Blogging as mass media: Can you equate a blog with a newspaper?

This post carries excerpts from The Manual of Blogging, a reference book on blogging, available on Amazon.

Blogs were among the first social media entities that, in addition to connecting people, gave rise to mass distribution of content. However, puritans would not like to dilute the significance of traditional mass media such as newspapers and television – where a formal ‘press’ entity broadcasts news and information to a large audience/ readership.

... On the other hand, some media observers in the early blogging days got swayed by the tide of blogging. They even predicted that blogs would soon annihilate the mainstream print press. That never happened.

... While the boundaries have disappeared or are fast disappearing among different media formats, web 2.0 media, which include blogs as well as other social media formats, have a winning edge due to their inherent interactivity and sharability, which the traditional media (newspapers, magazines, radio and television) do not have.

... Despite disdain from the traditional media, social media is gaining importance as an important means of spreading information. Blogs are an important social media segment, which usually have long-form content with a longer shelf life than social networking segment (Facebook, Twitter etc).

Blogs as the fourth pillar of democracy

blogging journalists

... When it comes to standing against pressure, especially against oppressive governments, most media houses buckle down. Bloggers who choose to act as a watchdog by reporting wrong-doings in public offices and the society and by writing against them are in a very small number, but they are a highly motivated lot. They individually cannot resist pressures and threats and yet try to keep doing their job, sometimes by remaining anonymous. 

... Only a fraction of blogs qualify to be equated with press in the sense of its role to be a fearless watchdog of public and social life and governance. A slightly bigger minority of bloggers report on events or analyze issues like a mainline writer/ journalist would do, and they earn their reputation as a professional writer or blogger. 

... In a wider perspective, all bloggers who blog about any matter that is not private and personal are a sort of journalists, but not professional journalists. A larger fraction can, however, be equated with media, discussing matters ranging from science to health, fashion, cinema, sports and current affairs.

... Bloggers have no obligation to carry out the dictats of their bosses as they do not have any. Contrast this with the journalists working in traditional media bosses who quite often are politically aligned and have hidden business interests.

How can bloggers get maximum out of a press tour?

Bloggers are now routinely being called to press parties, especially by big tour operators, tourist destinations, hotels, governments, companies dealing with big manufacturing projects, at book and product launches, and so on. 

Because bloggers have special needs and they should ideally be given information differently from seasoned journalists, savvy companies also organize press tours exclusively for bloggers.

Whether as part of a standard press party in which journalists from print (newspapers, wire agencies, photo agencies, magazines) and electronic (television, radio) media take part or as part of a bloggers' press trip, bloggers must follow some rules of the game to make the best of the trip and to become more worthy of being invited in future.

Eleven best practices bloggers should follow when invited for press trips

1. Do homework.
Read about the place of visit, the host, special things that you are likely to see. Read material they send you. It helps greatly if you make your draft stories in advance. These may or may not play out finally but you will have ready-made outlines around which you can ask questions or seek more details when you are actually on the location.

2. Be fully prepared.
If going to an unknown place, check weather on the web. Keep clothes suited for the place - umbrella, light or heavy clothing depending upon temperature, jeans, cards. Pack medicine (sun-cream, anti-allergen, antacid, anti-pyretic, medicine for vomiting if going to hills by road). Keep all your gadgetry, and a pencil and a notebook even if you are sure the host will provide that. Keep a cellphone with good camera. Keep a battery bank. Though most hosts try to take full care of guests's needs and emergencies, sometimes they are not that prepared, or unseen things might happen.

3. Be punctual and responsive.
Respond to the invite. Be on time the first time and every time even if others in the group are not that punctual. Use the waiting time for knowing more about the place, organizing yourself, clicking photos.

4. Participate and enjoy.
Be game. Volunteer when there is an option (e.g. in response to 'Who all want the pre-sunrise visit of the temple tomorrow?'). However, don't be adventurous beyond what you can take. If part of the trip is too difficult for you or you suffer from an ailment that does not allow you to undertake that (e.g. trekking), tell the organizers - in advance, if possible. Exchange notes. 
Enjoy the trip. Use the opportunity to make friends. Don't be tense and always looking to be 'on the job'. 

Remember, the press trip is a professional assignment and also a sort of picnic: don't lose out on either.

5. Don't grumble.
If comforts are not as promised, don't make too much fuss. Don't be after food and drinks, better seat on the bus, better room, gifts etc. Don't complain about junior PR guys when their boss makes a courtesy visit. Don't talk about better experiences, like 'In my visit to ... they did this and this.' Don't be too demanding. Don't bargain about your compensation unless necessary.

Don't develop an ego of 'an invited blogger' or 'journalist' who must be looked after well.

Don't forget to send a 'thank you' note, immediately after the trip.

6. Take detailed notes.
Go beyond what information is given publicly by the PR guys. Note down all that you can: mundane details that pad up the story, also details that would add value to your stories.

Exchange contact details with key people especially when you would need to quote them on the blog, or to get background information. This is especially useful when companies  and government organizations take the press to new projects that are hard to explain in simple terms.

7. Think differently.
Think from human angle, think from reader's point of view, find interesting details. 

Don't make the mistake of  writing based on pamphlets and adding a bit of your story; write from your own perspective and based on your experience, and use pamphlets only for padding. 

Don't ask too many public questions. If you want some details exclusively, ask them during lunch break, after the briefing, through a phone call, on email.
If you discover an exceptional story idea that will help the hosts, be discreet in discussing that with others. Propose that as an exclusive story to be done later on.

8. Click, even if you won't use photos.
Photos not only are useful as part of blog posts, they also help recall many things that you might miss otherwise. Click yourself in different settings, but also click shots to emphasize the place and important objects - photos that would support your reports.

blogger trip press tour

9. Work on the spot, on the go.
Do not leave work till you are back. Every evening, before going to bed, work on your draft stories, jot down things that you could not during the day, improve your drafts if already made. You can even write a post while on the tour if you want to make more than one post on the trip. 
Otherwise too, why not issue a 'teaser' post with a photograph to tell the readers about your detailed post coming later? Why not post tweets and photos of the fantastic things that you experience? But be careful: on a professional assignment, your posts/ photos should tell others as a reporter, not as a picnicker.

10. Be honest.  
Disclose on the blog that you were taken on a all-paid-for press trip. 

If it is a sponsored trip [in which you are paid for writing the post, beyond courtesies of a press trip], disclose that. 

Unless it is a sponsored trip, write honestly about good things but be  discreet about criticism - and tell that the views are your own.

Do not talk about personal inconveniences caused due to your host's lack of care, but talk about hardships if they tell a story (e.g. in a submarine, how uncomfortable and claustrophobic it can be to remain in small cubicles for long duration; roughness of sea at a particular coast during rains; winding roads to reach a steep hill, which make you throw up at every turn).

11. Deliver.
Know the organizer's expectations in advance. Some organizers might expect you to post a number of tweets or short posts or photos (e.g. on Instagram) everyday. If that is part of the understanding, fine; if not, go along and do at least the minimum level of postings.

Don't ignore to write posts even if there was no obligation. In fact, write more than what you promised or what the organizers expect. Send them the link once you publish a post even if they did not ask for such details.