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This Blog is 103 Days Old

I wanted to write this post to mark 100 days, but I was on vacation. Fitting, I guess, as I'm rarely on time for anything.

So, I've been doing this for three-months plus. I took the blog on as an experiment. I'm into new media and wanted to see how I could use a blog to supplement what I write for print. I wrote a blog for a month after my Power Failure series ran in May 2007, but it fell silent because it's hard to find something new to write about every day on the Power Authority.

As an investigative reporter, I don't write for the paper every day. Or every week. Or every month, sometimes. So blogging has been an adjustment; I have to feed the beast five days a week.

It's been a challenge in several ways.

Good blogs have a voice, an edge, a point of view. Everything that print reporters are told they should not have in their stories. The objectivity thing, ya know. So, I've been treading a fine line, which I'm sure I have crossed at times. I'm learning as I go.

The best I can tell you is I subscribe to the credo of British journalist Charlie Beckett:

"I strive towards fairness, accuracy, and thoroughness, but I refuse to pretend that I am merely a cipher, a neutral medium through which facts and opinions pass unhindered to the public."

But I digress.

Another challenge is staying on point. The blog is supposed to focus on, quoting my blog description, "the incompetence, dysfunction and self-interest that plague the regional economy and local and state government. In addition to tackling problems, Heaney explores solutions, including the potential of green economic development."

I've wandered a bit, but largely by design.

I obviously read The News every day, and subscribe to The New York Times. (Some of you may call it a liberal rag, I call it the best newspaper in the world.) I also read numerous blogs and news Web sites. I take it all in and write about what strikes me if it's at least close to the aforementioned topics. I also try to draw on subjects I've covered in the past, including City Hall, politics, education and housing.

Mixing it up keeps things fresh, and, to be honest, is sometimes necessary to come up with something every day. Feeding the beast, ya know.

In the coming months, I'm hoping to focus more on the economy and economic development subsidies. At least that's the plan.

Another challenge: Learning what to blog and what to put in the newspaper. When in doubt, I tend to favor blogging, as it's quicker and gives me quality content. I'm mindful that I'm building something here and realize you don't attract and keep readers by giving them leftovers from the dead tree edition.

At the same time, I'm mindful that even a well-read blog post attracts a fraction of the readership of a front-page story in the newspaper. So it's a matter of balance, which is something else I'm working on. I mean, blogging is fun, a lot of work, but fun, in part because it's like having your own mini-newspaper.

On a typical day, this blog gets 500 to 800 page views. I figure that's 400 to 700 readers, give or take. On a really good day, page views top 1,000, and they've run as high as 1,400. Mondays get the biggest readership; the weekends are pretty dead, typically 100 to 200 page views a day. On balance, the numbers are increasing, which is a good thing, because this is too much work to be treading water.

I have no idea on my traffic compares with blogs at other newspaper sites. The News publishes 24 blogs and I'm nowhere near "Sabres Edge," which is far and away our best-read blog. "Bills Beat" and "In The News" are also big draws. On a typical week, the traffic for "Outrages & Insights" ranks at or near the top of rest of The News blogs.

One thing I've learned is that you can't judge traffic by the number of readers who post comments. There are days I'll get 600 page views and 15 comments; another day 1,000 page views and two comments.

If I have a bit of a disappointment with the blog, it involves the comments. I started out hoping a fair number of movers and shakers would use the comments as a forum to weigh in on issues. I know from offline comments that people of influence are reading, but few have taken to commenting. (It's never too late, folks.)

The blog has drawn a community of commentators, however. I wish more of them would use their real names, as it would cut down on some of the snideness, and at times the chatter is heavy on rhetoric and tit-for-tat. But there's little flaming and many of those who comment do a very good job presenting their points of view. So, keep 'em coming.

I'm sometimes surprised on what prompts readers to comment. Analysis on public policy like IDA reform? Nope. Q&As with decision makers? Nah. Off-shore drilling and global warming? People come out of the wood work. It's like tossing out a piece of red meat. 

I'm amused, and occasionally annoyed, at some of the comments directed my way. Say something good about unions and I'm a labor lackey. Bring up global warming and I'm a stooge for Al Gore.

Folks, reporters write about things all the time they don't necessarily endorse; it's part of our job. Some of you read way too much into what I write.

Take unions, for example. Yeah, sometimes I say nice things about 'em. I belong to one myself, even serve as a contract negotiator. I also have a history of writing about fat labor contracts that favor public employees over taxpayers. Don't believe me? Here's just one example.

As one of my friends says, I'm an equally opportunity reporter: I like giving just about everybody a hard time at one point or another.

So, that's my take. What's yours? Anything in particular you'd like to see more or less of?




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