A few weeks ago, I cheekily quoted my favorite author, Malcolm Gladwell, saying "Without the New York Times, there is no blog community. They'd have nothing to blog about." Acknowledging that Malcolm meant this at least partly tongue-in-cheek, I nevertheless argued that it echoed a notion oft-heard in media circles that blogs were simply derivative ("low-value-add chatter about our stories"). And then I supplied some data that showed that actually most blogs aren't talking about us in the mainstream media at all. They're mostly talking about themselves and the world around them, something they're more expert on than we are.
Now Gladwell has responded in his usual sharp way. Excerpt:
Has the level of self-regard in the blogosphere really reached such dizzying heights that it can’t acknowledge the work that traditional media does on behalf of the rest of us? Yes, the newspaper business isn’t as lucrative as it once was (although it’s still pretty lucrative). And it doesn’t seem as exciting and relevant as it once was. But newspapers continue to perform an incredibly important function as informational gatekeepers—a function, as far as I can tell, that grows more important with time, not less. Between them, for instance, the Times and the Post have literally hundreds of trained professionals whose only job it is to sift through the mountains of information that come out of the various levels of government and find what is of value and of importance to the rest of us. Where would we be without them? We’d be lost.
As I told him when we ran into each other at JFK the other day, when it comes to politics, I think he's right. Gladwell asks: Isn't that a fairly big exception? Well, not as big as we in the media biz might think. After all, a recent Pew Internet study found that by far the most common topic of blogger is "my life and experiences" (the focus of 37% of bloggers), with "politics and government" running a distant second at 11%.
So my point is only this: it's a mistake to see the blogosphere only through the political lens. And outside of politics, bloggers tend to take far less of their lead from mainstream media.
The very smart Megan McArdle ("Jane Galt") nicely puts the debate in perspective, so I'll let her have the last word:
Bloggers and journalists have different strengths; when done right, they complement each other. Good bloggers have extensive local knowlege and excellent feedback mechanisms; by definition, some of my readers know more about any topic I write on (or blog on) than I do. Journalists have breadth, time, and reach. No blogger can spend the kind of time researching and writing a story that I do, because my paper relieves me of the burden of earning a living elsewhere. Nor can many bloggers afford to, say, pick up and leave Washington to report on Beirut for three years, thus combining in one person expertise on US politics and the Middle East. And a single blog, or even a group of blogs, has difficulty functioning as a one-stop shop for the major news of the day, because blogs are, by definition, idiosyncratic.