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Coming Full Circle: Blogging & Journalism

Journalism is a funny beast I don’t pretend to understand. As a consumer, though, I can say that I used to pay a lot of money to subscribe to certain products of good journalism. I paid in advance, and the information appeared in my mailbox. The currency of the information was judged by relative measures… I considered it good journalism because when I read it, I felt informed where I would not otherwise have been so informed. My interactions with my peers provided the external validation I needed to continue paying so much for my subscriptions.

As an academic, I learned that published papers were already many months old at best, and typically a year old. As I attended academic conferences I came to understand the value of insider knowledge, often gained during those many months of preparation for publication. The first time I was handed a manuscript that was in a confidential peer review process, and asked to take it home and read it and prepare to discuss it at a project meeting on Monday morning, I understood why so many top investigators somehow always found time to “volunteer” for peer review panels. Be it as it may; but thanks for letting me know.

At one point in my career I found the value of journalism inadequate for my needs. I would have paid more, but I determined experimentally that if it was in print and I didn’t already know it, it wasn’t important for my work. I don’t say this out of arrogance. I determined it through experimentation. I knew or had awareness of so much in my area, that anything coming out in print was already old news. Or maybe the journalistic process was failing…maybe all that insider leaking was disintermediating the journalist. Or perhaps I was just highly specialized at that point. Either way, I stopped paying for subscriptions in my fields of interest. My entertainment spending increased, but not my expenses for core information sourcing. I was getting my information from people, email, and my own work, and no longer giving it to journalist-employing publishers. And yes, I was being asked to speak at meetings to share my own perspectives.

When blogging came online, I enjoyed remote access to perspectives. When a content creator blogged, I got to hear her unedited, non-peer-reviewed perspective on issues. Everything was a nugget of value. What was said was valuable. What was not said was valuable, especially if I knew what was going on and not being blogged. How it was said, who linked to whom.. all insider knowledge gained without having to be there in person. Sometimes these observations prompted me to blog my insights on that process I was observing. Guess what folks, I, blog reader, had become the journalist.

RSS feed aggregators helped me (the journalist) do a better job, cover more ground, and subscribe to the authors I was researching err...stalking err.. monitoring. As I learned to trust my feed reader, I began that same process the other now extinct journalists had mastered – the road to irrelevance. Do you read techmeme every day? If you do, do you have time to read anything else?

The more I read the popular press, the less inclined I am to blog about my own perspectives within my narrow specialty. Blog posts become “he said this which is cool” or “check this out, I found it interesting”. Pretty soon, if I rely on what I see to represent what is now, I will probably be of little value as a reporter and lose my subscribers, so to speak.

In this case, I am my own subscriber base. My research supports my work. I don’t get paid to publish based on my research. I get paid to put it to use. If what I read has become commodity… everyone is reading it… then it has less value. It is true that execution is what matters, but the road to execution is paved with strategy, and in this Internet world, strategy is fueled by market awareness.

Sadly, it seems bloggers have largely stopped blogging unless they can get on Techmeme or whatever. Why blog for a mere 120 subscribers who never comment? Why blog so 37 spammers can post phentermine ads on your posts? Why spend so much time on the act of blogging, if the information published is not externally validated? Good questions… and although I would have answers if asked these questions, many people don’t. So people are not blogging like they used to.

I do go to conferences now, but it is very expensive. Not just the travel costs but the time and emotional effort. As many people have said to me over the past 5 days, “the past 15 minutes has made all of the costs of coming to this conference worthwhile“. So true, and for me as well. Like those expensive journals I used to subscribe to, the information I glean from my conference interactions is very valuable. And as I engage in discussions with my peers, they validate that assertion. I am better off for having gone. Remember, though, I am careful about which conferences I attend, and base those decisions largely on who will be there, and what sort of access I will have to them. And I am less inclined to blog about my experiences than I used to be.

I just looked at the cost of attending a conference, and realized I could visit 3 cities over 3 weekends and have dinners and lunches with key people living in those cities, for the same total out of pocket expense of that one conference. If those contacts of mine each did the same, I’d have a dozen face to face “conferences”, for just slightly more than the cost of attending the one conference. If we each agreed to bring one new associate to those dinners…well, I bet you get the idea.

I think we’ve come full circle. The conference organizers are targeting the masses and newcomers more than the established players, almost to the point of making themselves irrelevant. Blogging is falling off, except for some high-frequency bloggers. Maybe the productive bloggers now are the ones trying to be journalists, not the ones marveling at the liquid value of the information. Maybe the value of the post has exceeded the value of the blog. Maybe those blogging journalists are finally ready to give up on the shallow, here’s what happened and here’s what he said about what she said posts, and start paying the real bloggers to write real articles for their blogs, since they are losing site of the value of blogging it themselves. Maybe they will become like the old real journals, presenting valuable information not otherwise easily uncovered.

I see some very smart people walking ahead of this road even as it curves back and forth, uncertain of the future course. And they are traversing in the same direction I am looking. I think it’s once again time to start walking where there is not yet a road.


  1. Things always move in a pendulum. Right now information is flowing like crazy, but most of it is noise. You are correct that the pendulum will start to swing the other way towards quality thought out content rather than the verbal diarrhea we have become numb to seeing.

    Friday, April 25, 2008 at 4:18 pm | Permalink
  2. Chloe Baby wrote:

    The good thing about the web is that it allows knowledge and expericned gained by soemone to be shared instantly and freely.
    This is a new age and revoluion in communication and learning.

    Saturday, April 26, 2008 at 7:56 pm | Permalink
  3. Having studied communications in all forms from ancient Greece up until the internet (well, just before blogging & social web), in my estimation the days of principled journalism are gone. There are a few real journalists left, but their welcome in the world of media is not what it used to be by a long shot. Ambition drives that field. Ambition acquiesces principle to those who can pave the way, the big ‘influencers’ and their agenda. In this environment, real journalists have to fight for their audience, fight marginalization, fight the flood washing over the potential audience from the mainstream media, its preferred agenda, and advertising.

    The television, internet and blogging has changed the very way that people communicate, changed how people evaluate and relate information. Readers don’t know who to trust anymore and they don’t know how to find out. We used to rely on the corporate owners to guarantee trust and trustworthiness and to give support to journalists doing the hard work, but no longer!

    Finally, specializations in virtually every field have distanced the flow of developments, news, events and important people from individual audience members. The information is either so disconnected that we can’t grasp it cohesively to make sense of it, or it is all fed to us like pablum- no one thing more significant than any other thing.

    We are so overloaded that we must pick and choose- we can’t even afford the time to be open to new things, let alone to be educated on important matters and developments that we really do need to know. People cannot analyze relevancy anymore.

    We forget that before the printing press, nearly every soul on the planet was illiterate. Even today’s most backwoods, possum-eating hillbilly, who reads one Sunday newspaper, gets more information in that one sitting than almost anyone did in their entire lifetime before that great invention.

    There was a native, (if I remember correctly) Red Jacket, who noticed that the white man was very much into words. He commented that the white man would drown himself and the world in words at some point in time, a point I think we’ve reached.

    Information is now a pure commodity, except for the few hangers-on to principle; therefore even specialized information like the conferences you mention are being marketed to the masses, whether they need it or not, in order to increase income. The masses cannot tell if they need it or not either. Other considerations are set aside in order to sell ‘content.’

    Blogging is still one great experiment, one that I doubt we’ve seen the best days of yet. But it faces incredible challenges. For example, there isn’t investment in journalist’s ability to get great content, as it used to be in different and competing media companies. That competition meant working to hire the best journalists, like a great team and send them out to get the greatest ‘scoops.’ No longer! There is no thrill, or benefit, for big media in holding the powers-that-be accountable to the people.

    Big media companies now simply feed off of one another’s content in order to reduce costs and keep profits high. They no longer go get their own content, no longer send particularly talented journalists or investigative reporters anywhere. They’ve all ‘oursourced’ the sourcing and settle for rehashing the same stuff, perhaps on different ‘sides’ and now almost all media sounds the same.

    In my estimation, blogging could be the next big place for true journalism, investigative reporting, and competent commentary to show up, but until it is able to finance the great investigations, the great stories, the great scoops; until it gets support for publishing the hard stories and holding people accountable; it will struggle as you have laid out so well. It will disappoint audience. It needs to learn how to relay relevant content to the new mindset effectively. It is an awesome tool that risks dying on the vine for lack of nutrition, support and care.

    Too bad, too, since out of all the times of humanity’s history, we need accurate information now more than ever.

    Sunday, April 27, 2008 at 7:24 pm | Permalink