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July 26, 2006


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As a college student, I hated statistics, until it dawned on me the power of being able to prove anything by crafting a good survey. Now I enjoy reading statistics only to try to figure out the real motive behind those that are publishing them.

For example, the crafting of the Pew Study and the choice given to the sample;
"my life and experiences" (the focus of 37% of bloggers),

Not sure about anyone else out there, but my life and experiences is all inclusive of my work, what I read, where I find entertainment value, which for me is in politics.

Megan's response was right on target, but I would like to add that blogger have provided a new level of information.

The way I have always experienced news before social media was that I would get a glimpse of what was going on from the fast paced, drama driven news shows, the stories were covered more in depth in newspapers, magazines would give the story a new, often time more in-dpeth perspective, and that was it. Blogs are the next level - blogs allow opinions and a variety of perspectives and I am able to see the ripple affect of events as it spreads through the life of a blogger. Bloggers may not be responding to a news story, but the news story affects a bloggers life, whether they have read it or not. Make sense?

Daniel Sanchez

Blogs are very important to the dissemination of political news, if not the direct generation of it. For example, I'm a classic liberal (aka libertarian), so I like to read about news that impacts economic and personal freedom. Such articles are published by local and small news sites every day. I couldn't possibly keep tabs on every one of these sites. But through my RSS subscriptions to classic liberal blogs many of those articles find their way to me. I suspect that more and more savvy readers are keeping up with their niche news interests this way.

And that is very long tail, because obscure news from obscure sources is finding its way via blogs to niche audiences, and people don't have to rely on giant meme-mongers like The New York Times for their journalistic daily bread.

Scott Walters

My area of expertise is theatre and the arts. With newspapers increasingly cutting back on arts coverage, and (as is usually the case) assigning reporters to cover it who have little or no background in the arts, blogs are actually a place to find MORE knowledgeable commentary on arts issues. I doubt that the blogosphere would say that traditional media is irrelevant, but bloggers are not willing to cede the information highway to them completely.

Adam Jusko

It doesn't sound like you and Malcolm Gladwell are really very far apart on this. His point only seems to be that those bloggers ripping the media as dinosaurs hate to acknowledge that the media is the jumping off point for half of what bloggers write.

Even if 37% of bloggers are writing about their "life and experiences", many of their experiences are influenced by what's in the media--what's popular with them and their friends, what TV shows they watch, etc. Their opinions may be original, but that doesn't mean they haven't formed those opinions by what they see and hear each day via the media.


I don't consider the chatter to be low-value-add at all.

I still get my news from major media sources (newspapers, magazines, NPR, and Yahoo - I don't bother w/ tv), but what I most value about blogs, besides the fact that they link to news I might otherwise miss, is the chance to have conversations with people from around the world about topics that interest me. My favorite blog, besides this one, is an art blog where there are very lively discussions in the comments section.

Michael Cader


Can we take this point:

"it's a mistake to see the blogosphere only through the political lens"

and expand it to, "it's a mistake to see the blogosphere only through any particular lens"?

To bastardize Raymond Carver, any discussion like this needs to look at "What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Blogs?" In my experience, what individuals mean is the small slice of blogs they read or are familiar with, which they assume are exactly like the tens of million of blogs they've never seen.

While Gladwell raises many perfectly fine points, and newspapers do continue to perform many important functions, his conclusion that blogs "are necessarily and properly derivative" is clearly based on a very small sub-set. It's exactly the lack of precision that he would never tolerate in his own journalism, and it's the kind of non-rigorous conventional conclusion that his best essays pierce through.

In lots of areas--business, specialty interest, local, technical, arts (as noted above) and other fields--there are many bloglike enterprises that are acting as the "primary source" filters Gladwell approves of rather than the "derivative" enterprises he deems less essential. (By the way, this specious idea of "originality" in reporting is something valued the most by traditional reporters--but it matters little to readers, and to bloggers. Traditional media is a non-transparent filter and blogs are simply a more transparent filter, and at the end of the day, what's important about any piece of information is not who or where it originated, but who--or what--told you and set the context that you remembered. It's the trusted transmission that counts.)

And it's a tautology to argue that blogs will never look just like newspapers [by which people always mean the 3 or 4 great ones, and not the hundreds of others], because that's not what they try to do, or aspire to--and pretty soon newspapers aren't going to look and work the same either. (BTW, why has no one observed that the most famous reporter in Iraq, ex-hostage Jill Carroll, was there as a struggling freelancer on her own dime, not on the benificent budget of a big paper?)

But let's take Gladwell on his own most essential measure: who "sets the conversational agenda." Blogs are nothing more than web pages that showcase an individual voice (or voices). And what's important long-term about the rise of blogging has nothing to do with the derivative myth--blogs drive the emerging supremacy of individual voices over institutional voices.

Of course this trend was in place for a while (talk radio; the rise of the op-ed; etc.) but blogging (with podcasting and videocasting now right on its heels) is what made it "tip."

Up until very recently, even the most talented individuals derived their authority from the institutions where they worked--including you, Chris; "New Yorker writer" Malcolm; "New York Times columnist" Thomas Friedman; etc. But in an amazingly rapid shift, the inverse has become the case: Even the most established institutions like the New York Times are being seen as the collections of individuals they truly are, and institutions are deriving their authority from the individuals they publish/present. Times Select is a perfect example. The New Yorker draws power and authority from having Gladwell still on their staff, rather than vice versa (and he obtained that power outside of the magazine's pages).

The ability of individual voices to be found, heard, and trusted--and to build audiences loyal to those individuals--all with or without the aid of traditional affiliation and institutions, is the meaningful and transformative act that blogging has helped unlock.

William Rimmer

I'm afraid you and Mr. Gladwell are getting lost in a false choice. It is possible for a journalist to blog, just as it is possible for a blogger to be a journalist. Nothing prevents a journalist from blogging through their experiences and still delivering a powerful article, just as your blog added value and credibility to your book.

The fundamental flaw in Mr. Gladwell's logic is found in his full response, which you linked to. "Any form that consists, chiefly, of commentary and criticism is derivative." By his definition, which I agree with, "traditional media" are also derivative. The primary source is the physical world, not the New Yorker. Any commentary or distillation of reality into text is a derivative. The challenge is finding the best derivative.

Which leads to Mr. Gladwell's point that the truly valuable function of newspapers is to serve as "informational gatekeepers". Newspapers' "literally hundreds of trained professionals" can NOT compete with the literally thousands of passionate members of community blogs such as digg.com or slashdot. Furthermore, as we move into a world of niches, what becomes important to me is not the information that can pass through a commercial filter, such as a newspaper, but what can pass through a trusted filter, such as an individual blogger. I am more interested in Chris Anderson as a filter, which is fairly transparent, than in a traditional media's committee filter. The technology of RSS aggregators allows us to pick the filters that matter most to us.

Mr. Gladwell is, as usual, pithy but wrong.

Doug Karr

"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."

When 37% of bloggers are writing about their own lives and surroundings, my guess is that 'No journalist can spend the kind of time researching and writing a story that I live!"

How is a journalist going to do a better job of reporting delays on Vista, when I can read thousands of direct accounts from Microsoft bloggers themselves... who are the ones that are going through it!!!

This is such a pompous remark. It's that attitude that is killing the mainstream media.

Susan Jones

With newspapers in our community increasingly cutting back on, news, we decided to start our own online publication. Our community has one free weekly and one 'pay-for' daily. Neither are worth the paper they are printed on.

We looked at using the 'blog' system because it was 'easy' to use, in the end decided not to because people might not take it as serious and real.
So, no, not a blog, but an online news site, daily that has no paper edition and never will.
It is here

It is written by journalists who do live eat and breath news each and every day.

Oh, and the other two publications?, the print editions, their responce to this?
Put out another free weekly that is less quality than the first free weekly they put out.


Knowing Art PJ

Last year I emailed my local radio station and complained about the visual arts coverage. Within days they changed their slogan from "Voice of the Arts" to "Your Home for the Classics." I agree with Scott Walters. And even within "art" there are many focus areas that are better served by the web now.

We can pass the organization, pass even authors, down to what is said/revealed as data. You can recognize the people and/or the organization if you wish, but that's no longer necessary. In fact, you can even "extract" the data out of context with a feed, search engine, etc.

We become like curators hanging shows. A painting from here, a painting from there. A bit of information from here, a bit from there. And every day now we have more tools to find this data to hang our show: the blog.

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don't think newspapers will lose their relevance, nor will blogs. Now whether newspaper will stay in paper form is another debate.
I don't blog to replace news gathered from The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. I use their news gathering for expansion of something they may have missed, or to point out something already noted.

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Commenting at length and negatively on books you haven't read isn't real smart. One for Malcolm.
Blogs and the MSM are clearly on the way to some unforeseeable symbiosis, so talking about the value of "information gatekeepers" is just a non-starter. Minus one for Malcolm.
The value of blogs is not related to their political point of view. They expose left-wing and right-wing follies both. Get used to it. Would we really know as much about how President AWOL has FUBARed Iraq without them? Minus one for commenters.

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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Notes and sources for the book

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