Media Matters

What Blogs Can’t Do

After the revolution, who will provide the daily news?

By 9.30.04

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Oh, the blogosphere is crowing, "carrying Dan Rather's head around on a pike," as Keith Olbermann complained bitterly a couple of weeks ago. Just look at some recent headlines on Free Republic: "' Pajama People' -- A Fresh Alternative in Journalism"); "'Buckhead' vs. Dan Rather: Internet David Slays Media Goliath"; "Web Can Turn Everybody Into a Contributor"; "'Rathergate' Marks Big Victory for Bloggers"; and my own oft-linked "Regular Folks Know a Lot" from last week.

Under the "Pajama People" headline, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Jo Jacobs summed up the mood, "The guys in the pajamas beat the pants off CBS news."

BUT CAN BLOGS DO WHAT NEWSPAPERS, television, and radio news do? They certainly don't do it now. If the mainstream press disappeared, poof, in a day, what would bloggers do the next? After the initial round of cyber-backslapping, where would they go? What would they write about?

The public wants to know some certain things on a regular and predictable basis: Whether a storm is coming, whether the local schools are open or closed, what time the baseball game comes on, where the candidates are, what's happening in Iraq, what the government (local, state, national) has got itself up to, and so forth. That's why they pick up the paper, turn on the radio when they climb into the car for morning errands, or tune in Good Morning America or their local cable show on the kitchen TV while the kids eat breakfast.

News is a product. Like any other product, it seeks and seeks to broaden a given audience. It also finances itself by selling that audience to advertisers. Does news have to be that way? Not all news. But if some core of it does not operate that way, the rest will sputter and die.

SO COULD BLOGGERS, perhaps in combination with webzines, turn the Internet into a true alternative for daily news for the public at large?

To get there, bloggers have to do three things. First, get a real beat, something outside the self-referential Internet world. Michelle Malkin, not primarily a blogger, has made a name for herself by establishing her expertise on such a beat: immigration. Imagine a blog devoted, for example, to a given sport, or a local blog that covered the Board of Education. Second, get off your duffs and go out in the real world in search of events and sources. Pick up the phone.

Third, drop the obsessive honk of blog prose, the self-regard as blatant as the note of a trombone. Ever try scanning back through a blog to find a reference to a story even a few weeks old? There is nothing drearier, more neurotic, than an old blog. Start writing to the short, punchy values of traditional news or to the traditional values of a good essay. Nobody cares about your damn diary.

How will we know when the blog world starts to break through into true viability as a news product? When blogs start to sell advertising and to pay attention to what they need to do to sell ads. Till then, they're a sideshow. The money's on the midway.

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.