Some news outlets still consider blogs an important part of their digital presence, even in the face of the growing popularity of social platforms. Blogs allow them not just to tap into a community that is passionate about a certain topic or issue, but also to build on it by encouraging readers to contribute their expertise and be part of a meaningful conversation with journalists and people with similar interests.
The Financial Times' Alphaville blog, its hub for markets and finance coverage, turned ten years old this week. The blog is free to read, operating outside the FT's usual subscription model. In the past decade, it has adapted and evolved with the times and the needs of its readers, explained Paul Murphy, founding editor of Alphaville.
Murphy was brought on board by the paper's editor-in-chief, Lionel Barber, in 2006, to "start something noisy and finance-focused" on ft.com, at a time when the title hadn't seen much investment on the digital front. In the blog's early days, Murphy drew inspiration from similar projects, such as NYT's DealBook.
We've become more reflective. We go deeper into issues and trends, providing more comment and analysis and also more investigative-type journalismPaul Murphy, Financial Times
"At the time, this was a completely new type of journalism, online, really conversational and something that brought you very close to the reader," he told Journalism.co.uk.
"It was the natural manifestation of what we decided was an alter ego of the FT, that had a structured news writing and style guide."
Because Alphaville launched during a period where mergers and acquisitions (M&A) of companies were booming, M&A became its beat. Other organisations covering financial news set up similar initiatives, such as the Wall Street Journal's Deal Journal and Reuters' DealZone.
Flexibility to diversify Alphaville's beat was key
But the boom came to a halt in 2008 when the financial crisis hit, and Alphaville was able to shift its focus to covering the credit markets. Since then, it has further diversified its coverage to write about topics such as the Eurozone crisis, the possible property bubble in China, or apparent fraud in the financial technology (fintech) industry in the UK.
"We turned our attention with the news flow and that became the defining thing, a flexible platform that had a group of young, talented writers who were given lots of freedom and the ability to turn their attention to the fresh stories or simply, to their own obsessions and interests.
"Why are we still around after 10 years? It's because of this flexibility."
Seven people in New York, London and Mumbai now write full-time for Alphaville, with other FT writers providing occasional input. They publish between six and eight posts every day, depending on the news agenda. Murphy said "everyone on the team is self-starting", writing about their own interests, and the team shares "all the housework that goes with running a big news blog", such as proofreading each other's copy before publication.
The format of Alphaville has also changed since 2006 and the blog has served as an inspiration for other products launched by the FT, such as the fastFT newswire and the firstFT daily newsletter, an updated version of Alphaville's 6am newsletter called Cut.
"When we started, the coverage was quick and frenetic, and we were doing lots of short posts that were almost alerting people to news.
"But with things such as the growth of Twitter, which has had an impact, there's no need for us to pump out news alerts from Alphaville, because people already discuss on social media the instance it's happened.
"We've become more reflective and when we write about something, we go deeper into issues and trends, providing more comment and analysis and also more investigative-type journalism."
Growing the community through events and word of mouth
Alphaville has also expanded beyond written coverage into audio, with its weekly Alphachat podcast and the long-form podcast Alphachatterbox, video and events. All audio and video content produced by the FT is available for free outside the paywall.
You have to be aware from the outset that when you're writing for a specialist audience as we are, inevitably they will know more about any given subject, and this is good, because it adds a bit of humility to the processPaul Murphy, Financial Times
Its annual Festival of Finance (formerly Camp Alphaville) had over 1000 attendees in 2016, a mix of entertainment and speeches from key speakers in the industry. Other events include a yearly pub quiz held in New York or London, and the Alphaville team also hosted a documentary screening at the FT offices in London recently to get to know some of its readers.
Because the FT as a whole has a very specific audience and tries to reach people not only interested in but with a certain level of financial knowledge, these events, alongside "word of mouth and reputation", are how the blog is attracting new readers.
"You have to be aware from the outset that when you're writing for a specialist audience as we are, inevitably they will know more about any given subject, and this is good, because it adds a bit of humility to the process.
"You know very quickly that if you've got something wrong, your readers will tell you or put you right."
Alphaville will feature a fresh look from November, Murphy said, drawn from the new ft.com, and it will also rebuild one of its older sections, called the Long Room, into a library for investment research that can act as a resource for the changes happening in this field in London.
"The broader FT has to appeal and be accessible to a broader readership," he added, "but everybody who works in finance works in narrow, deep silos and there are lots of them, so a platform like Alphaville allows us to go deep into these silos without having to be understood by the entire FT audience."
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