blogging / Conferences

Nancy Nall Derringer: MPI keynote

Nancy NallDerringer began blogging in 2001. Her first break was in 2002 related to Bob Greene, former columnist of the Chicago Tribune. Her writing about Greene’s sexual misconduct was picked up by Romenesko, Slate and later other publications around the Internet.

As the publicity came, she told her bosses about the blog, and they had no idea about the blog, or what blogs were. After that, editors began “sticking their noses into” the blog. As a columnist, Derringer felt she had the ability to express opinion in another format as she did in the paper.

The Internet is “the greatest democratizing tool of my lifetime. … That’s been a wonderful thing and a terrible thing.” It’s wonderful because of the opportunities, it’s horrible because it’s upended a lot of businesses.

Younger journalists’ challenge is to figure all this out. Print is going to be so different in 20 years that we’re not going to recognize the daily newspaper. People are going to be expected to do things that people her age were not required to do.

Derringer felt she’d arrived when she didn’t have to take her own pictures. Now, we’re full circle, back to taking your own photographs, taking your own video (e.g. Flip video).

Newspaper video is getting back to the kind of TV news you can respect (as opposed to sensationalism).

Good writing is still good writing, whether it’s spoken or appears on a page. Twitter: when she first saw it, she thought it was a total waste of time. But smart young reporters are using Twitter to cover breaking news that are really interesting.

Every beat reporter should have a blog. A couple of times a week is fine to update (don’t agree with this – ed.)

Dispassionate, boring newspaper voice doesn’t work online (do agree with this – ed.) Writing every day is something that keeps your muscles tuned up as a writer. In 2003, Derringer added comments to her blog. This allowed a community to grow up around the blog. She compares it to a neighborhood bar like “Cheers.” Sometimes she feels like she’s just wiping down the bar and setting out another bowl of bar nuts.

Lately, her commenters have been fighting amongst themselves over politics, ever since the Republican convention.

She tells the story of her discovery of plagiarism by Tim Goeglein, a White House aide under President George W. Bush. Google was the weapon of choice in discovering the plagiarism.You can read the archives of her blog entries about this story here.

“My stupid little blog about nothing … brought down a White House aide.”


  1. She doesn’t bait comments. Everything she writes, she believes. That’s what she didn’t like about Bob Greene, he was baiting readers with red meat to elicit responses.
  2. How does she handle negative comments? She was a columnist for 20 years, so nothing bothers her about comments anymore. With negative comments, she says “You just imagine them in their underwear at their computer with their hand in a bag of cheetos.” Negative stereotype FTW! – ed.
  3. What about blogging in a competitive market? It’s a case-by-case judgment call. You don’t want to tip the competition.
  4. Have you monetized your blog? No. I added Google Ads a year ago. Total for a year was about $200, which was ridiculous. If she was shrill and yelled about politics, she felt she might get more traffic and more money out of it. She’s never asked for money or linked to PayPal.
  5. The line between bloggers and journalists? No line. She hated the “professionalization” of journalism. All blogging is is a different publishing platform.
  6. Different writing language between print edition and blog? Yes. You’ll be able to figure out how to do it. Smart, good writers figure out how to use links and make them a part of the syntax. It’s hard to describe, though. Still amazed at how many newspaper writers just still don’t get it. Reading some columnists, she thinks, “This person is making $80,000 a year to write this shit.”

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