Saturday, 13 October 2007

Adding value

Despite the oft' expressed contempt for the mainstream media (or MSM as we have all learned to call it), the standard fare of many political and "news" bloggers is the stories delivered by the MSM and the various newsgathering agencies. But, simply regurgitating their material is a waste of time and effort. To succeed as a blogger, you must add value.

That is not to say that repeating a story picked up from the media is always bad tactics. An especially good – or bad – story is worth noting and, if the source is relatively obscure and might have been missed, bringing the item to your readers’ attention is doing them a service. Equally, summarising a long and convoluted article, highlighting the main points – or those you think important – adds value to the blog.

By and large though, readers who are interested in current affairs can pick up what they need from Google News or from any one of a number of news aggregator sites. Those who want to keep an eye on particular subjects can use the invaluable Google Alert service, which sends an e-mail whenever something of interest occurs. No blogger can match the scope and immediacy of these services, and it is not even worth trying.

However, using the MSM as a resource, there are several ways you can add value and thereby make your post worth reading.

The first, most simple technique is to widen the scope. On picking up one report of an event, from a single source such as a newspaper site, you can than check to see whether others have reported it.

Instead of then just regurgitating one newspaper's "take" on an issue, you can build a summary of your own, which synthesises the reports from several journalists. Very often, points of detail which are found in one paper are missing from another, enabling you to build up a more comprehensive account than can be gleaned from any one source. Add in links to comment from other bloggers and from agency reports, and the piece assumes the dimensions of an entirely original work.

In this, it is often entertaining to pick up a variety of international sources, which gives an added dimension to the post, allowing you to compare and contrast the different national viewpoints on an issue. Also, lack of comment is worthy of comment. If the media in some countries get excited about an issue which is ignored in one or more others, that itself is noteworthy.

The "compare and contrast" technique also applies to domestic reporting. If your trawl spans Left and Right wing media, there can very often be considerable variance in the way an issue is reported - not forgetting editorials and commentators' input, which adds yet further variety. Commenting on discrepancies adds an extra dimension to a post.

Then, of course, there are factual discrepancies. Different reports may be at odds with each other, and picking up these differences is a source of endless interest – and entertainment – especially if you can verify certain facts from other sources, and suggest that the reporting of facts is wrong.

The idea of checking other sources can also add value. All too often, the media will publicise a report or other document, but will provide few details of it. You can provide a link to it, allowing your readers easy access to the original, making it easier for them to consult the source data.

And, of course, you can compare the media reports with the actual original source(s), noting "spin", omissions or skewed emphasis. Most likely, journalists will not have read the documents and be relying on press handouts, or agency reports. You can often provide more detail, or a more balanced account of what a report is really saying.

Staying with the "compare and contrast" technique, this can also be applied retrospectively. Contemporary reports can often be illuminated by a quick search of the archives, to find out what other – or the same – journalists (or even your own posts) were saying months, or even years ago. Contradictions, or certain predictions which turn out to be completely wrong, are all grist to the mill.

Then there is the personal observation. Many bloggers will know something of the subjects of which they are writing. Many will be better informed and most will be free from the editorial constraints which often dictate a particular "line". That gives the opportunity to interject comment, based on an analysis of the material, which adds yet another dimension to the post.

However, comment alone is rarely of any value. The "man in pub" talk is dreary and detracts from the post. Conclusions should, therefore, be based on the evidence you bring to the post, bearing in mind that you are free to trawl widely to bring up details which the pieces you are reviewing do not.

The end result, using any or all of these techniques, will we very different from the original piece which caught your interest. It will be, in its own right, an original work. And, if it does pass that crucial test – of providing "added value" – it will be worth reading.

Of course, it will be even more so if it is well illustrated.