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Are Blogs the New Newspapers?   (March 29, 2007)

Are blogs the new newspapers? Reader H.S.K. got me thinking about blogs and media in a new way:

Let me say that I have been reading your blog for several months now (as well as a few others). Your site stands out mainly because of the high degree of thought and creativity of content that you provide on a daily basis.

I think that because of the great quality consistently on your site that you, Charles, are what the post-modern newspaper will someday become. The newspaper business is going to change and people are already turning to alternate sources (e.g. Drudge Report) to get their news fix. (emphasis added)

H.S.K. quotes from the following story:

A roomful of journalists could not resist asking about the prospects for newspaper stocks. Buffett and Munger were surprisingly bearish on newspapers, a major investment for Berkshire through its large stake in the Washington Post Co. and its outright ownership of the Buffalo News.

After saying that he and Munger are "newspaper addicts" and that "it's still an unusually good business," Buffett struck a somber note.

"The economics of newspapers are very, very close to certain to deteriorate over the next 10-20 years," he warned. "I see nothing that will turn around the erosion from both the circulation and advertising standpoints."

-Warren Buffett at shareholder meeting in 2004
As newspapers around the world tighten their belts, consolidate and merge, and invest less in their newsrooms, it will be up to sites like yours to provide the content that people simply cannot get anymore from their local paper. How many reporters out there, due to budgetary constraints and restricted deadlines and a headline's "sexiness" quota, currently just go to the internet for their story, punch it up a bit and submit? I'll bet that this is becoming more common every day.

What you do is already very similar to what they provide today, but in my opinion greatly superior. The byline on the site does not have to be yours, you have access through your readers to a vast sea of collective knowledge of the highest caliber. You can offer their insights (and you do, generously giving credit where due) and your site is that much better for it!

I was reading this today: Bubble Markets Inventory Tracking . This is one of the better Bubble Blogs, and I will ask them soon to add your site to the list of blog links they offer. While the LA Times was not technically wrong, more investigative research would have uncovered the real story, which would have made far more interesting reading.

Charles, I believe that there are many of us who already have quit watching the nightly news with its "if it bleeds, it leads" stories and its complex issues that they want to boil down into 3 minute and 22 second sound bites that are explosively delivered by "experts" who are nothing more that actors playing the pros vs cons. Somewhat entertaining, but that is not going to solve the complex issues that our country faces over the next 50 years.

I think you are an "early adopter" of the newspaper format of the future, and although things most days don't look so good, your blog is a bright spot in the clamoring din coming from the professional corporate news machine. (emphasis added)

I also wanted to let you know that I received a special offer for the Wall Street Journal for a year (with on-line access) for $99, and I would have taken them up on it a few years ago, but today, I would rather spend that on 3 or 4 of my favorite bloggers who truly do provide our country with a great service.
Thank you, H.S.K., for the praise and the insightful commentary on the future of media.

Here is contributor Paul M.'s assessment of the mass media's weaknesses and the impact of blogs:

But I think the overall discourse, given the nature of the Internet and blogging, has this ripple effect that transcends the number of supporters who identify mainly with OfTwoMinds. Quality sites such as yours have a much greater impact than you might realize. So although some of the topics often are presented with highly technical analysis, the issues don't always lend themselves to simple solutions. Think derivatives. Zero discussion in the mainstream media, with the exception of the financial press, which appears to be exuberant cheerleaders one day and somber bears the next. And I am not saying the mainstream is without value. They just don't follow a logical progression sometimes.
Astute reader Phil M. comments on what differentiates blogs from the mass media-- the personal touch: (please pardon my reprinting of praise, something I don't do unless there's another point being made by the reader)

I forget how I stumbled upon your blog, but I am very grateful that I did. The blog phenomena are fascinating for many reasons, with great content and the allure of an emerging new media type probably chief among them. But what made me hit your PayPal button in an instant (okay, a couple of seconds) was that I've come to regard you as a sort of friend that I like to listen to, that lubricates my own thinking. Usually the loudest or most emphatic guy at the pub gets the most attention, but I wish it was someone more like you: sensible, compassionate, insightful, classy, witty and human.
These reader insights made me realize why this site attracts so many of the best and the brightest--it's you. The high quality of the readers' comments insures the quality of the dialog between myself as "editor" and you as reader and contributor is equally high. As HSK put it so well: you have access through other readers to a vast sea of collective knowledge of the highest caliber.

It made me ponder the weaknesses inherent in both the mass media and the blogosphere. In the mass media, readers/viewers are shoved aside onto "letters to the editor" unless theu're an expert in academia or government who is known as an expert to the media. Anyone without these PR credentials is basically ignored.

The only vote readers have is to "vote with their feet," i.e. cancel their subscription. That's a pretty blunt tool for input.

As for "pundits," there are only a handful in the entire nation who get paid to pontificate as columnists, and unfortunately they generally are little more than ideological distillers: every topic gets mashed into a "Conservative" or "Progressive" diatribe, and frankly, that's about as entertaining (and useless) as "if it bleeds, it leads" journalism.

There's another serious problem with the major media, and many of you have written in to tell me you sense the same thing: the media simply isn't reflecting the realities we see around us. In general, the media coverage suggests everything is rosy with the U.S. economy, even as we see evidence to the contrary "on the ground." Some readers have gone so far as to suggest that they thought they were going crazy, as what they saw did not align at all with what the media "reports."

The blogosphere has its own inherent limitations as well.

There's the unfortunate tendency towards "cheerleader" sites which attract and reinforce those already possessing the same ideological views. If you "vote" for information which already aligns with your views, then is this truly "democratic"? Are you a better-informed citizen for reading materials which don't challenge your knowledge base or ideological bent?

Blogs offer plenty of opportunities for reader input--in fact, too many. Forums for readers to post comments and respond to each other and the host/writer can be interesting, but the problem with these is that they're huge time-sinks. On the rare occasion I read an entire chain of comments, I find myself exhausted by the expense of time and wishing that I could have read something with the same information condensed into a succinct format. None of us has time to read more than a handful of commentaries, so we want them to be succinct and fresh. This is the goal of professional journalism (or should be).

Then there's the problems inherent in anonymous blogging, where venomous or just plain idotic comments are posted with the same alacrity as thoughtful ones.

As I ponder the positive feedback I've received from so many of you, I am wondering what brings such savvy readers to this site. My guesses:

  • a variety of topics are addressed in depth, and some goofy ones thrown in for flavor. I try to mix topics so no one subject becomes pervasive.
  • Readers are treated with respect, as are their views. If you send in a commentary, you know I edit lightly, and let you speak for yourself. If you disagree with something I've posted, your views are given precedence, and you are credited as per your preference.
  • As HSK observes, we all benefit from the expertise of other readers--people who don't seem to get into the mass media depsite their knowledge and experience.
  • Since many if not most of the topics come from you, the readers, then the content is heavily interactive.
  • The content is not just a "link farm" and quotes from others; there is at least an attempt at original content--often courtesy of readers.
  • As a practising free-lance journalist with 19 years' experience, I try to keep the entries as short as possible. On complex topics, that can still be lengthy, but any less doesn't do justice to the subject's complexities.
  • Whenever possible, I try to substantiate facts with links and sources.
  • As editor, I try to select readers' comments which express a different view and try to edit (lightly) for length so a diversity of opinions are presented in a compact format you can read in a few minutes.
  • I avoid ideological diatribes because their practical value in solving real-world problems is generally nil. Furthermore, they insult the intelligence of those with opposing views.
  • Readers of this site are uniformly smart, curious, well-informed and smarter than I am. My most frequent comment to my wife is astonishment at just how smart and successful you readers are, and how amazed I am that the site draws such a diverse intelligence. It has been my very good fortune to learn from all of you, and to offer a modest forum for your thoughtful comments.

  • If I am off-base on all this, then by all means let me know.

    If I am an early adopter, as HSK suggests, then I am indeed fortunate, because I've somehow attracted one of the smartest readership on the web.

    (insert brilliant marketing line here which instantly causes erudite readers to)
    Your readership is greatly appreciated with or without a donation.

    For more on this subject and a wide array of other topics, please visit my weblog.


    copyright © 2007 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.

    I would be honored if you linked this wEssay to your site, or printed a copy for your own use.


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