Stop and Smell the Tulips

More introspection from the traditional media on how much blogs are and are not changing how they report the news.  In "Why Blogs Are Like Tulips" (National Journal, 2/18), William Powers notes The New York Times (2/14) article
"Bloggers as News Media Trophy Hunters," which says that some traditional journalists are worrying about how heads are rolling before the fact-checking scythe of today’s blogs. Powers praises this greater scrutiny of the press but calls blogs the latest (temporary) mania. "This too shall pass."

Still, is this really a revolution? Bloggers are a fantastic addition
to the media club, but I don’t see them taking it over. So far they’ve
proven adept at several tasks: 1) bird-dogging factual errors and other
crimes that the mainstreamers are ignoring; 2) speaking in a chatty,
irreverent voice that’s refreshing after decades of stilted
establishment formality; and 3) having fun — a skill the mainstreamers
lost long ago.


What independent bloggers don’t have is the resources or, in
most cases, the skills to do the heavy journalistic lifting that the
big American outlets still do better than anyone, and will continue to
do for a very long time. You can carp all you want about the toadying
White House press corps, but we’d miss them if they were gone — and
the bloggers would really miss them.

Slate’s Jack Shafer, however, says that the Internet does not place the skillbase of the more astute bloggers as far back as Powers would like to think ("If I Had a Blog, I’d Write More Columns Like this One," (2/18)).

Blogs reconnect journalists with readers by reminding them how closely they’re read outside the newsroom. I agree with Powers that most independent bloggers don’t have the resources or skills for "heavy journalistic lifting," as he puts it. But what he misses, I think, is the fact that 1) the skills can be quickly learned by bright, well-read people; and 2) the Internet has leveled the resources playing field. Thanks to the Web and affordable databases, today’s blogger has more information at his fingertips than the best investigative reporter at the Washington Post could acquire after a week’s work at the Library of Congress.

A Washington Post article ("Hard News," 2/20) discusses what traditional newspapers have been doing to battle their declining (print) circulations. (Online) readership actually continues to increase, but finding a way to profit on that trend continues to be challenging.

Many newspapers recognized the Internet’s combination of threat and potential early on and have plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into Web sites of their own, hoping to keep readers, even if they don’t leaf through the actual paper. In 2003, the New York Times’ Web site became profitable for the first time; last year, The Post’s Web site did the same.

But working against newspaper Web sites is the fact that the Internet has trained users that most content — including news — should be free. Users generally will pay only for specialized information, such as the in-depth financial reporting provided by the Wall Street Journal, which charges a subscription fee to read stories on its Web site.


General-interest papers such as The Post and the New York Times are playing a sort of game of chicken with each other: None wants to be the first to charge to use the Web site, fearing that users will refuse and simply migrate to a competitor whose site still is free. Papers, however, have begun using their Web sites to provide Internet-only content that gives in-depth information on everything from football to politics beyond what is available in the newspaper. In future scenarios, such content may require a paid subscription. A potential model is ESPN’s Web site, which includes a great deal of free content but charges $6.95 a month for its premium "Insider" reports. In the online news industry, this is called moving content "behind the wall."


One response to “Stop and Smell the Tulips

  1. Wayniac,

    I think the successful blogs are those that cover a niche better than the other daily news outlets. Instapundit covers the libertarian wing of the Republican party, DKos covers the idiot wing of the Democratic party, Free Republic and Democratic Underground cover the wingnuts from their respective parties. Your blog covers super-smart-writer-thinker types, and mine caters to former enlisted men. The success of weblogs in fact checking the MSM has less to do with the journalistic skills of bloggers than it has to do with their access to a receptive, encouraging audience for the work.

    Glenn Reynolds is probably the single most important journalist in America today, because of his blog(s), and because of his position down the middle on so many issues. One day, people will figure out how to pay him for advertising; as long as niches continue to be served better by blogs than big media, this ain’t no tulip party.

    If you’re looking for a historical analogy, consider this: Television may be to the newspaper as the aircraft carrier is to battleships. But blogs, baby — they’re the new submarines.


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