November 18, 2007

Controversy brewing

an interview with...

The Morning Brew blogger

Palm Beach Post

“Blogging. I know nothing,” says Sonja Isger – the newest and highest-profile blogger on The Palm Beach Post’s website.

But that’s OK. What Isger is doing every morning from 6-9 a.m. is unknown territory for everyone. The Post is conducting an online experiment that attempts to personalize the news by stealing an idea from radio.

“Morning radio on the web,” Isger calls The Morning Brew. “As much as radio can be written.”

So Isger writes almost like morning DJs talk, giving traffic and weather along with breaking news and water-cooler talk. This is her third week at it. Will The Morning Brew survive a month?

“I'd like to think that whatever happens, we have to remember it's about content,” says The Post’s former education reporter. “Telling people interesting things in context.”

Not everyone grasps that context.

New Times columnist Bob Norman, who writes a popular South Florida media blog called the Daily Pulp, recently wrote that "this is the first blog aimed at the adult Attention-Deficit Disorder demographic. Morning brew? How about morning meth?"

He added, “I start scrolling down, you know, the way I do, and I'm thinking, ‘What the hell is this?’ There was no rhyme or reason to it, just miscellaneous links and haphazard thoughts.”

Isger’s reaction?

“My first response was, ‘Oh, there's a Daily Pulp thing? It's only Day 3.’”

Her second reaction was, “Maybe he's right.” The Morning Brew host is craving constructive criticism to make this experiment stick.

“It would've been better for me if he had some suggestions or insight about what made him feel it was too pumped up,” she says. “I'm looking for that from anyone who has an opinion. Want more local? Don't want more local? Want more news of the weird? More pics? Hate that gray Breaking News box? Like the headlines? Hate the headlines? Too many posts? Too few? Whatever. Tell me. I can act or at least consider that stuff.”

Of course, she realizes she’s already had at least one triumph. “I have to say,” she says of Norman, “at least he looked.”

Who's idea was this? Corporate edict or local brainstorm?

The corporate call went out to get more news on the web earlier. But as conceived, it would just be someone doing cop calls, checking the scanner, and filing briefs and short stories to the web early. It was my suggestion to do something more fun with it. My supervisor thought I had something, and we pitched it back up the chain of command.

Why this instead of a typical morning-traffic-and-news update on The Post homepage? Seems good enough for The Herald and Sentinel...

Speaking for the reporter/writer in me, that job would be deadly dull, and I wouldn't want to do it. And as a reader, I'm unfulfilled when I click on a news update and it's just a couple sentences. I want something a little more engaging and fun.
Also, I liked the idea of putting all that stuff in one place instead of asking the reader to click for everything. You can go to the Brew and get the traffic, weather, news, and the weird all in one stop.

Biggest difference between print reporting and daily blogging?

The obvious: My day starts a heck of a lot earlier now. Also, I'm not coming up with story ideas. Instead, I'm reading what the paper and other outlets have to offer and editing it to what I think is interesting. And this blog isn't like the others at The Post. I post every morning during the set hours. I'm in only my second week, but so far that means about five to seven posts a day.

So workwise, reporting is "hurry up and wait" for someone to call or to get that information. The Brew is non-stop reporting breaking news and posting the other news for four hours.

Can one reporter do a five-day-a-week blog starting at 6 a.m. for any length of time without cracking up?

That’s the experiment. I post at 6 a.m., but I'm at the computer at 5 a.m., and I'm also there for an hour or two the night before getting ready. The first few days, I was pretty sure I had made a terrible mistake – it was fun and I liked how it was turning out, but I was so wired in the mornings it was killing me. Week 2 is better. I may be getting a groove. So ask me again in a couple months.

Career highlight?

Career highlights are funny things. The stuff that was grueling and miserable sounds cool and different long after you did them — like I used to go with my photographer-husband chasing hurricanes and covering wildfires. The conditions sucked. My stories weren't even that memorable, but those are some of the stories I tell to journalism students.

Amusing professional gaffe?

Already I've botched one fact in the blog, but on the web, I got to correct it within minutes – Tupperware is not 100 years old. The founder's birthday was 100 years ago. Fixed.

One piece of advice you wish you could surgically implant into the skulls of new grads and young pros?

Remember to tell me what makes it interesting and why.