How Popular Blogs and Mainstream Media Appear The Same

I’m in the unique position as a blogger who interacts with journalists, popular ‘A-list’ blogs, and PR firms who present new stories and I’ve observed a trend that Popular Blogs and Mainstream Media appear the same I first started this discussion on Friendfeed, and now it continues here.

In 2005-2006 the discussion around blogs was it’s potential threat to ‘kill’ mainstream media, newspapers, and magazines. As a result, mainstream media responded back, sometimes with negative attacks like ‘attack of the blogs‘. Segregation was impossible and eventually groups within mainstream media outlets started to create blogs on their own, often covering the technology sector or political arena, and many were used as a ‘personal column’ or a place to get more millage out of stories that were cut from editorial.

Taking a closer look at the bloggers themselves, while there is certainly a longer tail of content (specific and niche blogs that will barely get a mention in niche magazines) yet the top blogs (A-listers) resemble the same editorial structure as mainstream medium or an editorial columnist. For example, some of the top tech blogs have a team of journalists/bloggers who cover different areas, there’s often a senior editor who reviews, shapes, or verbally let’s the authors know the direction of the site.

See for yourself according toTechnorati’s top 100 blogs, you’ll notice that a majority of them are written by teams. Only a few are written by individuals, for example, out of the first 50, I only recognize Seth Godin, Robert Scoble, and Heather Armstrong’s Dooce.

Godin, Scoble, and Armstrong’s publishing styles really that unique, as for decades, mainstream media has had editorial columns ‘opinions’ from senior editors, to write rambunctious, irreverent articles. Why? Unique opinion drives controversy –or at least new perspective– that attracts eyeballs. In many cases, the top blogs (either by team or individual) reflect that same editorial slant, in this case, we just call it “opinion”.

Taking a look at the Public Relations industry, who are often asked to help influence coverage of their clients announcements, many times, they build relationships and interact with the top blogs just as they would SF Chronicle, the Mercury, or NYTimes.

So what’s the difference between today’s mainstream press and a-list blogger ‘teams’? Is it quality? Not always. Is it timeliness? It varies. Is it the ability to leave comments? both styles have comments available. Is it personality? It depends.

Perhaps the primary difference is the difference in niche (long tail) content written from first hand sources, and secondly, who will respond and leave comments on this post, I’ll be it’ll be primarily bloggers, not mainstream media folks.

I prescribe to the believe that this evolution is natural, a new medium has been born, and with it comes a shift in power –human traits to organize and band together stem from our earliest tribal instincts. Not much has changed

Peter Kim connects the dots in the comments, and notes that the blog PaidContent was just purchased by the mainstream media group Guardian for a cool $30MM.

26 Replies to “How Popular Blogs and Mainstream Media Appear The Same”

  1. Hi Jeremiah,

    Nice post and a thoughtful perspective.

    Is it inevitable, as the blogosphere evolves, that the power to distribute information will remain with those that have the resources to ensure that distribution most effectively?

    A lone blogger who relies on ad revenue from his or her site will not have the same money to throw at promotion or publicity that a blog run by mainstream media will have.

    It’s a gloomy prospect. The cynical, critical edge of a democratized information society dulled by the conformist standards of a plutocracy’s dogma.

    The question is not so much the difference between one or the other (mainstream vs. blogger) but whether the system as a whole will indeed evolve.

    Evolution is only possible where there is variation (in the blogosphere there is!), that variation is passed on (maybe) and there is selection for desirable traits (remains to be seen).

    We assume it is the consumer that is the selective force. Do they select for controversy, quality, the desire to feed back? I don’t think we really know. Maybe, as you say, it just depends.

    The crux of the matter though, is to what extent the mainstream press–driven by its business directives–supports, supplants or sabotages consumer driven evolution.

    To take your point, does business driven media counter or support those tribal instincts to form groups. Whichever it is, what does that presage for the health of society, human discourse and sustainable commerce?

  2. I think that there remain some key differences.
    First, in terms of business model and the “ability to kill mainstream media”, that’s still the reality today. No, it’s not the individual blogger who will kill traditional media, but it’s the fact that the multi-author blog has a very low cost structure as compared to that of traditional media. WordPress or Drupal are free; Google Adsense gives you a means to monetization, and if you want to add any more functionality, you can use the Amazon cloud and avoid investing in infrastructure. So, you can be up and generating a real audience in six months, while a traditional media company would spend that long debating whether to launch a site. See Alley Insider or Mashable as examples.
    The second difference, IMO, is the participation in blogs of practitioners. Which are the most compelling reads for those following the economy? Probably Barry Ritholtz (Big Picture), Nouriel Roubini (RGE), Calculated Risk and similar. That’s because these authors, who are full-time economists and market strategists, know more about the nuances of the market than journalists. That’s why the mortgage lender implode-o-meter, research recap and were covering the subprime mortage mess months before the mainstream press picked it up.
    Blogs are changing; the pajama-clad blogger stereotype doesn’t hold up any more. But alternative media are replacing trade press as a key source for many people and that’s going to continue to accelerate.

  3. I think an equally interesting debate falls on the other side of this question. Instead of looking at how the top blogs are becoming credible competition to mainstream media, what about the way MSM is becoming more and more like the top blogs.

    In the last year, all of the top online news sources have developed sections for comments on each news story, opening up a two way channel of communication that was previously reserved for blogs. I argue that it’s not only blogs that resemble mainstream news, but MSM and blogs are becoming increasingly like each other.

    The concept of credible news sources is evolving quickly and to be pretty fair about it, I’d trust something from the Huffington Post before I’d trust something out of Fox News…

  4. Jeremiah, that A-list ‘group blogs’ resemble traditional media setups is nothing really new. It’s been obvious for ages, yet the A-listers have been so caught up in scratching each others back that it was borderline suicidal to suggest that the very people, the A-listers detested so much, they were in fact trying to emulate in a lot of ways.

    I agree that there is still some big differences from traditional media to blogging. Commenting isn’t one of them – media enable comments all the time (if only to take them away again, when they can’t ‘manage’ them).

    Access to niche expertise like the ones Barry suggests above however is. If there’s one positive thing the public at large has got from blogging it’s not A-listers – it’s direct access to knowledgable people (some of them also A-listers) without the media as middlemen.

  5. What’s the point of looking at the top publishers? This particular revolution is about creating a long tail, so the head isn’t particularly interesting.

    A more interesting metric is the average volume of mainstream media consumption as a proportion of total media consumption. This could drop by ‘attack of the blogs’ without a noticeable change to the character of the top blog publishers. It is a war of pawns, not queens and rooks.

  6. “So what™s the difference between today™s mainstream press and a-list blogger ˜teams™?”

    From core editorial perspective: Little to nothing. Journalistic success may simply have commonalities, whatever the distribution channel. Where there’s a difference, it could be in quality. While this is now an old, and often incendiary argument, at least potential for quality is higher in a traditional news organization; at least for now. This is changing with pro blogging teams. That traditional news fails sometimes, (for whatever reasons), doesn’t change the reality that teams of well trained pros with resources can get better info; though maybe slower. (And yes, again, anyone can come up with anecdotes of where traditional media has been wrong or duped or lied. But when this is discovered, it’s a whole big soul-searching deal. Not just a “oh, that’s just blogging; it’s a matter of perspective” toss off. (Maybe we should call this “multi-distribution channel relativism.” : )

    In any case, people do seek out some commonality. And credible sources to trust. While anonymous speech has always had and continues to have critical value, the fact is just about any relationship is a trust relationship. And en masse, people will seek out trusted sources; whether it’s their news or their hamburger, jeans, or automobile choice. You’re probably already familiar with Anita Elberse’s current “Should You Invest in the Long Tail?” HBR discussions. If not, basically, she has some insights into the long tail perspective well worth looking into.

    From an editorial management perspective: Less management, faster response from bloggers.

    Biz Perspective? Hah. No one’s figured this out yet! Pro Bloggers, (Ploggers???) and Citizen Journalism may be stunningly powerful and major game changers, but trusted gatekeepers do provide value. When there’s no reasonable living standard business model left for them… well, we’d collectively better figure something out. (Personally, I may have gone to a top journalism school, but I’m now especially glad I didn’t go into news, however valuable the profession may be to the world.)

    Biz Perspective, Legal: Pro Bloggers – at least to a degree – will HAVE to resemble some aspects of mainstream if they’re to avoid big trouble. Even in countries where free speech has protections, that’s not a shield for libel/defamation, etc. If Pro Bloggers want to be thought of as having real journalistic value, (regardless of how colloquial the tone might be in some cases), then they have to take on the responsibility as well, like it or not.

  7. The lines are blurring between the top blogs and mainstream media, but there are still differences. MOst of my thoughts are based on the print side of journalism where I spent most of my years (BusinessWeek) before heading over to the corp. side in the 90s.

    * Interesting/novel/dynamic–no other way to say it, but mainstream media has been boring for years and it’s part of its DNA. The structure is too rigid, with “beat reporters” churning out the same stories, interviewing the same people, doing the same thing day after day. You generally have to write within a certain set of parameters, assuring that the story is often bland. Blogging is by nature more dynamic, and free wheeling (one fear is that the big bloggers do start modeling mainstream media in this area).

    * Quality/accuracy–Mainstream media has gotten sloppier in recent years, but at least the print side still generally enjoys more checks and balances in the editorial process. I had to usually go through 2 or 3 editors before publishing. Yes they still screw up, but as someone else says, it’s taken more seriously vs a blogger just saying, oops, sorry, next time hopefully (credibility, of course, weakens).

    * Resources–Even as they’re shedding assets, Big Media still has enormous resources vs even the largest bloggers. This provides them more liberties to investigate stories over a long period of time and go after riskier stories. How many bloggers could survive a big lawsuit generated by an angry target of their stories? Would you rather be on your own or have a McGraw Hill or Tribune Company behind you?

    The lines are blurring in all of these areas, and I do hope that bloggers don’t become another version of the old media. YOu can already see that in the big bloggers like TechCrunch. It’s easy, once you have the old media structure in place, to fall into it–covering the same companies, the same people, the same stories. It’s another argument for having a vast and wide range of voices, and a new media that continues to innovate and find ways to provide information in new and interesting ways.

  8. Its certainly a changing landscape, but the end game is the same, people want relevant content.

    Blogging is a way of segmenting the content, increasing relevance, focusing and growing niches.

    The great thing about the internet is that its self regulated and popularized, all the good stuff.

    One thing big publishers have is branding and credibility, but how much and for how long?

  9. I thought blogs were supposed to be individualized opinions, not written by teams from the media!

    Blogs have been replaced by RSS feeds, which are easier to get your “news” from.

    I am guilty of reading RSS feeds from mainstream media and individual bloggers. Everything must be taken with a grain of salt.

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