Thursday, July 20, 2006
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Why oh why is the press so thick-headed about blogs?
I don't normally like to rant against the mainstream media, but their coverage of this Pew survey of bloggers borders on the bizarre.
The survey found that the overwhelming majority of people who blog do so for non-political reasons -- they function primarily as online personal diaries.
This would certainly be earth-shattering news -- if it was four years ago. Consider this Perseus report from the Paleolithic era of blogging -- October 2003:
When you say "blog" most people think of the most popular weblogs, which are often updated multiple times a day and which by definition have tens of thousands of daily readers. These make up the tip of a very deep iceberg: prominently visible, but not characteristic of the iceberg as a whole.While Pew might reached the conclusion that most bloggers are not political after using sophisticated polling techniques, this is not a new finding (see Mystery Pollster on the methodology). It's merely a confirmation of what prior, less well-funded studies have found.
Nevertheless, media outlets have framed the story in interesting ways. Consider the BBC:
Bloggers who say their writings are a form of journalism are in the minority, despite the hype, two surveys reveal.Or Information Week:
The majority of bloggers prefer to write about themselves and share their digital creations than to discuss politics or technology, a survey released Wednesday showed.Or Sci-Tech Today:
The media tends to focus on a small subset of well-known "A-list" sites that receive a high volume of visitors. These blogs tend to focus on politics or other hot button topics such as technology. For these bloggers, a blog is more than just a hobby, it is a job.Finally, there's Slate's Jack Shafer:
Pew's blogging masses couldn't be more different than the American A-listers. Most A-listers are men over 30; have published before; are in it primarily to change public opinions and not to share their experiences; know only a fraction of their readers; and don't conceal their identities....Shafer's story illustrates what has changed in the past three years, and it's not the blogosphere -- it's the mainstream media's fear of the blogosphere (which is one reason why blogs have been declared to be passé so many times this past year). If the Pew survey suggests that not all bloggers are Army-of-David wannabe journalists, then that's the angle that should be reported.
Now, I am resolutely not a blog triumphalist, and do not think that blogs will supplant mainstream media outlets. However, in the spirit of contrarianism, let me offer two cautionary warnings to the journalists out there who might be reassured by these numbers.
First, it doesn't matter if an overwhelming majority of blogs do not focus on politics and government -- what matters is that there are a huge number of blogs out there and a fraction of them do focus on matters of interest to political journalists. If the Pew survey is accurate, then eleven percent of twelve million bloggers -- more than 1.3 million Americans -- have blogs that focus on the politics. Most of them probably aren't that good -- but I could say the same of many newspapers as well. The point is, 1.3 million is still a pretty large number.
Second, as an A-list [No--ed.] B-list [No-ed.] C-list [In the interest of not embarrassing you further, I'l let it pass--ed.], it's worth remembering that what motivates bloggers changes over time. Most A-list bloggers, when they started their blogs, were also "primarily interested in creative, personal expression." The motivations can change once an audience starts to grow, however.
I eagerly await the Pew survey on commenters.posted by Dan on 07.20.06 at 05:57 PM
Note, too, this op-ed column in the WaPo, where an old reporter recounts how the press in 1979 kept the secret of certain fugitive diplomats escaping from the takover of the US embassy in Iran. He worries that today, "some blogger" would break the story.posted by: Tom T. on 07.20.06 at 05:57 PM [permalink]
You're too hard on yourself. In my book, you're already an A-lister (and we were all here for the early days).
Cheers,posted by: Rofe on 07.20.06 at 05:57 PM [permalink]
Pew really is missing the point.
If we took a similarly broad of view printed media-- newspapers, magazines (the majority of magazines being about fashion, entertainment, sports and clothed/unclothed women), and books-- I think we'd see a similar trend.
Most of printed media is similarly not about being a "journalist"- but a form of self expression, hobby/interest/entertainment.posted by: Rick Latshaw on 07.20.06 at 05:57 PM [permalink]
I eagerly await the Pew survey on commenters.
I'm not sure I want to know. And how will answer under their real names/identities or insist on providing spoof responses.posted by: VAMark on 07.20.06 at 05:57 PM [permalink]
Trying to categorize blogs ( A-list, B-list etc) is dfficult and frankly a waste of time. The good Doctor's blog is excellent and I check in several times weekly but for different reasons than those for which I would compliment in the same way....Reynolds, Sullivan, Belgravia etc.posted by: Pete on 07.20.06 at 05:57 PM [permalink]
Why are they so thick headed about blogs? You need only visit a journalism school to answer that question.
American journalists really believe that the Constitution provides special protections to publish freely that are not extended to the ordinary citizen. Print journalists want shield laws and other special treatment for the “professionals.” Therefore, they must distinguish themselves from the unprofessional, citizen journalist.
Like most efforts to “professionalize” and license and restrict, the print journalist’s claim to special status is pure hokum.
Blogging is nothing more or less than the extension of the American pamphleteer tradition into a new communication medium. Some blogs choose to tackle big subjects, as did Paine’s pamphlet “Common Sense”, and others choose to tackle the mundane, as did the “Farmer’s Almanac” and the many letter societies in the early United States.
Long time lurker here. You are definitely A-List. Wish you would do something about those funky lines thru the comment text when viewing via permalink, though. You have a good commenter community and its an eyestrain to read them.posted by: jdwill on 07.20.06 at 05:57 PM [permalink]
I noticed that as well, dating from when I guest-hosted (guest-blogged? blog-sat?) for Dan last year. I couldn't even find anything in Movable Type that looked as if it might change those lines, and I have no idea why they appear as they do. I agree it's a problem.posted by: Zathras on 07.20.06 at 05:57 PM [permalink]
I'll bet that when the invention of the printing press started getting used by all sorts of nobodies, the elites of that day were saying a lot of stuff about them that mirrors the MSM take on blogs.posted by: Alan K. Henderson on 07.20.06 at 05:57 PM [permalink]
It's all about competition. It always is.posted by: aco on 07.20.06 at 05:57 PM [permalink]
I am puzzled. Did Pew think that 45,000,000 bloggers were all serious and newsworthy? Gee, I write an outstanding blog, but it is a diary I keep on the internet. But even I have to read 3 papers to have anything to say. It's about me and my thoughts. (Actually, I have 8.) Even so it was humbling to be out of the country for 2 weeks unable to blog and see my stats remained the same--in fact, may have been an uptick.posted by: Norma on 07.20.06 at 05:57 PM [permalink]
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