Journalists can be very predictable. They love a story about something exciting and new that is changing our culture, changing our politics, transforming our very lives! And they equally love a story debunking that thing that was supposed to transform our lives as really being a crock, just something that was overhyped and is truly finished before it ever took off.
What bores journalists to the core is the story about something new that is functional, useful and slowly gains acceptance. And that’s the true story about blogs. They didn’t take over the media world in a blaze of glory and GOP convention passes. They didn’t replace newspapers and radio and TV in a single bound. But they’re also not in their “twilight” or finished and done.
Two recent high-profile articles (and an editorial) take aim at blogs. New York magazine’s cover story by Clive Thompson Blogs to Riches tried to rain on the blogosphere’s parade by finding that only a few A-list bloggers make money blogging. And Slate’s Daniel Gross piled on with his mounting evidence that this is the Twilight of the Blogs and that they are done as a business.
Thompson’s main issue is that blogging is supposed to be a democratic medium, where anyone can join in and become popular and profitable overnight.
“But if you talk to many of today’s bloggers, they’ll complain that the game seems fixed,” he writes. “They’ve targeted one of the more lucrative niches — gossip or politics or gadgets (or sex, of course) — yet they cannot reach anywhere close to the size of the existing big blogs. It’s as if there were an A-list of a few extremely lucky, well-trafficked blogs — then hordes of people stuck on the B-list or C-list.”
What a surprise that not everyone can be popular in blogging, and now after some years of expansion, the blogosphere doesn’t really need another blog about gossip, politics, gadgets or sex. Wipe away those tears. Blogging, it ends up, is just as competitive as every other media business, with winners and losers.
Gross is more distressed that blogs have been hyped too much with magazine cover stories, and that venture capitalists and Big Media are being duped by the hype. His overaching point is that this is a repeat of the dot-com boom and bust, with blogs being the Next Big Thing to fail. And the Chicago Tribune editorial points to Gallup numbers on blog readership and Gross’ story as signs of the end of blogging. The editorial’s tepid conclusion: “So blogging has a future, however indefinite.”
But there’s one problem with this line of thinking. Even though the dot-com boom might have busted, the underlying idea of Internet business is alive and well and quite mature in advertising and paid content. Just because Boo.com failed — an infamously overhyped dot-com startup — e-commerce is doing just fine. So even though blogs might not take over the world, they are easily finding a place at the media table as fact-checkers of Big Media and outlets for many, many more voices around the world.
While Gross might scoff at Pajamas Media, the conservative blog network is one of many such blog networks that are banding together to find ways to make money. And if the blog business was really over, why would Gross himself have a blog about business, with advertisements prominently placed?
Of course, I have a vested interest in blogs as a business (and blogs that live on Big Media sites), but as an observer of the scene, I have followed the rise of blogs from the underground to a mainstream pursuit, and from non-commercial techie roots to big business. And from my vantage point, blogs have certainly made money for some people and not others, and have certainly given smart people ample opportunity to join the fray. It’s the boring story of a new medium rising up and shaking things up — but why make it the gold rush it never should have been?
The answer lies in the secret behind all these extreme positions on blogs by journalists. Stories about blogs tend to bring links from other bloggers — even if they’re angry about the stories. Blogs to Riches is the second most emailed story at New York’s website over the past 30 days, and the most emailed story in the past seven days. And a Technorati search shows that there are 195 blogs linking to the Slate story by Gross.
The irony of ironies is that Slate ends up getting more traffic to its story (thanks to blogs linking to it!), thereby making more money for Slate by knocking blogs as a business.
So the next time you see a journalist hyping blogs or knocking them off their pedestal, consider the less glamorous middle-ground take that blogs are doing just fine — not world-beating and not flailing miserably — but just fine. And I won’t be hurt if you decide not to link to my not-so-sensational theory.