Combining blogging with column writing
TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE
Longtime business journalist Joseph N. DiStefano writes a blog to feed his PhillyDeals column in the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he covers commercial development plans and the behind-the-scenes investors who shape Philadelphia business. He also supports other beat reporters writing about corporate deals such as acquisitions and asset sales.
Before returning to the Inquirer in 2007, DiStefano was a member of Bloomberg LP’s New York finance team. He also wrote the book “Comcasted,” taught writing at St. Joseph’s University, and studied economics and history at Penn. He and his wife have six kids.
DiStefano discussed how he balances blogging with column writing in an e-mail interview with Talking Biz News. What follows is an edited transcript.
How do you balance your blogging for PhillyDeals with writing your column?
The blog is raw material for the column, a pool of items to choose from or refine. Starting around 9 a.m., I file two to eight online items per day, sometimes from the desk, sometimes remote from the field. By 3 or 4 p.m., I pick one to four items for the print column. Then I refine, add reporting, and shorten to fit.
Sometimes I take a late-breaking item straight to print, and only print, and only blog it afterward or the next day. I am done by 5 to catch the train home. And I sometimes update off-hours. My boss, Brian Toolan, is flexible and very supportive. He watches my back all kinds of ways
How do you decide what’s a blog item?
I get in before my colleagues. At that hour, any breaking news is fair for the blog. I dig up stories where I can add value for our regional readers. I look for and interpret good third-party research that bears on important companies, sectors, our region, employment, and the political/business axis. And there is always room for national and international news with a business angle, especially when we can localize just a little, given the impact impact on a local sector, or the expertise of locals familiar with the larger picture.
As colleagues come in and grab or are assigned major stories, I pass them what I have. If I have more than the beat reporter is likely to get, I may take over the story and use it as my lead. I also do some business features, e.g., on private companies, that are growing or facing bankruptcy, or localizing or going deeper on news at big national companies with significant local operations. I also do a lot of public finance items, the people’s money.
When you use a blog item for a column, are you expanding on what you blogged?
Yes, and also shortening to fit.
What’s been the most difficult thing in transferring from being a traditional journalist who only writes for the paper to one who blogs online throughout the day as well?
Having to give up long-term projects. Blogging and daily columniating is wider but shallower. I have a boxful of APME and SPJ prizes I won for big, sprawling rise-and-fall projects. Now I can follow stories as they develop, and I can do some investigative work, but it’s not long form.
What’s been the reaction to the blog in terms of visitors and page views?
With zero promotion, I get somewhere over 100,000 hits per month and hundreds of comments. It is one of the most-read, non-sports blogs at the company.
Do you think the blog takes away anything from the business news in the daily paper?
No. I break news, and I am constantly giving leads to colleagues, and my blog also gives them a place to put stuff they might not write as a standalone piece.
How often do you write the column, and how does it differ from what you’re trying to accomplish in the blog?
Four times a week. It was originally 5x, but I cut it to four so I could do more two-day, single-theme columns for Sundays when our circulation is twice the daily total. Besides the four columns a week, editors often adapt or assign timely blog items that I’m not using for the column as the basis for print stories and summary items.
Do you get more reader reaction from the blog or the column?
From the blog, if only because it’s easier to comment on the blog than on the print column, even in its online version. But they reach two different sets of readers. The print readers include lawyers, people in government, retirees. The blog is read by people at colleges, financial pros, mid-level corporate people, salespeople looking for leads.
Do you think that every business journalist should be blogging about their beat?
No. I did a weekly (sometimes twice-weekly) proto blog column when I was banking, insurance, investments reporter in 1999-2002, and it was tough to balance with breaking news and projects. Many of my colleagues do deep reporting that would suffer if they also had to blog.
If you could improve your job, what would you do?
Hire assistants. Also leverage the column to earn more money. We have a kid at U of Penn, two at U of Delaware, plus three more preparing to follow them to college.