Media sites must take on 'nightmare' bloggers

Established magazines and newspapers must learn to respond flexibly to competition from specialist bloggers, according to one of the journalists behind a major new blog-related project from The Guardian.

Guardian special projects developer Ben Hammersley told delegates at the Centre for Investigative Journalism summer school that he is working on an "even bigger" site than The Guardian's website Comment is Free, which launched in March. And he revealed that The Guardian's World Cup blog drew five million readers, despite costing "basically nothing to build".

He said: "Comment is Free, which is a massive site, was developed effectively by three people in about a month. The next site that I'm building, which will be even larger than Comment is Free, is being built by me and will take about four weeks to launch."

Such speed and efficiency are essential for large media organisations to compete with nimble new competitors, Hammersley argued.

He said: "The vast majority of blogs are just online diaries written by teenage girls about how much they hate their teacher and how much they love their cat. But an increasing number of blogs are written by specialists in their fields who basically write single-subject magazines. These are a newspaper editor's biggest nightmare."

He said that in the technology field, a proliferation of niche blogs is providing a steady stream of news and analysis much faster than magazines can achieve with their weekly or monthly news cycles.

When Apple launched a new iPod just four weeks after another model, Hammersley said, bloggers had been able to cover the newer gadget immediately, while consumer computer magazines were caught with their covers still touting the older product.

With minimal costs and highly-targeted readership sometimes in the tens of thousands, Hammersley said that their audiences allow them to command high advertising rates.

"From a journalistic business point of view, this is both really exciting and really terrifying," he said. "It's really exciting because if you're a specialist in your field you can start your own blog, put Google ads on the site and, if you are consistent and you write well, you could make quite a nice living out of it. It is terrifying because specialist-subject magazines will always be out of date from now on."

To compete in this online environment, media organisations need to develop the capacity to build niche sites quickly, Hammersley added.

"The time to market and the cost is so small that it's almost worth launching something just to see if it will work."

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