Theft of the blog: Was NewsCut an act of God? Well, kind of

Editor’s note: Bob Collins will get the last word today, his last with MPR News. Before that, however, we tossed the NewsCut keys to a few folks who know the guy and the things he’s built. Here’s editor Bill Wareham.

You can credit (or blame) NewsCut on what insurers call an “act of God,” a slow-moving hurricane that, combined with man-made failures, would leave truly biblical devastation in its wake. And NewsCut.

I’m not sure Bob realizes the seed for this blog was planted with Katrina, but this seems like the appropriate time to tell the story.

Katrina formed in August, 2005, a few months into my stint here as news director. Bob was our one-man online unit, spending most of his time converting radio scripts into web stories, as I recall.

While we all recognized Katrina’s magnitude as a news event, Bob alone thought it required coverage by MPR News staff. As in Minnesota Public Radio News; as in, send someone to the Gulf to report.

I thought then that Bob was wrong, and still do. This was a job for National Public Radio, not us.

But it will come to no surprise to NewsCut readers that Bob was passionate and relentless on this point. Many a discussion over the next few days would end with him saying “If I only had a reporter…” before he walked off.

And, so, while I thought Bob was wrong, I also began to see he was right. Maybe there was little possibility for Katrina stories aimed at a Minnesota audience, but I began to concede in my own mind the possibility of possibilities.

Bob and I would have more “if-I-only-had-a-reporter” conversations over the following months, but this was a era in which we, like newsrooms everywhere, were just lucky not to lose staff. Adding a digital-only reporter was not high on my list.

When Bob took an extended leave in 2007, I saw an opportunity. Our online staff had expanded marginally by then and I thought we would realize we could survive without Bob working all hours to produce online material.

I told him that when he returned I wanted him in a new role. While I couldn’t give him his long-desired reporter, I wanted him generating content. If that sounds vague and jargony, it was by design. The nascent blogosphere had quickly filled with rants, ravings and, worse, the mundane musings of multitudes of people with access to these cheap, easy platforms.

“Blogger” was a potential trigger word I would avoid using with Bob early on.

By the time Bob came back from his leave, a new newsroom boss had come on board. Chris Worthington was a former newspaper guy who saw the peril newsrooms faced, the need to adapt and the potential in a smart, passionate guy like Bob to do that.

Together, they took the idea that started with Katrina and turned it into the blog (yes, blog) you’re reading now.