In the past few days, we’ve been on the radio talking up federal social media, we’ve had B2G guru Mark Amtower discuss federal blogging trends, and we’ve even written a 1,000-mile view of the federal blogging market. We decided to give Chris Dorobek, editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week and author of the FCW Insider, the last word on social media, and in particular, blogs in the federal market. For those of you who don’t know Federal Computer Week, it is by far the leading industry publication serving the pubic sector. Read this fascinating interview for Chris’s rich point of view as leader of FCW and as a blogger.
BB: How do you like blogging versus managing a publication?
CD: I’ll try to keep the other questions shorter, but I think it is important to lay out the framework here. The short answer is that, fortunately or unfortunately, this isn’t an either-or kind of question. I get to do both.
The long answer is that, to be honest, this can be challenging sometimes. But I think that this is the way of the world these days. The world of journalism is facing some real challenges in an age where all you need to be a publisher is an Internet connection. (I might note that I don’t think journalism is alone — these are challenging times for most organizations. What industry isn’t facing steep competition?)
For publishers, increasingly, we don’t get to define how we reach people. There are fewer and fewer monopolies. For journalism, that means that we have a print publication, and my sense is that the print publication is going to be the ‘flagship’ way of reaching people for some time.
I think that we have to justify the need for a print publication, and given the just incredible amount of information out there these days, the print publication is part of the agreement we have with our readers to keep watch over all the information out there to let them know what they need to know to do their jobs better. We also post stories daily online — our version of the wire service.
But in addition to providing news and information, a publication needs to provide insight, analysis, and needs to help build community. Blogs are an element of that.
So, in addition to my blog, the FCW Insider, we have a few others. Steve Kelman, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and the former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and an FCW columnist, has a blog. But we have used blogging software for letters to the editor where people can comment on stories, and we run all our corrections in a blog so they are out there for everybody to see.
I like to use my blog to give some of the behind-the-scenes views into the decisions we make. So, yes, I get to both run a publication AND write a blog, but I think the two are very related to one another.
BB: Most PR people (unfortunately) donâ€™t understand what an editorial mission is. Can you explain how FCWâ€™s mission guides your efforts on a day-to-day basis?
CD: FCW’s task is to provide people with information that helps them do their job better. That’s the short version. Information technology is in there too, but just as IT is increasingly embedded in just about everything that everybody does, FCW is expanding beyond just IT.
Late last year, of course, FCW’s parent company, 1105 Media, purchased the former Post Newsweek Tech Media, which included Government Computer News, Washington Technology, the FOSE trade show, and Defense Systems. As a result of that, we have reoriented the publications slightly — actually just emphasized the directions that the publications were going already. GCN is now ‘the technology authority.’ Washington Technology focuses on the business aspects, and FCW is a more policy/management focused publication.
Right after the merger was announced, there was some consternation that this was ‘removing a voice from the community.’ In fact, I think it allows us to focus on stories that we have not been able to tell before. An example of that: Later in June, we are doing the first of several 360-degree looks at issues — in the same week, FCW, GCN, and Washington Technology will all focus on the same issue, each from their own perspective. The first one will be on the Networx telecommunication contract.
As always, our focus is really on the reader, and I think that is more true then ever before.
BB: Could an editorial mission apply to a blog?
CD: The short answer: Absolutely.
As I mentioned, we are there to help people get their jobs done more effectively. But a part of that is building a community, and I think blogs can play a key role in that.
Another example: After the merger, we have had a number of people who live in Maryland and were not all that interested in making the trek out to 1105 Government Information Group’s world headquarters in Falls Church, Va. (I can’t understand THAT!?!) So we are using telework, and we are working to start a blog on telework to tell readers about our experiences — good and bad. What did we get right? What did we get wrong?
BB: Why is the federal marketplace slow to adopt blogs and other new media initiatives?
CD: This is a relatively conservative market. Most government employees, for example, are reluctant to comment on blogs. They are reluctant to go into a webinar and ask questions. They often don’t like to do it at conferences, so…
It is part of the reason I’m so fascinated by all these Web 2.0 technologies and by the changing demographics of both the federal workforce and the U.S. population. Web 2.0 technologies are based on the idea that all of us are smarter then any one of us. That is a significant change in thinking for government. The traditional government model has been that information is power, so the more information I have, the more powerful I am. Web 2.0 throws that on its head.
Some agencies are embracing these ideas. The Defense Department’s network-centric operations model is that information gets posted on secure networks immediately, essentially. So a satellite photo gets posted. That allows a soldier to do his or her own analysis to find what is most important for that person, rather then having some analyst in Langley or wherever determine what the soldier should know.
That seems like a powerful model.
You look at the Virginia Tech tragedy. Students didn’t get their information from newspapers, certainly, or even from CNN. It was FaceBook and MySpace. They provided each other with the intelligence and analysis they needed to make decisions.
It’s a more nuanced world these days, I think, with fewer blacks and whites and many more shades of gray. And when you look at the pace of change in recent years — it just gets faster. I think most people assume that is going to continue. So… put on your seat belts…
BB: Whatâ€™s going to be the tipping point?
CD: It’s an evolution, not a revolution, and we’re seeing it happen already.
BB: How has FCW Insider impacted the marketplace?
CD: You tell me! [Editor's Nope: Quite a lot, check out our write-up of Chris's blog in this federal blogging round-up.]
BB: What tips would you offer other bloggers in the federal marketplace?
CD: I guess I’d offer up a warning that blogging is much more difficult then it may seem. It’s almost like it is a full-time job, for goodness sake.
Have an idea what you want to do. There are all different kinds of blogs. I actually think blogs got a bad name because there is a misconception that it is people just posting what they do for the day or opinions on something that they know nothing about. Those blogs certainly are out there, but blogs fall into all kinds of categories.
There are news blogs. For example, the Wall Street Journal turned it’s popular Washington Wire column into a blog, and it is tidbits of news from their reporters — items that you won’t find other places.
There are blogs focusing on specific niches. MediaBistro hosts the FishbowlDC blog, which is all about DC journalism.
And then there are the very creative blogs. I have a friend who is spending the next few months only eating local foods — foods that a grown within 150 miles of DC. She blogs about what she finds, what works, what does. Very creative!
Understand that this takes time. Blogging has to be pretty much a couple-times-a-week thing. Otherwise write an occasional column or something. A successful blog needs regular posts or else, why does it exist. And that takes time.
Embrace the power of crowds. There is a wonderful book out by Don Tapscott called Wikinomics, where he talks about the power of tapping into these communities. Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz blogs and he said that he will sometimes get push back from angry managers who tell him that the blog contradicts what this manager is telling his Sun employees. Schwartz said that his response to those managers is, ‘Too bad.’
A blog can be an opportunity to communicate with… well, everybody. Talk about having a consistent message.