Last September, when bloggers deconstructed Dan Rather and Company over the bogus documents they used to question George W. Bush’s National Guard service, one CNN executive said that a typical blogger is “a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas.” He dismissed the blog phenomenon as having “no checks and balances.”
Now, with a dose of irony pointed CNN’s way, three much-visited blogs (web logs) are banding together to form a global news network and to sell advertising. It’s name? Pajamas Media.
The three blogs — ArmedLiberal.com, RogerLSimon.com and LittleGreenFootballs.com — are putting together a network of more than 160 blogs which, according to Roger Simon, a Hollywood screenwriter and one of the partners in Pajamas Media, will “get in the middle of stories” in ways that may elude major news organizations. He cites the coverage of December’s tsunami. In many places, bloggers were the first on the scene, shooting videos and interviewing survivors days before major news organizations could put teams on the ground.
According to Simon, Pajamas Media wants to put a camcorder and a laptop computer in the hands of every one of its network affiliates so they can continue — and refine — their trump card, immediacy. He recently told the New York Sun, “Our affiliates will have a physical proximity, language and cultural knowledge” that traditional media may lack.
Nevertheless, the CNN reaction to blog successes is echoed by other “mainstream” media (called “MSM” in the blog world). Recently, the Los Angeles Times’s media critic opined that blogs were inferior in coverage because they didn’t have multiple layers of editors going over every story. Glenn Reynolds, whose Instapundit.com averages 130,000 unique visitors a day and who is an adviser to Pajamas Media, says, “…it is a tired cliche that because there won’t be newspaper editors at PJM, somehow the product will be diminished.” He goes on, “We do not need four of five layers of editors to screw this up like they have at the L.A. Times.” He cited as an example of the sort of coverage they will seek: “…live feeds and middle-of-the-crowd commentary from the next Beirut demonstration.”
The principals in Pajamas Media don’t expect a flood of advertising at first; however, the niche-market quality of most blogs will make audience targeting attractive to many advertisers who, when they use mainstream media, are paying for a good many readers/viewers/listeners who are not prospects for their products or services.
The Rather and tsunami stories suddenly put blogging on the map for many Americans. Today, according to Business Week, there are nine million blogs, with 40,000 more coming online every day. Nevertheless, a Pew Research Center survey shows that only 27 percent of Internet users read any blogs. While the best blogs are carefully researched, well-written, and cleanly presented, many others are poorly written, tendentious, and primitive looking. As more advertising gravitates to blogs, and especially blog networks, a brand of economic Darwinism is likely to prevail: the better sites will prosper; the poorer ones will stumble along or drop out.
Newspapers, in particular, are worried about the blog phenomenon. While editorial types rail about objectivity (as if, for example, the New York Times was objective in its daily selection and treatment of stories), business managers are closely studying the continued decline in circulation. For the six months ended March 31, 814 of the nation’s approximately 1,500 daily newspapers lost circulation, in aggregate, 1.9 percent. The Washington Post lost 2.7 percent. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, the nation’s three largest newspapers, were essentially flat. Overall, newspaper circulation has been declining for 20 years.
Network television as a primary source of news has been sinking since the early nineties. In 1993, some 62 percent of Americans cited it as their primary source. Today it’s about 38 percent. Cable television is now close to 65 percent. The Internet, first measured in 1996, now accounts for 35 percent. Especially telling are the demographics for Internet news users: 67 percent are under 50 and 36 percent are under 30. These are the sort of statistics that can bring on migraines to newspaper and television business managers.
Why are many people turning to blogs for news? It’s partly the newness, partly the “second opinion” aspect, partly skepticism about the objectivity of the MSM. How are people finding the blogs they want? One way blogs are gaining visitors is through RSS, Really Simple Syndication. This five-year-old system lets the visitor subscribe to certain blogs or even to key words about subjects of interest to them. RSS then searches the Internet and plops the relevant blogs into what amounts to a personalized website for the user.
The one word that seems most apt in describing blogs as a group is “freedom.” There is nearly infinite freedom of choice and there is the freedom from homogenized story selection and slant which for years went from the New York Times to the evening’s network news broadcasts to newspapers, radio, and television in the hinterland. Amen.
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