The Brave New World of Blogs

From the Washington Post via Arnold Kling comes this table on Newspaper readership:

Age Group 1967 readership rate 2004 readership rate
18-24 70.8 39.0
25-34 72.7 38.8
35-54 81.0 53.0
55+ 75.5 67.4

Perhaps more people are getting their news online? But from The Daily Show [see Micha's post] we've heard the horrid truth about this brave, terrible new world where information comes from "someone with a computer who gathers, collates and publishes accurate information that is then read by the general public." Of course, "They have no credibility. All they have is facts. Spare me...These guys need to learn: you don't report on reporters. Nobody likes a snitch!" Not like a real journalist, who is "not sitting at home in front of my computer. I'm out there busting my hump every day at the White House, transcribing their press releases, repeating their talking points."

The final punchline questions whether the transition from MSM to blogs will truly change anything: "For with legitimacy, the bloggers will gain a seat at the table, and with that comes access, status, money, power. And if we've learned anything about the mainstream media, that breeds complacency...or, whatever."

While the skewering of MSM here is brilliant, I really don't think the same thing will happen to blogs. The key is the different barriers to entry for the two mediums. Becoming an MSM journalist takes some effort, and becoming a publisher is expensive. Those protected by this barrier have been able to afford some complacency. But with the advent of the blogosphere, things are changing. When anyone can become a news source, and its trivial for audiences to switch between sources, news providers are in a constant battle for market share - and competition is ruthless to the complacent. (This is of course parallel to the advent of the printing press, which forced monarchies and the Catholic church to fight for market share in the ideosphere)

Sure, there will be big blogs with a fanatical readership who are locked-in, and those blogs may get a bit stale. But there will always be upstarts willing and able to provide quality and novelty in an attempt to move up the heirarchy. I doubt the top tier will be able to ignore these upstarts, as they'll have to link to blogs below them to maintain a flow of interesting material. Yet doing so exposes their audience to potential competitors, aiding mobility. I suspect another important factor will be link-only or link-heavy blogs (or services like del.icio.us), which sift through a large volume of blogs (or other linkers) at the levels just below them to cull the best entries. Since they provide a different service than original posters, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from disseminating the best.

And of course, the whole idea of a single heirarchy is an old-school model, since there are a wide variety of readers and interests. Improvements in quality and variety as price drops towards zero - oh brave new world indeed!

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