Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bloggers' laments, editors' gripes, publishers' frustrations...

This bizarre world of blogging has finally reached the non-ignorable stage, and the media hierarchy is flummoxed as to how to manage it.  Three events I base this observation on:
  1. The Grey Lady deigns to recognize op-ed bloggers.
Five years after blogging went mainstream and more than seven years after the WSJ's editorial page launched Best of the Web Today, the Grey Lady is finally dipping its toe into the editorial blogosphere. If you saw this news story without a date on it, what are the chances that you'd guess it came out at the very tail end of 2009?
NEW YORK The New York Times is planning to launch a new "Instant Op-Ed" next month that will allow the paper's Web site to post immediate expert viewpoints on breaking news, according to Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal.
"Our Op-Ed now is very rapid response, but it is at the most the next day," said Rosenthal. "We are looking at a way to take advantage of the expandability of the Internet, the back and forth of it and the instantaneous nature of the Internet."
I'm old enough to remember when a next-day editorial could be considered "very rapid response", but the readers who will make or break the future of the NYT are not. [More]
       2.  This first widely publicized editor smack-down of a major blogger.

Matt Iglesias, a widely read and preternaturally prolific blogger, opined about about The Third Way, a moderate policy think-tank. The actual post meant little to me, but it obviously meant something to his employer who posted directly on his blog the following:
This is Jennifer Palmieri, acting CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Most readers know that the views expressed on Matt’s blog are his own and don’t always reflect the views of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Such is the case with regard to Matt’s comments about Third Way. Our institution has partnered with Third Way on a number of important projects - including a homeland security transition project - and have a great deal of respect for their critical thinking and excellent work product. They are key leaders in the progressive movement and we look forward to working with them in the future. [More]

Major bloggers from all over the political and cultural spectrum were aghast.  Regardless of the issue involved, it quickly became one of editorial control.  As readers and dollars bleed from traditional media, the blogosphere is at least holding its own, with some, such as The Atlantic or ScienceBlogs setting the pace for content, breadth, and speed.  And bloggers feel one reason they are seeing increasing readership is their stark departure from existing media policies, such as editorial chains of command.

The essential nature of blogging is immediacy and directness. In exchange for occasionally sloppy sentences and typos, readers can get reactions and helpful pointers to information practically in real-time. However, that doesn't require editors to correct, smooth, and well, edit.  I'm sitting in my office now, watching an ice-storm and in a few minutes I will publish this post without any help whatsoever (except Google/Blogger - who gives me the tools free).

The urgency to monetize what bloggers do has never been more apparent. And the stark realization of how many people are not needed to run the blogosphere is dawning just when economic news could not be worse (I hope) and ad dollars are disappearing along with their companies.

The Yglesias Incident illuminated one key aspect of these painful adjustments.  Blogging will not work under every old media rule. Bloggers are loose cannon, to be sure.  But we now see emerging some basic rules of this fledgling craft, and one of them is editors probably shouldn't publish over the top of a blogger.  In this case, Yglesias lost some cred (Is his stuff being vetted now or is he being more circumspect on given issues?) and his brand lost some value, IMHO.

   3. John's World and Agweb:

I get paid to blog for AgWeb, who of course has the right to put ads around the copy to recover their costs. But because of my own shortcomings (I type with two fingers) and the difficulty I had learning Blogger, shifting to the AgWeb blog engine would be a hassle for me. More importantly, many functions my readers and I have come to rely on would be missing.

For example, when you comment on, I get an e-mail immediately, and the comment is posted in the feedback column to the right.  This means I (along with you) see every recent comment and can respond as needed.  Comments on AgWeb go may go unnoticed unless you re-read every post several times.  In addtion, I often get comments on much older posts, but unless they are the JWorld home blog, I will never see them - nor will many other readers. I really depend on this feature.  A prime example is the surprising response from this post, which I luckily stumbled upon, and most folks may not have seen.

The other stuff is obvious - a robust search engine, labels to organize posts by topic, archives, etc.  Most of all you see all the posts from the last week.  This minimizes page-views and hence ad revenue, so understandably AgWeb arranges it differently.

Consequently, like other bloggers, there is a dynamic tension between content providers who pound out the words and website administrators who try to keep the lights on.  This is why you won't see every post (and most likely, not this one) on AgWeb.  The need to monetize a product that some of us have been providing free is important and not easy.  We're trying to solve these issues, but like all media right now, blogging is a moving target, as software developers keep finding more amazing capabilities to build into their products.

I'm not sure how big-time bloggers and their parent sites will work this out.  The whole tiny industry is watching closely. But I really think we're on to something, and the power of the Internet to frustrate traditional editorial policy and publishing business models is being revealed and wrestled with.

I'll let you know how it's going for me.  And if you want to see all my work or if you're miffed I didn't reply to your comment, you'll need to check here at blogspot every now and then, in addition to AgWeb.


No comments: