Houston Chronicle

By: Dave Astor

The Houston Astros didn’t win the 2005 World Series, but the Houston Chronicle has a strong claim to being the blogging champ among America’s daily newspapers. Since the newspaper started blogging in earnest last year, Chron.com has launched about 30 news, sports, and entertainment blogs by Chronicle staffers. Then in early 2006, Chron.com also began hosting more than 30 reader blogs about everything from birding to Houston’s grassroots art scene.

“Reader blogs are helping us cover the community,” says Chronicle Interactive Journalism Editor Dwight Silverman, who does a tech blog himself for Chron.com.

All those staff and reader blogs helped earn the Chronicle the nod for best blogging newspaper this year “by a mile” from a group affiliated with New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen, who operates the popular PressThink blog.

But the Chronicle didn’t make E&P’s “10 That Do It Right” list simply for its blogs. During the past year, the paper used both its print and online tools to thoroughly cover such topics as immigration, the environment, Hurricane Katrina refugees, and the Enron trial.

The Chronicle offered extensive news coverage and analysis of the Enron case, capped by the May 25 printing of an “extra” about the guilty verdicts for Enron executives Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. Meanwhile, Chron.com offered months of Enron blogs, podcasts, videos, photos, transcripts, forum discussions, and other content, capped by other tie-ins such as audio interviews with jurors on the day the verdict was reached. Page views on that day increased by 20%.

What’s more, in the past year the Chronicle underwent at least two redesigns ? of Chron.com and the La Voz Spanish-language weekly. It also hired 2005 Pulitzer Prize winner Nick Anderson from The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky., in early 2006; naturally, he started a Chron.com blog soon after. The paper continues to give readers an unusually large section of comics each day ? four pages, in fact.

So why did the Chronicle, like most papers, see its daily circulation dip (from 532,407 in March 2005 to 513,387 in March 2006)? It’s possible some of the Chronicle’s print readers gravitated to Chron.com. Online News Editor Dean Betz says the site had roughly 46 million page views and 5 million unique users in April 2006 ?”up 15 to 20% from April 2005,” he notes.

And Chronicle Editor Jeff Cohen says that while print readership dipped a bit from 1,907,385 in 2001 to 1,891,527 in 2005, the combined Chronicle/Chron.com audience rose from 1,956,580 to 2,020,365 during those four years. “We’ve become a newspaper flirting with a lot of different ways to deliver the news,” says Cohen. “We’re not monogamous anymore.”

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