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You are generalising; real nuggets of information and analysis are produced daily among the millions of blog entries, and social filtering sites are increasingly successful in bringing them to light.

You err in dismissing "We The Media", and the "Wisdom of the Crowds". Have you not read the books ?


Two things:

1) I agree that no blogger should compare him or herself to, say, Seymour M. Hersh (except in very very rare cases e.g. a guy blogging from Iraq, and even then). On the other hand, since a lot of the MSM has itself become opinion rather than fact based, the 'blogosphere' can in fact compare itself to that aspect of journalism that has become derivative. What I mean is, in the recent past (and I'll be using Canada here as my example, since I am Canadian) there's been a lot of cutting back on investigative journalism. In its place, newspapers have been running columns by personalities, many of whom are soft news people or right wing provocateurs rather than old fashioned journalists. This is part of a strategy to boost circulation while cutting costs (investigative journalism costs more to produce than having some guy churn out some nasty piece about Sheila Copps or Hillary Clinton). Unfortunately, this means we're getting less of what is unique to journalism and more of what can be found in blogs. This shift, in my view, is what makes blogs more attractive to readers. Certainly, in my own case, I am attracted to the opinions of left wing bloggers who are reading the same stories as I am. In order to compete, newspapers should probably do what the New Yorker does well, which is in-depth or investigative stuff. The MSM needs to be seen to be breaking the story and it needs to be seen as sober, honest and fair. If newspapers go the other way and try to compete by being opinion only, that would be a disaster.

2) There's nothing inherent in the technology of internet publishing so far that would limit it forever to me-ness or to being derivative.

Chris Wilson

"You are generalising; real nuggets of information and analysis are produced daily among the millions of blog entries, and social filtering sites are increasingly successful in bringing them to light."

Since this comment immediately follows mine, I'm wondering if it was directed at me. Even if it isn't, it's a chance to elaborate a bit on my point.

Yes, there are hordes of blogs generating content that is of value - some derivative, some not. Most of them, however, live way down the tail where tiny audiences are the norm. Fortunately, social filtering sites (such as InstaPundit, Fark.com, or BoingBoing) are all about "discovering" valuable tidbits in the long tail (in addition to their role as commentators on MSM stories). The popularity of these social filtering sites places them much closer to the head - again, to the chagrin of the MSM, which has occupied the head exclusively for so long.

So long as producing and publishing a blog is easy and low-cost, these long tail sites will continue to do exactly what they do - introduce new perspectives into a previously limited collection of perspectives. And so long as *that* is happening, social filtering sites that are almost entirely derivative will exist to bring valuable long-tail sites to the attention of the masses that feed predominantly at the head.

Therefore...unless/until the blogosphere can compete with the MSM in terms of information collection resources, the MSM will rule the head - specifically due to its ability to bring original content to the masses. However, the MSM will not do so with impunity, as the pajama-clad bloggers have made perfectly clear in recent years.

BTW - one clarification. Earlier I said that a long tail phenomenon is a snap-shot. What I meant is that a long tail *curve* is a snapshot. Wherever a particular information source resides on the curve is largely a function of timing, especially when it comes to normally long-tail blogs that are enjoying their 15 minutes (for whatever reason).

Arnie McKinnis

Taking Chris's Long Tail into consideration, most blogs don't get much traffic - is large when you take them as a whole - but dwarfed by blogs like this.

As I blogger, I don't take offense at your comments - professional journalists and professional publications are here to stay. And I believe that in alot of situations, they drive the initial converstation - blogs are a virtual water cooler, allowing the little guy to express his opinion. Nothing wrong with that.

Jonathan Trenn

Artie McKinnis points out something that I think a lot of people miss. The fact most blogs - and I'm talking about those that discuss society, politics, life, issues, trends, business, etc. basically have no or very little audience. On my blog, I'll get a comment or two here and there, where on blogs such as this one, you'll see 10, 50, or a 100 or more comments.

To me this means that we've got an unintended hierarchy in the blogosphere. Prominent bloggers have become the 'go-to' sites in the blogosphere. They carry weight (as can mainstream media) even though they can be full of themselves or full of shit. (That's not saying that Malcolm or anyone else here is either.)

My deeper concern is that, at times, I've seen a 'partially' intended hierarchy where many of the most influential of bloggers talk only amongst themselves.

I don't mean that to be a biting criticism. Many of those top bloggers don't have the time to read 837 blogs each day. None of us do. But it may be that an unintended consequence of all of this is that there will end up being a new and somewhat clearly defined (albeit unofficial and constantly transforming) layer of commentators and influencers that the rest of us get our info from.

David Lewin


I am surprised that you were not able to find any critics of Wages of Wins who had read the book. I read it, read your review and blogs about it, and expressed my disapointment with the book in a review here: http://www.82games.com/lewin2.htm

Christopher Horn

Many folks may eventually gravitate to mid-size blogs as a means for consolidating a point of view on news of the day.

Why? Due to the lack of trust of the "slant" of information provision from the MSM/mainstream blogs.

Here's a great example: warrantless wiretapping. Legal? Not legal? In addition to reporting on the facts of the case, both the MSM and mainstream blogs (like Kos on the left, Instapundit on the right) will establish an opinion about the fundamentally murky issue of warrantless wiretapping's legality.

And, depending on their own individual politics, readers will either be irritated or not particularly enlightened by that slant.

Consider the alternative - a midsize, politically diverse community in a derivative blog. The blog will lead off with the story derived from the MSM.

However, within the thread, the 'regulars' will battle one another by promoting their (well-established) worldviews, pro or con, and the internal competition will be highly motivating to the politically diverse regulars.

The rest of the community then benefits from the opportunity to sift through strongly formed pro and con arguments, which forms their own POV regarding the issue at hand.

I am a contributor on just such a blog; whenever any controversial issue arises, I rely much more on the back and forth (both opinions and sourcing) of the blog community vs. the MSM.

That back and forth is far more valuable than the imposed point of view of any particular MSM journalist.

Tom McDonald

Thank you, Malcom, for maintaining a critical concern for the question of substance within the proliferating din of mediation.

nellie lide

I actually bought the book after reading your blog about it - but not for myself, for my son - who has since read it. He said it had good points but was a little boring - he's very interested in the business of sports and will go to college this fall. I told him that this book, your blog and Mark Cuban's blog are good places to start if you're interested in looking at sports a little differently. So I didn't read it, but I didn't blog about it either. I'm surprised at your search, because most bloggers are pretty smart people who do actually read.


It's not difficult to identify and assess the MOST successful blogs, globally and locally, and ALL of them only ever provide commentary about reporting in the MSM, or commentary about the MSM from other of their favored bloggers.

Shock horror? I don't think so.

The bleedin' obvious? Duuh.

In addition, the most frequented ("popular") blogs are largeley those that provide a forum for extreme left or right commentary about political matters.

Where on earth do people think these bloggers "source" there material? They sit in parliaments, read Hansards, visit war zones, interview presidents?

Ah, no ... didn't think so.

How utterly precious that anyone, anywhere, would get uppity over the statement of fact that mainstream blogs (and there IS now such a thing) would not exist if they could not source content from traditional media material.

Eric Reiss

When it comes to publishing, the lower the barrier to entry, the harder it becomes to separate the wheat from the chaff. The original/innovative/valuable thoughts may not be fewer on blogs, but they are certainly much farther between.

I rely on professional journalists to do for information and analysis what Google does for websites – make the stuff I need/ought to know more easily accessable.


You said:
"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."

Who told you that we've been found? What gets covered in the papers and the media is SO chalk full of agenda, as is what gets released by the government. As someone who has worked in communications at a private sector / media and public sector / government level, it has been pretty easy for me to see how stories get "air."

That being said, I don't think the papers are better or worse than television or radio. I think that people themselves need to continue to sift deeper. Real communicaitons is a two way street.

Derek Vaz

To put it simply; People read the paper on the train to work and with breakfast on Saturday mornings. I don't see this changing even for someone like myself who reads 4-6 different blogs a day.

Robert Payne

I do not see why this is even a debate. Whether people pick up the print piece or go online, the role of journalism as it relates to established media outlets will always be relevant. And, like sheep to the herd, advertisers will follow. Can newspapers employ blogging journalists to increase their reach? Definitely.

Christopher Horn

I thought of this thread when I got my notice from Time Magazine that it was time to renew (I originally signed up through soon-to-expire air miles).

Time Magazine will let me get my hands on another 52 issues for the low, low price of $19.95.

Now, I haven't been a regular magazine subscriber for about 10 years or so, but 15 years ago the best a subscriber could hope for from a weekly magazine would be about a buck an issue.

I'll take it as a given that the rise of alternative media has eroded much of Time's pricing power. Rather, my focus will be:

Time Warner (parent of Time Magazine) is a for-profit corporation. As the pricing power of their businesses erodes, it stands to reason that the for-profit entity will have to cut costs to maintain profitability.

This development would necessarily restrict the magazine's ability to provide source reporting; why pay to have a reporter in Baghdad when you can get the 'data' from Reuters and opinions from some dude sitting in NYC?

Conversely, as global communications becomes easier and easier, bloggers/internet sources should be able to get 'live' reports from war zones, perhaps from locals that read the blog and call in updates on their wireless PDAs.

My prediction: the era of the 'derivative' online news source poaching mainstream publications is coming to an end; we will soon look back on it with the fondness we feel for many other types of dinosaurs....

john massengale

You said, "One last point: I must say that my own experience with this blog has only hardened my belief in the intrinsically derivative nature of blogging."

I guess it depends on what blogs you read. I mainly read DesignObserver, 2Blowhards, Curbed and Soxaholix (even though I'm a Yankees fan), and then jump around to others through links. It sounds like you mainly read blogs about journalism and politics: I'd rather read the Times than read most of those. So yes, and no, as the English say.

At my own blog I sometimes talk about the Times, mainly to talk about what ideologues the paper's architecture critics are. I'm a practicing architect who has professional disagreement with them (and unlike them, I'm talking about my own profession). I've also been involved in events which the Times has misreported, like the post-Katrina charrette in Mississippi.

To that I can add that as a born and bred New Yorker, let me say that a number of New York art critics are still living in a provincial New York world in which many of the cultural assumptions of 25 years ago are given too much credence. There's no correlation between the ability to write well and insight into the visual arts.


BTW, I'm the visiting architecture professor at UM who stood up at your enjoyable talk this week.

robert benjamin

I appreciated your article, "No Mercy," (9.4.06, The New Yorker), on zero tolerance, and surprised and disappointed there was not more of a response. I think how our culture uses rules and laws is a critical issue in this century. In March, 2003, I published a piece titled, "About Rules: Between 'Zero Tolerance," and 'Don't Ask/Don't Tell,' www.mediate.com. The tension between rules and the exercise of discretion is increasing in every part of our lives. Paradoxically, while there is a need for some rules, many rules encourage and exacerbate conflict, not lessen it. In this post-Columbine, 9.11 age, one of the more poignant, yet missed unintended consequences of over reliance on rules.

robert benjamin, www.rbenjamin.com

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Wonderful pages! Keep up the grat work.

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