I second (or 541st) Jeff Jarvis' motion: bloggers need a foundation.
But I think the foundation we need isn't a silk or steel umbrella propped up by George Soros, Andy Grove or the Ford Foundation.
The foundation bloggers need is this: decent health insurance, life insurance, dental insurance and libel insurance. Without these, no journalist or programmer is going quit his or her day job and blog full-time. We'll have to rely on the likes of Slate to underwrite our adventures.
But Slate and the rest of incumbent media can only employ so many journalists or bloggers. This is not because there isn't a hunger for news. The Internet has proven that the more news you print the more people will read it. The demand for information is nearly infinite relative to today's supply.
No, the shortage of good paying writing jobs comes because 85% of the budget of a media organization goes to paying for "overhead," the suits, the ad execs, the helpful distribution unions, the wood pulpers, and the pencil pushers.
Boot these folks out and the number of paid journalists would jump 6-fold.
Newsweek is right that blogs "pose no threat to the established order," but this is because the established order is its own worst enemy. The established order is going to kill itself -- who were Vivendi, AOL Time Warner, and EMAP anyway? -- while the bloggers quietly build a new network, far bigger and more powerful.
So, yes, what we need is a foundation of services to help make that happen, to drag mavericks like Matt Welch out of the moonlight and into the warm corporate armor -- without the attendant overhead.
I'm suspicious of foundations and grants, which quickly attracts a trawler's slipstream worth of gulls. This can only be avoided by scrupulous anonymity masking the committee that decides the MacArthur genius grants.
Blogs are not a charity, and they are not, as economists like to say, "public goods."
Bloggers are idea entrepreneurs, living within a clickocracy, risking their time and passion on speculation and spectatorship. They are intensely private endeavors, which sometimes weave together into and voluntary associations.
We need more local blogs, more niche blogs. God help the publisher of the local rag when a committed columnist starts blogging regularly and mentioning the names of 10 local citizens in each column. Its not the New York Times about the readership of the New York Times. I think it is more interesting to ask, when will a blogger surpass the readership of my home-town paper. How much committed online work would it take?
What we need is advertising, exactly what funds traditional newspapers. Banners are balloons full of hot air, hardly worth clicking.
In coming days Pressflex will softly launch a service to help commercialize blogs. We'll be aiming squarely at the service that fuels most local publishing profits -- classifieds. Some publishers may get it and climb abord this effort to democratize advertising. But I doubt it.
In recent weeks I've been meeting with bloggers ranging from Los Angeles, Bordeaux, New York, Paris, London and Budapest getting input into a service which will help.
Will commercialization ruin the blogs? Gee, don't accept advertising if you are afraid you're boxing mitts will get dirty. It will be good for blogs to have a chinese wall, which clearly identifies what is what's a promotion for and what's pure analysis. It will be good for blog readers to have a chance to buy goods from companies or individuals that appreciate blogs. And it will be good for the incumbent media's monopoly on advertising to be busted wide open.
In the early days, our service will likely not hit the mainstream because it is too geographically dispersed. Bloggers reading Matt Welch may love his blog but won't want to advertise his house or car for sale there. But she may want to look for legal advice, or sell a book, or announce an E-bay auction of Weezer tickets. And Matt may want to promote his favorite restaurant, or book, or resort.
One blog avatar, Dave Winer (who probably would be saying this even if he didn’t run a company that sold blogging software), has formally wagered that by 2007, more readers will get news from blogs than from The New York Times.
Hell, blogs already provide more news than the New York Times -- just add up the numbers from Drudge, XX and you'll see blogs are already doing more page impressions monthly. That's quantity. Let's talk quality: anyone who blogs knows that blogs are already winning, just the metrics and words don't yet exist for people to define what's going on. But anyone who's doing it knows.
The average publisher with 10 readers has just that -- 10 readers. The average blog with 10 readers actually has 55 relationships, thanks to Metcalf's law. The interactions aren't with a namless piece of data, but with another human being. The relationship is much more compelling.
The arguments supporting the bet between Winer ("people writing for the public for the love of writing, without any expectation of financial compensation" and Niesenhotlz (the Times can provide "unbiased, accurate, and coherent"... "far more consistently than private parties can") set up a false dichtomy between the professional and ameteur writers.
The New York Times (and the thousands of other pubs with less savvy than Nisenholtz) will get its bottom busted by a bunch of professionals who just happen to work from home without the amazing institutional infrastructure that takes nicks out of Nisenholtz's salary.
Yes, Dave is right that there are going to be millions of amateurs and that much of what they write will be more compelling and useful than what is created by professionals. But there will also be 100s of thousands of idea entrepreneurs, carving out local, ideological or conceptual niches and mining the audience. What is gone will be the giant infrastructure around X.
We've got % beta testers lined up for blogads and could use a couple of more passionate early adopters to help us better understand what direction we need to push this thing. Anyone who is particularly passionate about this idea is welcome to write me at email@example.com.
I've got a $1000 bet that Blogads classifieds will be seen by more readers than those shown by NYTimes on May 25, 2012 or that NYTimes will be using Blogads or that NYTimes.com will no longer exist.) Jim?
The OECD Observer magazine has jumped from being invisible to being highly ranked on the world’s main search engines. Pressflex has done what it said it would do when we teamed up in 1999.
Rory Clarke Editor, OECD Observer