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July 30, 2014

4 Questions for the Blog Matchmaker

John Wilpers is, literally, a world-class news blog expert. He specializes in seeking, vetting and delivering high-quality blogs, as well as the best local or global bloggers writing about specific geographic or thematic subjects for print and online clients. Those clients have included the LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, GlobalPost.com, Miami Herald, and the San Diego Union-Tribune. In his 38 years in journalism, John has run an international newspaper group, started more free dailies than any U.S. editor, launched numerous city sites for AOL, and been a reporter and editor at small weeklies, major metro dailies, and magazines.

I’ve often relied on him for his expertise. Here, I ask him four questions about his trade: 

  • Do you mind being called a blog wrangler, and if not, what exactly does a blog wrangler do? Actually, I do not see myself as a blog wrangler because “wrangling” implies the use of force to get dumb animals to go in a direction they might otherwise (and wisely) not choose.  I consider myself a blog matchmaker: I match the needs of information companies (newspapers, magazines, online-only news sites) for ever broader, more relevant, and deeper content with the needs of bloggers for exposure, broader platforms, enhanced credibility, and increased revenue opportunities. There are blog wranglers out there cramming websites full of blogs without regard for the benefit of the company or the blogger, creating blogger ghettos distinguished only by the fact that the content is created by non-staffers.

•       What’s different about the Pro-Am space than you thought two years ago? Two years ago, few editors and publishers were open to, never mind enthusiastic about, integrating high-quality bloggers in their online and print publications. But significant circulation and staff erosion has convinced editors that 1) they must do something to stem the reader flight, and 2) the answer is not to be found exclusively in their diminished newsrooms. Today, more editors finally accept that to be relevant to readers with passionate interests in a bevy of both traditional and non-traditional information verticals, they must rely on outside creators of content. If they don’t, topic-specific bloggers and websites will steal their audiences, dooming newspapers to death by a thousand cuts. In the very near future, newspapers and magazines must become information companies that both create AND curate the very best content about everything in their geographic and/or thematic niche(s).

•       With all the fuss about the Demand Media/Examiner models, how do you explain what you do to the bloggers you work with? Both Demand Media and the Examiners are large-scale operations with a very different agenda than my tailored efforts to match the very best bloggers in a niche with a prestigious information company looking to enhance their presence in that niche. While the Examiners and Demand Media allow anyone to apply, I hand-pick the bloggers my newspaper, website, and magazine clients wish to invite to become partners. I tell the bloggers I approach that they have been selected only after an exhaustive search and only because they are experts in their field and because they write exquisitely. I also tell them that we think we are offering a symbiotic relationship. That said, Demand Media and the Examiners do offer very modest compensation whereas my clients do not. We do, however, make it clear to the bloggers we approach that they are free to end the relationship whenever they think it’s fulfilled its purpose from their point of view.

•       You’ve developed a worldwide touch with finding bloggers. Have you noticed any significant differences continent-by-continent, country-by-country, or is the web one big neighborhood? Bloggers worldwide have more in common than they have geographic differences, but there are unique characteristics. Continentally, the African and South American blogospheres are much smaller but are growing. And there are national differences: The Germans, French and Brazilians prefer to write in their native language compared to the great number of bloggers in other countries writing in English. Some countries (England, Venezuela, Pakistan) seem to have more political blogs than others and, of course, there are some countries where bloggers feel they must write anonymously (Middle Eastern countries, some African and South American countries, Indonesia, Pakistan). And in Vietnam, bloggers cannot write about politics at all. But by and large, the web is one big neighborhood in the sense that the vast majority of bloggers are very focused on and dedicated to a single topic. They write, not for fortune, but to increase awareness of themselves and their world, be it politics, music, astronomy, medicine, rugby, a particular charity, etc. When I approach them in a manner that indicates I have not only deeply read and come to appreciate their work but I also bring an invitation that I believe is in their best interests, they almost always agree to participate, Yes, there are bloggers looking to make money, but they are, for now, a small minority. And even some of them still see a benefit in partnering with a major media organization.

You can contact John at:
www.johnwilpers.wordpress.com

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