I am, in full disclosure, a member of the Media Elite. I'm a Conde Nast editor, run a glossy mainstream magazine, spent much of my career at The Economist and consort with known journalists. But nothing annoys me more than the oft-heard assertion within media circles that without us blogs would be nothing.
This is so commonly held a belief in the industry that it is unfair to pick just one example. But I must do so anyway, so I will use a recent one from an otherwise unimpeachable source--my favorite writer in the world, Malcolm Gladwell, a man who is right on so many things (and is also a blogger) that I can only think that his comment was intentionally made to provoke posts like this one. Speaking at a panel on "Online Media and the Future of Journalism" in NYC two weeks ago, Gladwell said:
"Without the New York Times, there is no blog community. They'd have nothing to blog about."
This is the Derivative Myth. It usually goes like this (and again, I don't mean to pick on Malcolm, who didn't say the following and no doubt meant his comment above to be at least partly tongue in cheek): Blogs, which are mostly written by amateurs, couldn't possibly do what We Do. Instead, they mostly just comment on what we do, supplying low-value-add chatter about our stories that must not be confused with Proper Journalism or other Quality Content from us Professionals.
Let's look at some numbers. Technorati shows that there are currently 555,000 posts linking to the New York Times. Nearly 800,000 posts mention the Times in one way or another. Sounds like a lot? Not if you pull back and look at the entire blogosphere. Technorati is currently tracking 2.7 billion links.
What are most people actually talking about? Mostly themselves, their friends, their family and things that are more interesting to them and their daily lives than whatever we in the media choose to focus on with our limited resources and space. To use a proper head-to-head comparison with the searches above, Technorati currently shows more than 152,000,000 posts that use the word "I". So that's roughly 300 times more people talking about themselves (and the world around them) than talking about what the New York Times has written about.
Here are the top ten most blogged-about mainstream media sites, with the percentage of total posts that incoming links to their stories comprise (I've used a very conservative estimate of 200 million total posts in the current Technorati search window, which is based on the 152 million result from the common word "I" above):
Media Site Blog links (percentage of total)
- BBC: 681,000 (0.3%)
- Yahoo News: 605,000 (0.3%)
- New York Times: 555,000 (0.3%)
- Washington Post: 434,000 (0.2%)
- CNN: 428,000 (0.2%)
- Guardian Unlimited: 252,000 (0.1%)
- USA Today: 141,000 (0.1%)
- Yomiuri Online: 127,000 (0.1%)
- SF Gate: 117,340 (<0.1%)
- LA Times: 116,000 (<0.1%)
I think the only reasonable conclusion to draw from the above is that we in the mainstream media need to get over ourselves. What we do has great value, but we no longer have a monopoly on leading the public conversation (not that we ever did, of course, but it was easier to delude ourselves before). The blogosphere doesn't need us to give them something to talk about. When we do what we do well and add new ideas, information and analysis, blogs can be our best friend, amplifying our reach many-fold. But when we don't, the former audience is very happy to talk amongst itself.