Bernard does Barry

Bernard Hickey provides a brilliant response to Barry Colman’s ill-considered rant against bloggers.

He provides a list of 10 rules for online publishing to be successful. Bazza would do well to read and digest as he sets off on his folly.

1. Keep your costs brutally low

2. Treat Google as god

We worship and fear Google in equal measure. It is the major source of traffic to our site and to most sites. We obsess about our Pagerank and how to raise it. We work like dogs to get sensible links into our site from highly ranked sites elsewhere.

Almost the first question we ask before anything we do is: how can we boost our Google juice. Just like any decent deity, Google can take life and give it. Often Google’s giving and the taking of life appears not to have any logic. It is the mystery of the faith, but we never lose the faith.

3. Worship your community, which is the holy spirit

I stumbled on this after adopting WordPress as our content management system because it cost nothing. Our community is everything. I love eliciting comment and insight from our readers. Often they know a lot more than us about a subject and can say it much better. They tip us off to stuff all the time.

I am forever asking for help and getting it. I always read all our comments and regularly go in to respond to comments. It’s worth the time and is a lot of fun. It improves the quality of the articles immeasurably. I spend a lot of time dreaming up polls and finding ways to trigger a debate. It’s so much better than writing just a plain article.

4. Share the link love and ye shall receive

The bloggers’ ethos is all about link love. Whenever you source a document or another media report you must hyperlink to it. This is not just to be polite, although that is part of the ethos. This is all about driving traffic to each others’ sites and being open and transparent.

It’s also all about worshipping in front of the Pagerank algorithm. It means we source what we have whenever we can and it allows our readers to check our facts and then debate them with us.

5. Donate the news and sell the data

This is at the core of how we make a profit. We collect an awful lot of data about interest rates, the housing market, the economy, financial markets and commodity prices. We display these in charts and tables for free and use them in free news and commentary on our website.

6. Be generous, open and tolerant

Open up comments on all stories and allow unmoderated comments from all. Moderate after publication and only ban or block comments when they are clearly defamatory or abusive. This is a big issue for big media.

They can’t let go of their perfect publication and are paranoid about legal action or upsetting anyone. There are no legal precedents yet, but I’ve seen a legal opinion saying moderation after comment is just as effective in protecting the publisher as moderation before the comment.

Having a journalist approve or moderate every comment before publication is too expensive and blocks the flow of debate. It is the reason the NZHerald blogs have so few comments despite being very heavily read. Commenters want instant gratification from instant publication and the joy of being part of an active debate.

Invite dissent and debate. Give credit to other sites and competitors. It’s the internet. That’s how it works.

7. Spread the gospel through all media

Many old media journalists shun or block appearances or publication on other media. This protectiveness is a product of the old monopoly culture. If you have the news and there is no other way of getting it because the paper can’t be printed or distributed in your geography or niche then it makes no sense to publish your content in another media.

The problem online is that news and comment is very easy to find through google, very cheap to produce and endemic. You have to rely on your content being better than anyone elses and finding other ways to make money from your content or the brand you’ve built around that content. Geographic news monopolies don’t work any more.

I appear regularly on television (TV3, TVNZ, Prime andTVNZ7), radio (Radio Live, NewstalkZB and Radio New Zealand National) and in print (Herald on Sunday). Some of this is paid for and some of it is free. I even blog on (Don’t tell anyone but it has a very high Pagerank…). All of this multi-media odd jobbing helps spread our brand and our content to a wider group of people. This means people think of when they think about anything to do with interest rates, house prices and the economy. They will come to us eventually, even if it’s after hearing about us elsewhere.

8. Open your source and be happy

Open source everything. It’s much cheaper and it’s the ‘internet way’. Never pay a licence fee for anything. Again, this is partly about keeping your costs brutally low, but it’s also about being more engaged, more community-minded and ‘bloggy’.

Open up your articles to challenge by linking to every document our raw source. Invite comment and correct openly and immediately when it’s clear you’re wrong.

9. Be the best and link to the rest

The temptation when you’re in the Old Media is to believe that you have to have everything. You believe that you are the only source of news for your reader and therefore you have to be the ‘journal of record’ and ‘cover the waterfront’. This is all part of the monopoly news culture. There’s no point trying to do this in an Internet era. Choices are a google search away and there is always someone else who has covered a public event.

If we don’t have it first, we simply link to the website that has it. If we can’t find a fresh angle or a way to explain it better to our audience, then we simply don’t cover it or we link to someone else. We know we’re not the only website people look at. Being best for us means being first, fast, accurate, useful and incisive. If we aren’t at least one or two of those things, we don’t waste our time (and our readers’ time) doing the story.

10. Focus on a lucrative niche and nail it

People in New Zealand forget online in New Zealand is big business. Trade Me makes at least NZ$1.5 million profit a week. Air New Zealand sells more than NZ$1 billion of tickets a year through its websites.

Trying to be all things to all people is a waste of time online. There are too many choices and too much excellent stuff. You simply have to be the very best in your chosen niche.