Tulips for Algernon
Thursday, February 24th, 2005
I got a chuckle out of William Powers’ recent National Journal column summing up the the blogging boom and upsurge in bloggers-bite-journalist stories.
Anyone who isn’t exhilarated by the bloggers and the havoc they’re wreaking has lost touch with what American journalism at its best has always been about: making trouble to get at the truth.
Turning the heat up on powerful people, questioning their work, and undermining their authority is the media’s job. Of course, nobody ever expected we’d do it to our own powerful selves, that blogger spies would infiltrate the grand councils of Davos and rat out a media muck-a-muck. How wicked of them.
The current moment is troubling for a lot of people precisely because it’s so cannibalistic. In the last half of the 20th century, the media consolidated a great deal of power for themselves in a tiny tribe of supreme outlets. Since those outlets had strong tendencies toward the center (because that’s where the big audiences and the money are), it was inevitable that a lot of news consumers’those who aren’t so centrist’would be unhappy with the product.
Bill did a good job of summing it all up then tripped and concluded, “media consumers are not about to abandon their desire for solid, middle-of-the-road news from the old, largely trustworthy, still impressive establishment outlets. We’re having a Dutch tulip moment with the bloggers. This, too, shall pass.”
This too won’t pass. Bill misses two points. Blogging is fundamentally different from what’s gone before. Sure we’ve had pulpits and letters and pamphlets and newspapers and websites before, but we’ve never had the blogosphere, this wonderful fast-as-light network of individual minds that collaborate far more effectively and swiftly than anything corporate schemers can devise. (
See, Bill, blogging may be new to you, we’ve been hearing this “boom, but soon to bust” story about bloggers since at least 2001. Who among us remembers the bold Boston Globe columnist Hiawatha Bray, who declared in early 2002 that “”blogging is an ephemeral fad, destined to burn itself out in a year or two.” Well, braying Hiawatha is blogging today here.
Like Algernon, some publishing minions are digressing and regressing as their corporate wiring slowly comes unplugged.
Second, media consumers may “want solid, middle-of-the-road news from the old, largely trustworthy, still impressive establishment outlets” but they don’t show much willingness to pay for the stuff. And the advertisers who’ve previously underwritten publishing enterprises and their shareholders are exceedingly excited to reaching those same media consumers more cheaply and effectively in other venues… whether via Craigslist, eBay Google or… Blogads.
OK, a related tangent…
Thank you to Sandeep for mentioning Blogads blog advertisings service in the New York Times today. God bless journalists like Sandeep and their smart editors for pulling together the pieces and presenting them to the masses in an intelligent way. I hope the media ecosystem can evolve to keep these folks fed when the lights go out in the corporate behemoths that currently pay their salaries.
A final disclosure, as I rail against corporate publishers: I’ll admit I labored for six years as a freelance journalist in the 90s. I had great editors, but generally thought publishers were dolts. Ever hear the old business school joke about the bottom decile going into publishing?
In a fun twist, blogad seller Andrew Sullivan once edited a story I wrote for the New Republic about some overly enterprising young investment bankers doing business with crypto-communists on Uncle Sam’s dollar.