Professionalization of the Blogosphere
Conn Carroll believes the blogosphere is increasingly moving away from its amateur roots:
Looking at the top 10 most trafficked blogs, only DailyKos, Crooks and Liars, Michelle Malkin, and Instapundit started out as lone blogger-hobbyists. The other 6 (including The Huffington Post, The Corner, and Think Progress) are either planned business enterprises, outgrowths of existing MSM pubs, or online presences of otherwise established orgs. Many may have a romantic ideal of bloggers as loners mashing away at a keypad in their pajamas, but the biggest and best blogs all feature intelligent professionals, often with advanced degrees, commenting on issues at least tangentially related to their field of expertise. As these enterprises gain in influence and profitability, should we really be that surprised as they become more professional as well?
I’d note that Malkin was never a “lone blogger-hobbyist,” either. She was a nationally syndicated columnist and best-selling author before she started her blog, which took off like a rocket almost instantaneously. And if having an advanced degree eliminates one from the ranks of amateurism, then Daily Kos (J.D. – Boston U ) and InstaPundit (J.D. – Yale , UT law prof) are out, too. That leaves only John Amato of Crooks and Liars, who is a professional musician who lists no education on his bio (although he could have a DFA, for all I know).
That many of the most popular political bloggers have advanced degrees (Full disclosure: I have an MA and a PhD; most of the OTB contributors have an MA, JD, and/or PhD.) is hardly surprising, as I’ve noted many times in the past. People who are passionate enough about politics to obsess about it 365 days a year, even in non-election years, are likely candidates for graduate and professional school. Grad school also helps hone writing and research skills, which are useful to bloggers. Further, the jobs one gets with that kind of education are more conducive to providing time to read, write, and think about things. [UPDATE: My colleague Chris Lawrence has some thoughts on this matter today as well.]
Still, 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.
Furthermore, I’m not sure why amateurism in the sense of not having a clue about the things one opines about is all that desirable. The lure of political blogs, to me at least, is that one often gets better insights from them than from the professional punditocracy. Many if not most of those who are regulars on the television and radio talking head circuit simply don’t have much to offer as commentators. They might be attractive and have soothing voices but most of them are just recycling the conventional wisdom. Many of us watched those shows and thought “I could do better than that!” but had no way to prove it.
The beauty of the blogosphere is that an obscure law professor from Knoxville can build an audience of millions simply by putting his words out there for free and having people gravitate to what he has to say. Or a former MLRS crewman fresh out of law school can build a media empire that has changed the way a major political party raises money and runs campaigns.
Four years ago, I was teaching political science at a regional teaching college in south Alabama. I had been publishing op-eds in school and local newspapers since my junior high days but didn’t have the connections or ability to subsist on poverty wages for a decade to get a big break in the media. Within a couple months of starting this site, though, hundreds of people a day were reading my thoughts on war and peace. Now, OTB gets 10-15,000 readers a day. That’s pretty cool.
Hat tip: Dan Drezner (PhD-Chicago, Tufts prof).