February 11, 2015

The blog-shaped object as an endangered species.

"There’s an increasingly common view... that old-fashioned conversational blogging is being killed by social media, because the big traffic is driven now by Facebook and Twitter, which can only trade in quick hits. Long conversations don’t go viral. Bloggers linking to each other can only ever be small scale,"  writes William Finnegan, in The New Yorker.
The Dish was a singularity, in that it was a freestanding business, basically selling just a distinctive, unedited voice—Sullivan’s. It’s not that there are no excellent political bloggers left. There are. But they tend to be attached to large publications, like Paul Krugman, at the Times (or John Cassidy, at this magazine). Bloggers with a particular expertise are thriving—in economics, notably. It’s the unaffiliated generalist who’s endangered. Sullivan says he loved shooting from the hip, reacting to the news as fast and as candidly as he could. Since he is given to intellectual drama, he often overreacted, and much of the entertainment of the Dish was watching him walk back his more outrageous arguments....
It’s the unaffiliated generalist who’s endangered. I take it that Finnegan means for us to read "endangered" in the sense of "endangered species," as if there was at time when Unaffiliated Generalist Bloggers reigned, and now these creatures are dying out. I don't feel endangered, because I am in control of how long this enterprise continues. But those of use who  like to read individualistic, endless writing from authentic bloggers may feel we are in danger of getting cut off by our suppliers. But I don't think there ever were all that many real blogs of the Andrew Sullivan kind. The supply was always short, and we readers of blogs always faced scarcity.

It may seem as though blogs were plentiful pre-Facebook and pre-Twitter, but Twitter and Facebook are essentially blogs. These are simply minor tweaks in the format. There's a big difference in where the money flows. Facebook and Twitter have successfully captured the money, not that blogs were ever very good at channeling money to the blogger. Facebook and Twitter may satisfy some writers by giving them the impression that they are in a big place, with an audience.

On a traditional blog, you can see (or ignore) whether you have traffic. When you know you have readers, it's an incentive to keep the old-school blog going, to keep the café open. But even with good traffic, you'll probably find — as I think Andrew Sullivan did — that the money isn't good enough to make sense of all this work.

And yet, I've always thought — from the first day 11 years ago — that it is the intrinsic value of the writing that sustains blogging. Without that, you don't have a blog. You have a blog-shaped object.

37 comments:

Beldar said...

Before the internet, did your journal stop being a journal when you skipped a day?

tim maguire said...

This topic comes up at Althouse periodically. I don't know if good bloggers are getting fewer and further between. I read far fewer bloggers than I used to, but that's mostly because I'm not looking for new ones so each old one that drops off is one less that I read.

Finnegan's citation of Paul Krugman as a smart voice in the blogosphere (?) suggests he is like me but with less self-awareness.

traditionalguy said...

People who read people are the luckiest people in the world...if the people they read has Althouse's mind.

Achilles said...

"It’s not that there are no excellent political bloggers left. There are. But they tend to be attached to large publications, like Paul Krugman, at the Times (or John Cassidy, at this magazine)."

The article unintentionally touches on one of the underlying truths of the internet. All of the "unaffiliated generalists" are on the right. All of the paid shills are on the left.

They don't have to blog for free because Soros and friends pay them to run things like Media Matters and Daily KOS. There is no shortage of rich statists like Arianna who will self fund a blog and eventually get picked up. Not to mention that any "reporting" done at newspapers and other outlets employs writers who are obviously left of center.

Michael said...

There's no question that finding a way to support yourself blogging is hard. That the increasingly unhinged and preposterous Sullivan failed at it is proof of very little, however. I not only doubt there was a large advertising market for what I think Iowahawk or somebody dubbed "investigative gynecology," I worry about anyone who had kept reading Sullivan all these years.

Achilles said...

I also forgot to point out all of the attempts to regulate the "unaffiliated generalists" off the internet by the progressive politicians.

The left wants it's media monopoly back.

David said...

"The supply was always poor, and we readers of blogs always faced scarcity."

So true. Perhaps today's theme is going to be "hacks." Blogs are mostly the territory of partisan hacks.

The Posner blog was great. Others I've found worthwhile: Leiks, Dartblog, Powerline (partisan but not hacks), Dartblog, Kaus (sometimes), Protein Wisdom, Desert Candy (food and living in the Middle East), Volokh, Higher Education, Steyn, Crack Emcee, The Aviationist, The Sartoralist (thanks Althouse.)

I have yet to find a really interesting lefty blog. Would love some suggestions. Isn't there one at least?

Anybody got some good ideas?

David Aitken said...

The <a href="http://pjmedia.com/instapundit/>blogfather</a> doesn't look like he's going away anytime soon. At least I hope not.

mikee said...

Idiocracy will always outproduce, in volume, the more worthwhile writers and artists and thinkers, but their volume is not of the best quality.

I'd rather read an Althouse blog post with some thoughtful exposition than 140,ooo words of dreck by a thousand fools, each with a cell phone.

YoungHegelian said...

Very few of the blogs at the established journalism venues are worth the time & effort. My reaction is "So, you've got all the editors & reporters at the NYT, WSJ, whatever who you can use to actually find out the facts on the ground, and I'm supposed to check in for your witty blather?"

Big media should do what it, and only it, can do well --- dig out the facts, sometimes in faraway places, and tell us what they are. As much as reporters would like to believe they are fountains of wisdom, they rarely are, and it's easy to find an academic or private sector expert on the web who can write. Those experts can then take the "facts" & create a coherent narrative in their area of expertise that's just much more compelling to read than a generalist reporter.

As for FB, my brother the academic, God bless him, posts in- depth musings on various topics in theology, and between him & his fellow academic FB "friends", sometimes something will jell out of it. Mostly, however, it doesn't work. FB is not a good platform for serious blog-worthy thought. The lack of formatting works against long, involved writing of any sort, not to mention one can't even embed HTML hot links.

Jane the Actuary said...

How about this:

There are three categories of bloggers, right?

those who blog for a living (e.g., Megan McArdle), those whose blogging enterprise is a nice healthy supplement to their day job (Althouse), and those for whom blogging is just a quirky hobby (me).

(I'm not sure where to slot Glen Reynolds -- seems to me that at this point instapundit.com has got to be his primary income source, not the law prof gig.)

But The Dish, as a freestanding blog, was only a late incarnation, anyway, wasn't it? Wasn't he originally a blogger attached to a large publication?

And if you're a full-time writer, and you're good, and you've got the readership, isn't that the ideal?, to get an income without needing to manage the business side, which, at the top level, has to be more than just turning on Google Ads and becoming an Amazon affiliate.

Why does anyone need to romanticize being unaffiliated?

Anyway, you want Unaffiliated Generalist Bloggers? We're out there. We're largely invisible, though, especially as far as lazy journalists are concerned.

Writ Small said...

" much of the entertainment of the Dish was watching him walk back his more outrageous arguments...."

Much of the entertainment of Althouse is watching her refuse to walk back her more outrageous arguments.

Fernandinande said...

I skimmed the article to see if it had any data (nope, just fluff), and noticed this: [somebody was] responsible for great mischief, including the publication of an excerpt from Charles Murray’s pernicious “The Bell Curve”

Author is a PC kinda moron ("poron"). Hence the fluff.

traditionalguy said...

We need one of those new independent thinking computers that can reprogram itself and control its readers' minds or come out and kill them for disobedience.

After that model is for sale on Amazon, we have 2 days for delivery and then the world is wiped out.

Fernandinande said...

Achilles said...
There is no shortage of rich statists like Arianna who will self fund a blog and eventually get picked up.


The best blogs are on www.unz.com. The NewYorker/NYT and ilk actively ignore them because they can't challenge them intellectually and they're afraid their readers might notice the Emperor's lack of clothing. I think most of the bloggers there - no statists that I can detect - are paid by Unz.

YoungHegelian said...

...responsible for great mischief, including the publication of an excerpt from Charles Murray’s pernicious “The Bell Curve”

Jeezo-peep, what a freakin' peckerhead the author is! That issue of the TNR was printed not only the excerpt from "The Bell Curve", but the whole issue was taken up with other authors critiquing it. It wasn't like it was presented as the unvarnished truth about the races --- full stop ---.

So, bring up something that challenges the author's ideological pieties, even if done with multiple dissenting voices, and you're being pernicious. Sure, I'll trust this guy with my 1st Amendment rights. Hey, why not?

Biff said...

TLDR version: "So-called 'professional journalists' haven't figured out how to use blogs to enjoy the perks, prestige, and lifestyle that went with the title of 'journalist' thirty years ago."

People who blog for any reason other than to call themselves "journalists" (and get paid the way they used to) don't count.

Brando said...

Whether a blog can be a moneymaker is hard to say--I don't know the economics involved. But as a medium itself, there's certainly demand for various types of blog, and they create their own little communities. I see no reason the blog should die out.

Sullivan's blog was enjoyable because it was prolific (dozens of posts each day, even weekends) and was all over the place--pretty much every subject was covered. His political leanings often left a lot to be desired, but at least he addressed counterarguments with a lot more thought than most pundits would.

Laslo Spatula said...

There is a Laslo-Shaped Hole
on the side of this Blog
where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go
And it really doesn't matter if
I'm wrong I'm right
Where I belong I'm right
Where I belong
See the people commenting there
Who disagree and never win
And wonder why they aren't Laslo.

I am Laslo.

Chris N said...

You know, the big-time bloggers: Paul Krugman, John Cassidy...

I think one often writes to figure out how little one knows, or maybe to reveal one's real ideals, allegiances, and beliefs to one's self, and maybe to others.

Challenging your ignorance and thinking ideas through honestly is another matter, hence the presumed authority of Finnegan (writing from 'no-where' as if he had some special knowledge for his audience).

Thanks buddy.

I want facts, information and digging around, skepticism from news outlets, and if they fluff it up and dumb it down to generate revenue in an open marketplace so be it. that's what big orgs can do. Be skeptical of political authority, and perhaps your own. Wear it lightly.

With bloggers, I want something they know about, something interesting, maybe more personal and intellectually honest; a unique take.

Sullivan kept blowing hard for as long as he could. His Iran coverage was good, and his team generated decent journalism at times. But, there sure was a lot of blowing, and hard. Also some derangement, and lots of shrieking, hysterical self-regard.


Krumhorn said...

a blog-shaped object

Hahaha....very good.

I now read fewer and fewer blogs. The Anchoress has sort of moved on. Neptunus Lex was killed in a crash of his jet fighter. Our hostess now remains as my oldest and most regularly read blogger/blogress. Volokh and Climate Audit get a frequent read and Ann's introduction to us of Tom and Lorenzo was a welcome addition.

I doubt that anyone decides to blog as a means to generating income. I rather suspect that the only motivation to inducing someone to read your blog (or our comments to the blog) is the hope, with apologies to Stephen Schwartz, that one will be:

Popular!
You're gonna be popu-u- ler. Lar.

- Krumhorn

Krumhorn said...

Speaking of which, our hostess has certainly perfected the blogress equivalent of the practiced hair toss.

Toss Toss

- Krumhorn

retired said...

This is a leftist blog pretending to be something else. With Looney leftist commenters to boot.

tim in vermont said...

I think what they mean is that it is difficult to monetize a blog like this so they are irrelevant.

Whatever. The samizdat (clandestine from commerce) of writing for writing's sake continues.

tim in vermont said...

This is a leftist blog pretending to be something else. With Looney leftist commenters to boot.

Nah, on a lefty blog that comment would get you banned.

tim in vermont said...

So the article on the Washington Examiner linked by Drudge that Obama is looking to regulate political blogs based on 75K comments already has 12K comments.

wildswan said...

Think about this
Andrew Sullivan quits
Brian Williams is out
Jon Stewart quit

Meanwhile Jeb Bush and Hilary Clinton announce plans to raise 600,000,000 for the election - that's 600,000,000 for media mainly and allied industries like polling.

Just a coincidence?

And then the story suddenly starts to circulate that there are no independent bloggers left.

Is this all battle space preparation? setting the media so as to elect Wall Street's candidate - the mysterious facing-both-ways JebbaHil?

Anonymous said...

FB can be like a blog; Twitter is a different animal.

Early Gen X is retiring. (Sullivan. I'd include Stewart in Gen X in the same way that I consider Dylan a boomer even though he was born pre-1946. Obama in 2 years.) There is a cultural changeover in process. Blogging may be part of that.

retired said...

"This is a leftist blog pretending to be something else. With Looney leftist commenters to boot.

Nah, on a lefty blog that comment would get you banned."

They hardly moderate this blog at all. Look at all the nuts who post bad stuff. Crack, Laslo..

Then they vote for Obama.

Moose said...

Sully tried to reinvent the newsmag/oped mill in the small bitesized version, overreached and then found out running his "magazine" was too hard. I will miss his blog though. It helped me assess what stuff was truly trivial by he importance Sully assigned to it.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

retired,

They hardly moderate this blog at all.

"They"?

Look at all the nuts who post bad stuff. Crack, Laslo..

Crack has gone missing for a couple of months at least. Laslo is Laslo -- hey, he says so himself, every post :-)

If you're not into this particular style of free-form communication/dialogue, well, then you aren't, that's all.

sydney said...

Young Hegelian is right. Facebook is not a blog-friendly format. You can't arrange things on a post the way you would in a blog, and you can't do hyperlinks - which are very important in blogging. Twitter is even more limited.
Also- made me laugh out loud to see Paul Krugman listed as a serious blogger. HaHaHaHa. No one affiliated with a media organization is a serious blogger to me. I used to read Volokh once in a while, but since the move The Washington Post I rarely do. Find the pages too loaded up with junk. Download is too slow. Also- the URLs are harder to find once they move to a media forum. Ditto Megan McCardle, who I used to read regularly.

Laslo Spatula said...

Some people will see the mote in another's eye and yet miss the cucumber in their very own ass.

You would think you would know it was there, that cucumber in the ass, but evidently some people can be unaware, even when they sit down.

Sitting down: now you would THINK a person would go: "What the --? or "Hell, there is something sizable in my ass!"

Even though maybe they cannot know it to be precisely a cucumber at this particular moment you would have to at least be aware of a cucumber-like item.

And I would think curiosity would cause you to excuse yourself from the dinner table and go to the bathroom to investigate what the cucumber-like item is.

Yet they act like it isn't even there. Suck my mote.

Sorry to go all Biblical on everyone.

I am Laslo.

traditionalguy said...

They will never stop Bloggingheads. Twenty years from now an old Bob Wright will still be trying to understand Althouse who will mysteriously look younger than Uma Thurman.

Rockport Conservative said...

I have a blog, I have very few readers and I have started doing mainly just links and comments. It isn't that I haven't thought things out,it is a lot of work for very little return.

I have never looked for a monetary return but an intellectual return would be nice. I am very disheartened by comments on many of the blogs and newspapers that I read. I do believe many commenters are just flat out trolls who have nothing else to do but rabble rouse.

Leslie Graves said...

I would enjoy it so much if in 10 years you were the last one left standing. It would be like the QED for cruel neutrality = the true heart of blogging.

Danno said...

"...Twitter and Facebook are essentially blogs."

Not much to be said on a format that limits you to 140 characters.

And Faceplant is where the cool kids "used to" hangout, but it has been abandoned and is inhabited by mostly grandparents.