Greene are both now gone, one dead and the other forced to resign in a sex scandal. So in some ways, it's Zorn's town, though he scarcely has a chance of ever rising to those nosebleed heights of influence.

Anyway, I like the experimental tone with which he initially dove into the task. In an introductory column, after bragging a bit about how he's the "self-appointed digital pioneer" of the paper, the first columnist to invite email ('93) and have his own website ('97), he talks about this "emerging hybrid media form" and how he went out on a limb convincing the Trib brass, which is infamously conservative, to let him do it. And he nicely summarizes for mainstream readers what they should expect: "This will translate into generally short nuggets of opinion and information--columnettes--that often link to other articles and sites of interest on the Internet. The orientation will be local but not exclusively so, and the approach will be subjective, candid and personal...writers and readers will come to expect the immediacy and intimacy of the format, while publishers will find in it a new way to build and maintain valuable relationships with the public." Well said, Eric, and bon voyage...


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