MSM vs blogs (reduxdux)

Chris points me to a discussion on the strengths of  bloggers and MSM? Is Megan right about what blogs are good at and what they aren’t? To summarise her arguments (I go into more detail below) bloggers make good opiners and good filters for the weird and idiosyncratic. Because they aren’t paid they don’t make good exhaustive researchers nor reliable ones nor will they cover boring stories about city council sewage conundrums.

At least three points of difference with this:

1. No doubt bloggers do opine at length. Nor that we find the weirdest shit, man. But we are starting to see economic models where bloggers perform the function of a journalist without the infrastructure of the firm. Exhibit A is Chris Allbriton’s Back to Iraq–who was funded by contributions for his tour, unembedded of Iraq.

This is an anecdote not evidence, but during periods of disruption one often starts there. Can the B-to-I model be extended? Could we imagine a business matching qualified bloggers with interested parties who want a story to be investigated? Kind of  Rent-a-coder for journalism, the experiment has just started, according to Jeff Jarvis, at NewAssignment.

2. It’s also important to recognise the implicit choices made by editors, who after all don’t have unlimited resources. Each an every day an editor decides what is important and where to assign their resources. So Parliament (or the White House) gets a ton of reporters, and the local teachers strike gets none. What are the implications of this skew?  What about when the choices are not so stark? What about when the story is technically complex but important? Will it make the grade? MSM gives the veneer of comprehensiveness and objectivity which is starkly at odds with the daily resource allocation. No reporters in Lhasa, it’s too dangerous (which means too expensive).

I started my career as a  tech journalist in the mid-90s when it was virtually impossible to get tech covered in the mainstream press, even though I worked with the three most forward thinking British institutions (The Guardian, The Economist and the BBC, although not as a journalist). So I’m very familiar with the harsh ‘so-what’ of the news editor or the disconnect between MSM commissioners and seismic shift across industries, politics and governance from the Internet.

3. There are subject areas which now receive coverage that MSM cannot hope to rival. In tech coverage, but particularly the coverage of funding of startups, can any MSM match the discussion across the VC blogs (like Jeff Clavier, Josh Koppelman, etc) and the very comprehensive TechCrunch? I’ve found my tech news consumption morph over the past five years to the point that the only pieces I read in MSM are results coverage (for the boring data and the equity analyst quotes) and the occasionally exceptional feature (like the WSJ Moguls of New Media piece).

This is the space occupied by trade journalism and it is hard to see how it will compete in the face of blogs, Slashdot, Digg, etc. (Perhaps someone knows?)

Is tech unique? Well in my experience not. Blogging in tech has extended to the point the VCs, who were ten years ago a cagey bunch, now run their own blogs, talk about their latest investments and even give advice on the kinds of termsheet an entrepreneur should go for. So the tech space itself has grown to envelope one end of the financial services business.

In one model, this creep spreads to other industries (the adjacent and those with similar structure to tech–with highly internetworked participants), and gradually blogs become the first-port of call (just as they have become within tech.)

That isn’t to say that bloggers can replace journalists. There is clearly a synergy between the two and space for both. Bloggers still rely on journalists as ‘seeders of clouds’  (to quote Tom Glocer). And journalists do reach into deep recesses where bloggers can’t (politics, local councils, financial news).

But we should revisit the question when economic models for blogging evolve (perhaps so that paid-for investigative blogging can scale) and when the economic pressures on the MSM force further cuts in editorial scale. See you again in two years?

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One Comment

  1. Posted August 24, 2006 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    And if you read Technorati’s reports, you can see that there is going to be massive pressure on mid-tier publishers from niche blogs (especially trade magazine publishers) over the next few years. Watch mbites for more…

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