Blogs are an important editorial innovation that must be embraced by the news industry, according to Guardian Unlimited's assistant editor Neil McIntosh.

Outlining a few of the issues presented by the blogging phenomenon at the Blogs in Action conference at London's Poland Club last week, Mr McIntosh said blogs are just the beginning of a wave of exciting journalistic publishing techniques.

"Blogging has had a big impact on journalism and that will grow," he said.

"In four years' time we'll be using even more exciting stuff - a million miles from the monolithic systems we use now."

The event was organised by blogging firm Six Apart and also featured blogger Tom Coates from alongside speakers from Vnunet Europe, Nokia Lifeblog and Warwick University's blogging project.

Mr McIntosh said two issues are particularly difficult for news sites to overcome when exploring the blog format.

First, the blogosphere is very hostile towards journalists and the mainstream media - as demonstrated by the Rathergate episode last year. US broadcaster CBS sacked four employees after bloggers helped to expose flaws in a story about President Bush's war record.

"There seems to be the impression that mainstream news sites publishing blogs is a bit like watching a vicar disco dance," said Mr McIntosh.

"Blogs are an editorial innovation, and it's important that we pursue them for that reason. But a blog launch isn't a blog launch without sarcastic comments saying they shouldn't be there."

Second, editors often approach blogs in the wrong way.

"They lean back in their chairs and ask: 'what can blogs do for me when I'm trying to build a brand that will last for 100 years?' Bloggers are undermining that business case," added Mr McIntosh.

"Being an innovator and pushing boundaries is the future," said Mr McIntosh.

"You either do that - or accept that where we are now is as good as it gets. The Guardian is reluctant to do that."

The Guardian's first experiment with blogs was back in 2000, as a repository of links to the rest of the web.

"It's important to show discussion elsewhere on the web, but that is daring for news sites."

Editors can be terrified at the prospect of allowing blogging journalists to publish unedited writing, but Mr McIntosh insisted that the quality of work on the Guardian's blogs is as high as the rest of the site.

"The interactivity is the real bonus. Journalists engage with comments from readers, and that's much better than if they don't believe people are reading their stuff."

The exchange of views promoted by blogs is indeed a growing phenomenon. One story on the Guardian site during last November's US election triggered 800 comments. In addition, blogs often generate ideas for the editorial team, and the Guardian has recruited writers for the newspaper based on their accurate and well-written comments for the site's blogs.

Mr McIntosh also talked about the recently-launched Observer blog, which describes the editorial decisions and processes behind the production of the Sunday newspaper. He rejected a comment that the blog was a marketing exercise for the paper.

"The marketing department was not consulted at any point. If we were going to do that, our games blog probably has much more potential in terms of its market and audience for ads."

"All blogs do something slightly different, and Rafael Behr [Observer web editor] made the decision to have something that lifts the lid on these processes," he said.

More news from dotJournalism:
CBS sacks four after blogs trigger Rathergate
Truth policed online
Get bloggers on board
New blog for the world's editors

Blog coverage:
Suw Charman on Corante
Neil McIntosh on Complete Tosh
Adriana Cronin-Lukas on the Big Blog Company
Tom Coates on

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).