The folks at Red Maryland must be so successful that they have put out the bat-signal that they want more helpers. Billing it as the Citizen News Project, they are looking for contributors representing all of Maryland’s counties to provide reports on “hot topics of government and policy” in their respective counties. Flush off their success at picking the right gubernatorial horse and joining the Liberty Alliance (which is nice, aside from the annoying popup tabs I now regularly get to ignore when visiting their family of sites) they want to spread the wealth as it were. At least that’s the impression I get.
But seriously, despite my differences with them over the years (hence my status as an erstwhile RM contributor) this could be a good idea. Having said that, though, I think they may be going about it the wrong way.
I’ve been blogging for almost a decade now, in perhaps a dozen different outlets I can think of off the top of my head – two blogs of my own and several others on a scale from local to national as a contributor. Bloggers tend to go through an initial stage where they write on a regular and frequent basis – it’s a stage that runs from a few weeks to maybe a few months. Almost invariably, though, there comes a point where a blogger feels like they are beating their head against a wall or the effort is no longer worth the reward. Often they burn out on the task of writing and leave the blog go for days, weeks, or simply never get back to it. Millions of blogs are considered dead sites as they stopped updating – my original site would be one.
But while having a website of one’s own is daunting to a degree, joining an established site with a reader base already in place is an attractive option for some. It’s a model which has been tried to some extent by everyone from the Huffington Post to Examiner.com to RedState, with various incentives put in place. Red Maryland is apparently trying that same model.
I also believe that content is king and a good site has plenty of it. Red Maryland does relatively well in this respect as it averages a post or two per day; just a little bit more output than I do – although a significant percentage of the posts are simple promotions for their upcoming radio shows and events. Obviously they want to create more content, which is an admirable idea with the benefit (they hope) of increasing their site’s readership and cross-promotional opportunities.
Looking at this from the perspective of a guy who has more than just this site to maintain, in the case of my overall body of work the most important content is done for this site unless there is sufficient incentive to make someone else’s venue worthwhile – in other words, if I’m being paid a reasonable amount for my effort then it becomes a more pressing priority. In my case, that’s why content may be lacking at certain times because I have clients who pay me for my work – this space, not always so much.
On the other hand, if I’m a contributor who is working simply for credit or for a pittance I may ask myself why I’m placing my work where it may not be promoted well or in a place where I may not be allowed to use it for myself on my own site. In some cases I have managed to blend the two, but in general if I’m doing content I want to be able to use it for myself since I have a site to fill, too. Work smarter, not harder and all that.
So where am I going with this?
It may not be true of every county, but I suspect there are a number of people who already do the work Red Maryland seeks to have on sites of their own. I think that’s where they need to look first – do a little research and find out what counties already have alternative, regularly-updated news sites and see if there’s a match between the vision and coverage of those sites and what Red Maryland has in mind. If it’s a match they can then work out a content-sharing agreement perhaps similar to the former arrangement between RM and the Baltimore Sun.
Otherwise – and I admit I could be reading their appeal wrong – they are just looking for people to write for them occasionally and hoping these contributors don’t mind giving away content for free in the vain hope they’ll be discovered as part of the Red Maryland network.
Maryland has a lot of good writers, and RM‘s Mark Newgent should know because he was the editor of the now-defunct Watchdog Wire – Maryland. If that’s the model Red Maryland is looking to replicate, there’s a reason why Watchdog Wire is no more and it has nothing to do with the editor – just the lack of incentive.
So if you’re thinking about being a Red Maryland contributor, my advice to you is to go into it with eyes open and ask a lot of questions.