Blog-Media Convergence

Blogs are all grown up now and indistinguishable from other online media.

Via Andrew Sullivan, I see that NYT arts critic Virginia Heffernan is dismayed with the current state of blogging.

With notable exceptions, blogging, as a form, seems to me to have calcified. Many bloggers who started strong 3-5 years ago have gotten stuck in grudge matches. This is even more evident on political blogs than on science blogs. In fact, after being surprised to find the same cycles of invective on ScienceBlogs that appear on political blogs (where they’re well documented), I started to think the problem might be with the form itself. Like many literary and art forms before it (New Yorker poetry, jazz, manifestos) blogs may have had a heyday – when huge numbers of people were inspired to make original contributions – before, seemingly all at once, the moment is gone. Some people keep doing it, and doing it well, but the wave of innovation passes, and the form itself needs new life. (Twitter? Tumblr?)

This was juxtaposed in my feed reader with Jeff Nolan‘s post passing along the news that “Every Forbes reporter will get a blog.”

I wonder if the two phenomena aren’t related?

When I started blogging in January of 2003, it was still a brand new medium.  People who had been around since 2002 were old-timers and those who had been around since 2001 were pioneers.  But there are now thousands of us who have been writing steadily for nearly a decade.   The medium has matured.

Back in the early days, there was the blogosphere and the mainstream media (MSM) and, aside from Mickey Kaus, there was a wall of separation between the two.   Now, newspapers and magazines are hiring up bloggers left and right and reporters are being forced to blog.  Meanwhile, the non-MSM blogs have seen the advent of advertising and the rise of professional bloggers.

The upshot of all this is that there has been a convergence between blogs and MSM such that the two are indistinguishable, at least at the level where there’s serious readership.

We’re all competing with one another for eyeballs and advertising dollars, thus faced with the same pressures of productivity, keeping the pageviews up, and the like.  The rules of site design, search optimization, and whatnot are the same.  The ad units are the same.   And, to the average reader following a link from a search engine, they’re all just websites.

At the same time, the old rules that governed professional journalism are eroding.   Competition from blogs and other online media has put a premium on speed and high volume production.  Additionally, readers have come to expect more personality in their prose, making it hard to get by with “just the facts, ma’am.”

Maybe there’s more cacophony and less originality now than in those heady upstart days.  But we’re far from seeing the medium going away.   As with radio news, television news, and talk radio before it, blogs are going from “New Media” to just media.

Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook and all the rest will likely supplant blogs for dashing off quips and links.  But that’ll just make blogs even more indistinguishable from online newspapers and magazines.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.