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No, it is not the definition of dertivative. It is the essence of lazy. Sheer and utter laziness.

Yes, bloggers like Church of the Customer Blog think (a) their arguments are so much better than others espicially journalists and (b) have no time to actually create content beyond comments on content.

There are too few blogs like EDSBS, Disgruntled SID, Ken Levine, Kevin Smith, and Autoblog that create content where none existed before. Heck, I would even settle for more blogs like footnoted.org and the Mess that Greenspan Made, which create stories and interpretations out of SEC filings and BLS data.

Unfortunately, the majority blogs are just blather; the product of a look at me, look at me now culture.


If the long tail thesis describes the world, does this mean a reduction in the number of things that pass a tipping point threshold?


When the NYT and Post write about bloggers, aren't they being derivative?

Doug Karr

"Proper Journalism or other Quality Content from us Professionals?"

This is both pretentious and dangerous. It's also the reason why the New York Times finds itself in trouble - laying off staff and cutting the size of the paper.

The only thing that journalists are professional at is writing. 'Professional' and 'quality' are both subjective terms that do not necessarily include 'expertise', 'comprehensive' and 'factual'.

The great opportunity with blogging as a resource of fact or fiction is that there is a community of 'true professionals' reading and responding to blog entries. Outside of the carefully screened Letters to the Editor, professional journalists do not afford us that opportunity.

There are many bad journalists and many terrible newspapers. Underestimating the power of the web and the expertise found in its bloggers is a mistake that I fear newspapers will not recover from.

Warmest Regards,

Eric Allam

You couldn't find anyone that read the book? There are plently of people who read books and post their reviews on their blog. My blog, 52reviews.com, does just that. Although newish, I read and write a review of a book each week. Within the review I will usually make comments or reference other bloggers thoughts on either the book or subject, but the review is mine and not much different then a newspaper review (although I don't claim to write as well).

Are those reviews derivative, or could they be considered primary?

Mr Angry

I agree that it's more than faintly ridiculous for people to get worked up by the notion that more blogs are derivative rather than creative. This isn't in and of itself a bad thing but people need to face that reality.

Because of the sheer volume of blogging going on, of course some of it is very high quality. And there are many example of better news coverage and more insightful analysis that that provided by major media outlets.

But it is pretty obvious that a large section of the blogosphere would be lost if they didn't have newspapers etc. to blog about. This doesn't make blogs irrelevant but we are a long way away from blogs making newspapers irrelevant.


Good post. I have noticed much of what I write on my blog uses traditional media as a primary source. Even when it is not the direct subject of the piece, a story I read in the Times or the Post is often the stimulant for a post-worthy thought.


I totally agree with you ,Malcolm.Print journalism is here to stay,it is not leaving public sphere anytime soon.
As long as print jouralism still stands for high-quality,uncannily in-depth,highly-interlinked,fully-informed,daringly truthful and perfectly newsworthy news coverage,people in the DERIVEATIVE creative arena will still be talking "orginally" about topical materials first broken and rendered "unoriginal" by Traditional Print Jouralism outlets.
So you arenot alone in this unpopular view,derivatively.....

Eric Pennington

I 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.


I think blogs serve a very valubale function rather than just regurgitating the news like so many commenters here claim. For example a lot of things newspapers and TV news used to be able to get away with they no longer can, thanks to blogs. They used to have a monopoly on the dissemination of information, but not anymore.

For example, back in the day a report like Dan Rather's George Bush Memo so close to a major election would have sunk Bush. But a few hours after the report a few diligent bloggers researched it and debunked it and now Mary Mapes and Dan Rather are washed up. Or you have blogs like Times Watch that painstakingly researches and debunks the liberal slant and factual errors in NY Times and other publications. Blogs like that have made me more of a critical thinker when reading the news rather than someone that just blindly accepts what the papers tell me. These blogs don't just regurgitate, they often provide extra information, research and figures that the original article writers either deliberately or sloppily left out.

Basically, a lot of blogs bring about more accountability for journalists, as a bad story can be instantly refuted and that refutation can be instantly disseminated virally. And to be honest, many political blogs seem to be more intellectually honest and better at reasoning than a lot of trained journalists.


Another thing, sometimes what blogs discuss things that are about newspapers but aren't necessarily reported by newspapers, yet these things provide a lot of perspective as to where the newspaper is coming from. For example my blog is not really political but sometimes discusses politics, and often just links to newspaper articles like Gladwell describes. But blogs like mine can occasionally link to something about newspapers that you can't actually find INSIDE the newspapers, like Times Publisher Sulzberger's left-wing anti-Bush commencement speech rant (as you can see here: http://johnnytriangles.blogspot.com/2006/05/sulz.html. This was barely reported in papers at all, but various blogs got tipped by people who were at the ceremony, got their hands on the transcript and published it. Months later when Sulzberger later defended revealing national secrets by claiming that the Times had nothing against Bush, a Wall Street Journal editorial brought up the commencement speech, which I'm sure he became aware of through blogs since it wasn't mentioned in any papers at the time. Most of the negative information about John Kerry had to be obtained through blogs (and talk radio) because the mainstream media was squarely in Kerry's corner (with the exception of Fox).

I think if anything, blogs play an important media watchdog role. It's changed the news from a one-way lecture from on high to a challenging conversation between two parties. Sure blogs use papers for information, but papers often do follow-up stories and change editorial focus now to respond to concerns and challenges that are brought up in blogs. So basically, information isn't just flowing one way here, the mainstream media watches blogs just as much as blogs watch the mainstream media.

Harold Henderson

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.


Well, I've since bought Charles Tilly's "Why" book, and read the review in the London Review of Books, and I intend to blog about it. Hopefully that puts a bit of a positive spin on blogs for you!

Henry Abbott

Two points:

#1 Blogs tend to give overt credit whenever ideas are derivative, which mainstream media has always hated doing. I can't tell you how many times I have read something original on Kottke or some other blog, and then seen it days later in the New York Times or another publication--trotted out as if it were a new idea with no mention of Kottke. I can imagine that might create a natural resistance among bloggers to feel they need to give any additional credit to mainstream media. MSM gets clear identification, and inbound links when they start the party. (I, for one, am vigilant to always include the actual name of the journalist who did the work.) But if a blogger like me breaks a real original story and makes real news that mainstream media follows? You can bet that the mainstream media will share credit only if they absolutely have to.

#2 In a talk a few months ago in New York (and I'm sure elsewhere) John Battelle made a convincing case that in this era of essentially limitless information, the key skill is not generating content, but parsing it.

Here's my example: think about the intelligence we had before 9/11. There were actual warnings in the intelligence system about these exact terrorists going to flight schools. But those reports were presumably lost in great piles of similar reports. In an ennvironment like that, what's more valuable, more reports? Or someone who can read them all, weigh their merits, highlight the most important ones, and offer perspective?

As a sports blogger, I don't know much about political bloggers. But at least in terms of sports, to me, that's a job where blogs are valuable and important. Certainly, a healthy flow of information requires both generators and parsers of information, but both are essential, the latter increasingly so.

And in that context--where bloggers are mainly here to parse, and reporters are mainly here to generate (and I'm generalizing wildly, realizing that both do both every day) it seems weird to bother pointing out that blogs tend to be derivative. That's like saying the work of a DJ is derivative of the work of the record companies, or the work of a chef is derivative of the work of the farmers.


Blogs will not bring newspapers down. What will? Rising costs of printing and paper, decreasing ad revenue, and a generation of readers who are more attuned to ingesting short 'hits' than lengthy articles.


"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."

Both left-wing and right-wing blogs have value, but in all honesty (and I'm not just saying this because I'm right-wing personally) I think the left-wing blogs have more value. For example you ask would we have heard negatives about Bush in Iraq without left-wing blogs. I say yes! All I hear about when I turn on the news is negative stuff on Iraq. Have you seen the press corps interviewing McClellan or Snow, they are downright rabid at times. As such, I think left-wing blogs that I read are a little redundant, because I can just get the same left-wing slant from the NY Times or LA Times. Not saying they aren't useful, but they haven't had any scoops on par with Dan Rather's Memogate, they usually spend all their time targeting Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, and most of the time it's a debatable misrepresentation rather than an outright lie.

Another thing blogs broke was when CNN executive Eason Jordan made a speech overseas claming that American soldiers were targeting reporters. In the old days he would have said such a thing and it would have received a media blackout. Bloggers did an end run around the media and like Mary Mapes, Eason Jordan was soon out of a job. Without bloggers that wouldn't have happened, and it all happened without help from the mainstream media that underreported the event.

And the other poster is right, bloggers are more gracious about crediting sources.


Oops, did a typo. Should have been the other way around and read "the right wing blogs have more value." Either way, no "minus one for commenters."


What to mini-mills, disk drives, and blogs have in common? Maybe nothing. Then again, maybe not. Throw in podcasts (video and otherwise) for good measure. I thought The Innovator's Delimna was a fascinating book, and I can't help but wonder if there is an application here...


I'm quite surprised to read how you argue on what a blog is about: just replace "blog" by "book", for instance, and you'll understand what I mean. "Are most books fiction/pulp/insightful?" Well, a book is a collection of sheets of paper--the rest is up to you; you don't even need to have a cover, an author, a title. Mass media here (somewhere in Europe) is more self-conscious, derivate and nombrihilistic than any blog I know of.

I understant the use of statistics, but I wouldn't recommand the method for a cultural phenomena. How many people have read The Sound and the Fury, Minight Children? Does is make those better books? Are all book novels?

Blogs now fulfill a gap left by the other means; let them find their own use before running to conclusion. Some people consider to have the RSS technology replace e-mail and can spam: can you see any of that possible revolution within Technorati figures? Nope, but I can assure you that as soon as close inter-personal communication is pooled with what you now call blog, the whole picture will change.


I'm gonna need some time to answer this article. I'll probably blog about it.


"It is a wonderful work of primary scholarship which ran initially in an old-media publication, and that I’m sure will spawn a great deal of interesting (and derivative) commentary on blogs like this one."

Zing! Loved this post. What will be interested to see will be blogs that emerge that are

1) large (in readership and staff)
2) profitable
3) extremely specialized

These actually will become primary sources. That would have been a better point for Chris to make, as it fits perfectly with The Long Tail's premise.

Stephen S. Power

Compare Anderson's comment:

"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."

To that of the infamous aide quoted in Ron Suskind's 10/17/04 NY Times article, "Without a Doubt":

"The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'"

I think an empire accurately describes the MSM's impression of itself in comparison to bloggers, and they have the same blinkered arrogance as the Bush Administration.

I also think the MSM goes out of its way to create its own narrative realities:

--Howell Raines drumming up controversy with Augusta over Martha Burke (which ESPN polls and sales of a book on the issue show no one cared about)

--The charactitures of Al Gore and John Kerry that they couldn't shake during the elections no matter what they did because the MSM had their story and the stuck to it

--Currently, the war in Lebanon, which has shown support for Israel go up in America, perhaps because there are no Arab voices on the MSM to counter those promoting the Israeli position

--Wolf Blitzer everyday seeing his carefully crafted narratives machine gunned by Jack Cafferty in just two minutes

--And is there any reason to go into Fox?

I should mention I'm only on page 10 of The Long Tail. It's very well-written and engaging, but I'm still waiting to see if it's not just about Anderson's discovery of what we in publishing call the backlist.

Jim Kerr

This is self-evident, Malcolm. Bloggers are commentators and not, with very few exceptions, journalists. Bloggers about politics, sports, news, and most other genres covered by traditional media aren't the ones interviewing players, attending press conferences, or surveying crime scenes. That's the role of old media, and I find it sad that a lot of new media refuse to acknowledge old media's importance.

There are exceptions, of course, and a lot of these tend to be first person accounts based on unique personal experience. The "I was watching as the plane hit the tower" type of blog post, but these citizen journalism type of posts are one-shot deals. The person observing the WTC tragedy and blogging about it won't be the person who drives to a tragic car crash the next day, just to make sure his or her citizen journalistic job is done.

There may come a time when EVERYONE blogs, and the collective force of individual citizen journalism can take over the role that traditional media plays, but that day is far off.

I still need to read old media to find an easy to navigate resource on what is happening in my town, my sports team, and countless other things.


MSM is a filter. So are blogs. At present, they are different kinds of filters. Blogs are at once much more finegrained filters and much more widegrained filters. They either take something from the MSM and put it under a microscope or they try to put a magnifying glass on things that the MSM doesn't deem signficant enough to merit coverage.

MSM is incredibly derivative too. There's a firehose of info out there (especially cultural production info), and there is a whole publicity infrastructure that filters this hose into the MSM (especially for things like politics, culture, etc).

While MSM dedicates more resources to content generation/investigation than do blogs, I suspect that as a percentage of the entire MSM budget, it's not a huge percentage (less the 50%). Even in the New Yorker, much of each issue is devoted to things like political commentary, music, book, and film reviews.

How is this any less derivative than a blogger writing a review? The same is true of most major newspapers. How much of the MSM is really just a press release from a publicist, repackaged and regurgitated as a news article?

When David Pogue writes about say the new MacBook in the NYT the same week that it is released, how is this anything but derivative? Certainly it is of interest to people, so at that level it is newsworthy, but on another level, it's just a piece in the Apple Computer publicity puzzle, and he is basically regurgitating info from Apple computer along with his own insights based on using one of the computers.

So there is a filter feeding him stuff to consider writing about. How did you decide to review Wages to Wins? Did you find it on your own? Or did a publicist approach the New Yorker about running a review of the book? How do books typically get reviewed in the New Yorker? Is the New Yorker staff actively out looking for cool stuff and only reviewing the stuff they thing is cool? Or are they constantly being presented stuff to review? Isn't that a derivative process?

Many bloggers do the same thing. They just don't have the New Yorker, NYT or David Pogue brand name (many of them also don't have his knowledge and writing ability either, which is why he has that job).

In fact, many bloggers are probably more actively seeking stuff out rather than passively having it presented to them for consideration (which is what happens in the MSM).

Just a thought.

Innovation Zen

I posted my view on the matter on the Innovation Zen site, check it out.

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