Blogs aren’t special

The Star has an opinion this week on the nature of the blogosphere and its impact on traditional journalism. The conclusion is that the relationship is symbiotic, and they both help each other.

I agree with many of the article’s points (especially that blogging is more like books — anyone can do it and the quality varies widely), but it’s still a bit simplistic. People are separated into two groups: technophiles, who blog, and technophobes, who report for newspapers. There’s an implicit dismissal of those who think they’re in both categories or neither.

The other problem (and this applies to just about anyone who writes in a big-picture way about blogs) is that blogs aren’t clearly defined. Yeah, this is a blog. Is Boing-Boing a blog? Daily Kos? They say they are, so I guess so. What about Fark? Drew Curtis says no. If a newspaper uses WordPress as its content-management system, does that turn it into a blog? What’s the difference? Are web comics blogs? What about photo blogs? Or Web forums?

There’s this implication out there that blogs have changed the nature of journalism and the Internet in a way Web 1.0 didn’t or couldn’t. I disagree. There was plenty of original journalism and criticism of media before Blogspot and WordPress. There’s just more of it now.

High-quality blogs are successful because they’re highly-specialized and they’re written by people who know what they’re talking about. Even newspapers with large staff don’t have enough resources to hire a full-time astronomy reporter or a full-time public transit reporter. So people with interests in these things turn to blogs, which might be written by experts in their spare time or by professionals who get enough traffic to live on.

“Blog” isn’t a magic word. It’s just a form of content delivery. The Internet — which allows people to find exactly what they want fast — is still the problem that’s killing mainstream media. Some are learning how to deal with it, by launching their own blogs about specialized topics. Others still have cluttered homepages and make it impossible to quickly find content they’ve spent a lot of money to buy or produce.

They’ll learn eventually. They must in order to survive.

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