Saturday, December 18, 2004

The True Spirit of Blogging

There's been some blog-to-blog discussion recently on Michael Malone's article on the blogosphere and whether it can supplant the mainstream media. He doesn't think so, and he predicts a bubble-bursting similar to that of the already legendary dot-coms:

You may argue that since most bloggers simply volunteer their energies to run their blogs, they could theoretically go on forever. And some will. But most, I suspect, want some sort of payback over time for their efforts — whether it is an income or merely the kind of fame that can be converted (speeches, books, jobs) into income. Thus, the phenomenon of the lonely blogger suddenly getting linked by Glenn Reynolds and enjoying a so-called Instapundit Avalanche of thousands of hits in a matter of minutes — and openly begging the visitors to stick around. At some point, many of those millions of bloggers — perhaps 95 percent if past is precedent — will simply grow weary and give up.

His point, I think, is a pretty fair one. Obviously most people don't go into blogging in the hope of striking it rich, but there are often mainstream-media aspirations involved (I hate the term "MSM," BTW, but YMMV). I may be wrong, but it seems to me that blogging started to take off more and more as online magazines started to collapse. Speaking from experience, I used to submit articles to Salon and get them published. Now you don't get into Salon unless you're either an overly-expensive pundit or someone who writes like a reject from Television Without Pity. And whereas Salon is still around and losing money, most online magazines from the dot-com era are gone, having no money left to lose.

What it all means is that dot-coms were unable to provide an alternative to mainstream publications, something that could be open to us J-school rejects; the online magazines that survived became as closed-off as their print cousins. Which means that people who might otherwise have been submitting copy to some unseen editor are instead starting blogs. I enjoy blogging, and I hope I can blog more often (this once every couple of days thing is no way to increase readership), and I love the fact that the blogosphere has allowed for the emergence of writers and subject-matter you wouldn't find in the newspaper. Certainly I could never have gotten a magazine, online or off, to run stories about some of the obscure stuff I've posted about here.

But there are disadvantages to blogging, too. To a large extent it has supplanted the usenet newsgroup -- people who, like me, used to post a lot to usenet now spend their online time at their blogs -- and I sort of miss the give-and-take of the really good newsgroups (the golden age of the newsgroup was the '90s, which, as you all know, was the absolute best era for everything). Now we're all pontificating instead of discussing; sure, there are comments sections, but it's just not the same as a group where everybody's equal and where people are carrying on conversations in terms of big, detailed, thoughtful posts (and unlike comments, usenet posts get archived, taking on a more or less permanent form). The lack of editorial interference is, perhaps, an advantage of blogging, but there are disadvantages too; who among us couldn't stand to hear someone telling us to cut this and fix that and make our posts a little shorter? Not to mention that if I had an editor I'd actually be forced to post on a regular schedule.

So the blogosphere is great, but I do think it's kind of a passing phase, in its current form; there will still be blogs in the future, as long as people with something to say take to the Internet to say it. That's the best part of blogging, and the part that won't change. But as the mainstream media adapt to deal with the semi-competition from blogs -- and they always adapt -- we'll see the decline of blogs that were started specifically to compete with the mainstream media. Just as established companies co-opted whatever minor advantages the dot-coms had, just as the mainstream magazines got online components that dwarfed most of the online-only magazines, so the media companies will soon be able to offer whatever blogs offer. The blogs that survive will be the ones that provide something the mainstream media doesn't find it profitable to provide. Which means that this one should be around a while longer, unless somebody starts up an Obscure Musicals Weekly. In which case, I'm available.

No comments: