Jay Rosen's much-hyped experiment to attach beat reporters to social networks ignores an inconvenient fact: There are already reporters operating this way.
One of the best is Washington Post baseball writer Barry Svrluga, who interacts constantly with his readers via a blog, regular discussions, podcasts—even personal appearances at the regular tailgating gatherings of his devoted fans before Nationals games at RFK stadium. Yes, Svrluga's fans are so devoted that they gather in his honor offline, to celebrate the friendships created in the community that has sprung up around him online. Not too shabby. Know any other beat reporters with that kind of following? That's what an active online presence (and general excellence as a beat writer) will do for you.
That's why last summer, long before Rosen announced his social beat reporting concept, I described Svrluga as the model of the modern major beat reported.
But now Barry's fans are in mourning. That's because Svrluga has decided to transfer within the Post to the Washington Redskins beat. It's probably a promotion, but not to the Nationals fans who had created a community around their favorite baseball beat writer.
Don't believe me? Check out the 100-plus impassioned comments on this post on Svrluga's blog in which he announces his new job. These readers felt a personal connection with Svrluga, even though they probably only knew him online. At a time when readers are deserting newspapers, isn't it refreshing to come across readers who are so devoted to a beat writer?
Every editor should be pondering this phenomenon, and thinking about how to create interactive stars with surrounding communities similar to Svrluga. At Philly.com, we're lucky enough to have one of our own, The Philadelphia Inquirer's Todd Zolecki, who coincidentally also covers baseball—and blogs, answers reader questions and podcasts.
Part of the Philly.com strategy for 2008 is to create many more such communities around popular beat reporters, columnists and reviewers. These sorts of followings beget deeply devoted readers--and in this day and age, devoted readers couldn't be more valuable.