Big media beats the blog drum

Seven blogger traits threaten media incumbents

February 25, 2002 The traditional press (known in some circles as "old media") is jumping on the blogger story, writing about and drafting bloggers. The time seems ripe to recap the coverage and to describe what makes the blog so threatening to media incumbents: timeliness, willingness to credit others, passion, blogrolling, human interest, chronology, and devotion.

Blogging, the practice of writing an online diary and news round up, has been touted as a potential competitor for mainstream press for a long time (including this blog on September 20 and October 5), but the tempo of the blog beat is rising.

On September 20, 2001 master linkster Nick Denton wrote in the The Guardian that post-September 11 weblogs were "uncovering a wealth of information, a variety of opinion, and a subtlety of judgment." He concluded that "in weblogs, the web has become a mature medium." On January 9, 2002 polymath blogger Glenn Reynolds warned that traditional media should "beware the people who are having fun competing with you!" in "A Technological Reformation."

On January 17, blogs became important enough to be pilloried for self-congratulation and earnestness by former Suck.com funster Tim Cavanaugh in "Let slip the blogs of war." On February 18, the Weekly Standard contributed a parody called "Blog ad nauseum," suggesting that "those who don't have a life are forced to invent one." (Via www.NickDenton.org)

On February 5, PC Magazine offered a cynical list of factors driving people to write blogs: antidepersonalization, elimination of frustration, societal need to share, wanna-be writers.) In short, bloggers are vain.

Wired News offered a good and link-filled blogging review on February 18, which lead with the observation that "there's perhaps no better proof that an idea has gained the attention of the mainstream than a mention on National Public Radio," as had occured 5 days earlier.

On February 23, Canada's National Post admitted that blogger Matt Drudge may be "responsible for a huge chunk of WashingtonPost.com's traffic" but concluded "it's doubtful that personal blogs will supplant newspapers anytime soon." On February 24, The Times of London offered pundit-turned-blogger Andrew Sullivan's take that bloggers threaten conventional media because they can "read the next day's op-ed columns online the night before and get in pre-emptive rhetorical strikes before readers had even tackled the next day's papers." Most recently, on February 25, The New York Times served up a lukewarm answer to the question posed in its headline "Is Weblog Technology Here to Stay or Just Another Fad?"

Surveying this rash of articles, Meg Hourihan, co-founder of blog-tool Blogger, wrote yesterday that attempts to paint blogging as "just another Internet fad" ignore blogging's viral vigor:

Previous Internet fads, which had all the longevity of a firecracker (the expectant hush, a boom and burst of light, and then nothing), included Portals, Vortals, Push, B2B, B2C, and the whole "dot-com" thing. But those fads emerged in a top-down fashion--they were created by marketers and analysts making big pronouncements because they had something to offer or gain by doing so. The weblog hype, for the most part, has come from the bottom up, from the people actually doing the weblogging.

As Hourihan notes, media incumbents aren't just writing about blogs -- "500,000 and rising fast!" -- they are trying them on.

Publishers are stepping into the now-dust-filled footsteps of the Wall Street Journal's opinion page web section called "Best of the Web" which began in July of 2000. On February 12, the old-style new-media Salon incorporated a blog. On February 19, Fox News announced it was bringing "some of the web's newest voices under its wing with the addition of the Fox Weblog." Fox drafted martini-smooth Ken Layne to post a weekly weblog and enlisted other luminaries to join a rotation.

PC World assumed blogs aren't read by anyone but their authors. ("People can't resist updating the diary and apologize if they don't do it—as if anyone really cares.") But as I noted before, ur-blogger Matt Drudge's single ugly web page often attracts more visits than traditional media web sites built and stocked by hundreds of staff. And anecdotal evidence suggests that some casual blogs get more traffic then web sites produced by decent-sized publishers.

So the more important question may be: what makes blogs so interesting to read -- and such a potent threat to traditional media? Here are the qualities I would stress:

If you don't own a network, invent one. Shanghai (C) Andreas Gursky 2001

a) Timeliness and willingness to credit others. These two qualities go hand in hand. Because they are willing to post a link to the original news source, bloggers often convey the news hours before established outlets can commit resources to their own rehash and news top. (Note the domino effect of print-journalists "doing" blogger.) While traditional media avoid reporting anything "not invented here," bloggers reveal (and revel in) the web's vast resources through compulsive linking.

b) Passion. Written in the first person singular, blogs can convey a double-barrelled blast of the blogger's emotions. This emotional richness -- irony, elation, bitterness, tears, laughter, profanity, boredom, compulsiveness -- has been bred out of corporate-funded journalism. In contrast, blogs feel like human expressions rather than corporate excretions.

c) Blogrolling. By regularly commending and linking to other blogger's posts, bloggers weave new broadcast networks. (If you don't own a network, invent your own!)

d) Human interest. Although newspapers sometimes peddle personal tidbits, these are more casing than sausage. In contrast, blogs often provide details from the writer's life: missed flights, break-ups, rodents under the stove, computer meltdowns, muggings, tamale recipes.

e) Chronology. The blog’s diary-like stacking of events is easy to take for granted but may be a key virtue. Traditional publishers, scrambling daily to make room for cargo-loads of fresh-arriving news, shove their old product into fathomless database warehouses, from which it can be later extracted only with search equipment. I think the blog’s chronological news presentation fits better with innate human story-telling (aka information-processing) habits.

f) Devotion. Because bloggers get to write about what we care about -- at whatever length and in whatever detail -- we write with far more commitment than the average corporate scribe. Readers are equally devoted.

“We have entered an era vibrating with the din of small voices,” Drudge said in his 1998 speech to a sneering assembly of National Press Club members. As usual, Drudge was first with the story.

****

(For a technology-oriented history of blogs, visit Rebecca Blood's history. Don't miss Dave Winer's first entry for a glimpse of what one of the web's seminal tech bloggers posted on April 1, 1997. Don't miss Jim Romesenko's www.obscurestore.com. This thriving daily compendium of weird stories from newspaper web sites started in January 1998, foreshadowing much of today's high-quality blogging done by moonlighting journalists. Finally, John Hiler's blog is an excellent daily resource focused on micro-publishing strategies like blogging.)

Henry Copeland from Budapest, Hungary





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