Sunday, July 17, 2005

Damn Right Journalists Should Be Worried

(Hat tip: Powerline.)

This is a pretty good article from the Washington Post, ostensibly about an arranged conversation ("arranged" in that Post writer David von Drehle had the idea, not "arranged" as in "staged") between bloggers Betsy Newmark and Barbara O'Brien. The idea was that they'd debate while touring the sights of Washington.

Reading about the blogging discussion is interesting if you're interested in American politics, but what I find illuminating is these passages from the third page:

Readers may think we in the press are arrogant and out of touch, but that's just an act. Really we're sick with anxiety about the Death of Print. What began with the Gutenberg Bible often seems to be headed for an ignominious and fast-approaching end, around 2009, with the publication of the last printed work guaranteed to find a market: Mitch Albom's The Five Diets You'll Be on in Heaven.

Who's going to finish us off? Currently, we're worried about bloggers. Interlinked Internet diaries known as Web logs -- blogs -- are proliferating faster than nudies of Paris Hilton these days, from zero a decade ago to more than 10 million today. To date, no one has figured out how to make much money at blogging ... Most bloggers earn nothing from their blogs. But that doesn't stop journalists from wringing our hands in countless articles about blogging, wiping our brows through endless panels devoted to blogging, scrying through bottomless poll data about blogging, and launching blogs of our own ...

Most of these millions of Web logs are not concerned with news or politics. There are blogs about knitting and blogs about cooking and blogs about reading and blogs about computer engineering. There are military blogs and vegetarian blogs and Catholic blogs and birdwatching blogs. Gossip blogs, music blogs, Lindsay Lohan blogs, movie blogs, car blogs, history blogs, gardening blogs, fishing blogs. Blogs about football, basketball, baseball, NASCAR, hockey, boxing and ballet. Blogs about "The Apprentice," "Survivor" and "American Idol." People are blogging about dorm food, pregnancy, marriage and divorce.

If you think about it, that's a pretty fair sample of the interests of a well-rounded newspaper.

"No one blog can cover everything . . . But one can envisage a blogosphere that readers rely on to obtain essentially everything they now get from a news-paper or a newscast," wrote Paul Mirengoff of the popular Power Line blog not long ago. "The basic facts of a story would come from links to news services. The analysis would come from specialized blogs or non-specialized blogs that happen to have expertise in the subject area. The op-ed type opinions would come from the opinion blogs . . .

"Thus, the blogosphere is likely to replace the MSM" -- that's mainstream media -- "for a growing number of consumers. Many others will continue to check out the MSM, but regard it much more skeptically (that is, take it much less seriously) than they have done in the past. It will be up to the MSM to decide whether it wishes to respond to these developments by undertaking radical change."

Radical change.

Sounds scary.

Well ... yeah. A well-written blog can serve as an informative source for information on a given subject area. One expert blog on topic plus one expert blog on another topic of interest plus one blog on discussion ... it's quite possible that a web surfer could browse the blogosphere and come out just as informed about his world (and possibly even more so) as a newspaper reader.

This is probably the best articulation I've seen of the Mainstream Media's concern over blogs. It's got nothing to do with ideology or partisanship, and everything to do with the control of information.

Journalists aren't competing with bloggers for public attention. They're competing with the blogosphere. And the blogosphere is picking up points.