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Amateur Blogosphere Dead?

Citing yesterday’s news of Nate Silver’s 538.com moving to the New York Times, longtime blog trend spotter Chris Bowers pronounces the death of the amateur blogosphere.

He cites three overlapping trends:

1. Established media companies and advocacy organizations hiring bloggers to blog, full-time

2. Previously “amateur” progressive blogs became professional operations

3. Bloggers translate blogging into consulting and advocacy work

Indeed, Bowers cites himself as an example of the third type.   And, while OTB is still a quasi-amateur operation, we’re loosely in the second category.  I made a living solely from blogging for a time (with a hefty assist from my Gone Hollywood site; then again, HuffPo is making it by running a salacious celebrity gossip site disguised as a political blog) and am also essentially a professional blogger in my day job, although I have broader responsibilities.

These things are no doubt happening, especially on the left.  Barbara O’Brien‘s observation that “The evil MSM seems to pick up 50 Erick Ericksons for every one Nate Silver” is just bizarre. I can’t think offhand of a truly conservative amateur blogger who has been bought out in the manner of Mickey Kaus, Kevin Drum, Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Glenn Greenwald, Steve Benen, Dave Weigel and others who have had hobby blogs bought out by major media sites or ideological think tanks and gone full time.  Megan McArdle is the closest I can think of but she was already a professional journalist, writing for the Economist, by the time anyone had heard of her.

Like Bowers, I don’t bemoan the trend.  It’s great to see talent and hard work rewarded.  Further, I agree with him that this was “inevitable.”

Avant-garde, “outsider” developments which prove to have real support are invariably co-opted by any successful, institutional establishment.  At the same time, these avant-garde movements are often willing to be co-opted, since established institutions usually have vastly greater resources than the independent, shoestring distribution networks of the avant-garde.

Absolutely.  Nor is this exactly a new phenomenon.   I was writing about the professionalization of blogging back in 2006.  And this caution from way back then still holds:

I’m not sure that looking at the top 10—or even top 100—bloggers tells us all that much about “blogging.” Technorati is “currently tracking 53.2 million blogs.” Presumably, some substantial number of them are defunct or are updated once every six months. Then again, there are likely a large number of blogs not tracked by Technorati for one reason or another. My guess is that something like 52.9 million of them are written by people who are non-professionals.

Bowers admits as much.  His point seems to be that the most widely read and influential blogs have professionalized in some manner.  But, again, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

The Talking Dog, proudly making no money blogging for 8-1/2 years, offers the counterargument:

[W]e’re not beholden to much of anything, really, because “amateur” means… wait for it… independent. Not beholden to the big media establishment, to political parties or candidates, to advertisers, to big-box bloggers… not beholden to anyone… other than to you, of course, who can comment away, if you feel like, or not, or read this blog, or not read it… and while I love adulation and attention as much as the next guy… let’s just say that I make a perfectly nice living utterly unrelated to blogging, and I have no intention of altering that arrangement.anytime soon.

Just as truly independent media doesn’t take corporate contributions (PBS and NPR, I’m talking to you), the progressive blogosphere until a couple of years ago (and folks, I mean this… the entire blogosphere prior to the Iraq War) were fresh, original and downright interesting… there really was no “party line”… or at least, none that could be traced directly back to the party, as there is now (“both sides”, btw)… the last truly interesting work on the blogosphere is by the truly independents… academics, particularly tenured or tenure track, come to mind in this regard, as their living is safe, whether or not if their blog tanks… that’s what I’m talking about, really.

With all due respect to the great big box bloggers… they’re just not as interesting

Kaus had already “taken the Boeing” before I became aware of him but Drum, Yglesias, Klein, Greenwald, Benen, and Weigel seem to me to have maintained their style, perspective, and independence despite their new corporate overlords.

If anything, in-house bloggers have substantial power over their new homes.  Drum pretty much was The Washington Monthly during his tenure there and Benen has taken over that role as the dominant feature on the homepage of the site.   Andrew Sullivan — who, again, was a preeminent mainstream media journalist before he became a blogger — accounts for more than half the traffic at The Atlantic‘s website, so they need him far more than he needs them.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    I think a truly amateur blog runs without advertising or any attached business model. It is an avocation. As soon as ads are attached (and there’s nothing wrong with that), the blog is turning a little pro.

    Chris calls amateurs “unpaid or barely paid” but that’s maybe looking at result as opposed to intent?

    An amateur blogger isn’t trying to feed a business model. As soon as he begins, he’s a small business. And sure, lots of small-versus large business dynamics are playing out on the web.

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  2. sam says:

    Well,

    How many blogs are there? 50 million and counting

    Here is Technorati’s latest State of the blogosphere report.

    A few highlights:

    • On July 31, 2006, Technorati tracked its 50 millionth blog
    • The blogosphere is doubling about once every 6 and a half months
    • About 175,000 new weblogs are created each day
    • There are more than 2 blogs created each second of each day
    about 1.6 Million postings per day, or about 18.6 posts per second.

    Now, I grant that that’s 2006, but still…c’mon. Better title: Bigtime Amateur Blogs Who All The Really, Really Important People Read Dead?

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  3. john personna says:

    BTW, I thought I detected a HuffPo influence in the redesign …

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  4. James Joyner says:

    BTW, I thought I detected a HuffPo influence in the redesign …

    HuffPo’s pretty garish and I pretty much avoided their clutter and coloration. There’s a little TPM here but mostly I cribbed from professional, non-blog sites like Foreign Affairs and the Wall Street Journal.

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  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Why is it surprising that bloggers who view blogging as a job interview take jobs blogging?

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  6. amateurblogger says:

    “it’s not dead, it just deserves to die when it becomes another stale cartoon.”

    political blogs are no fun. at least not anymore. people are so sensitive and too many cheerleaders. why put up something thought provoking to get a 100 of “die in hell” comments. plus political bloggers have this smugness to them. so i’m all about theweeklyvice and stuff of that ilk. better to be reminded of how awful humanity is than being told i’m the problem.

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  7. alkali says:

    I can’t think offhand of a truly conservative amateur blogger who has been bought out in the manner of Mickey Kaus, Kevin Drum, Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Glenn Greenwald, Steve Benen, Dave Weigel and others who have had hobby blogs bought out by major media sites or ideological think tanks and gone full time.

    Ross Douthat (although he hasn’t blogged continuously while at the NYT). Ben Domenech (by the WPost, abortively).

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