Revolution will be blogged!

Are Blogs worth the hype? was the headline for a special package C/Net News.com put out last week. Made me think – are they really worth the hype? Or was this an old-new-media company wondering out aloud about its waning influence in the world of tech-news. I looked back to the early days of the Internet, and discovered that the old media, treated the then new media with same skepticism. Sure you cannot take all 3.5 million bloggers seriously, and by that same yardstick, you can’t deny a blogger his scoop. I have this longish essay on the whole subject and if you can get through it, I would love to get your thoughts and comments. (click on more to read the complete essay) Here is what others are saying

Growing old has a lot of downsides – hair plugs, expanding waistlines and broken dreams about playing in the big leagues. It has one upside though – perspective and context. And one thing I have perspective on is the rapidly changing nature of media in the modern world. Newspapers, radio, television, online news and now perhaps weblogs!

As a kid I dreamed of working for a newspaper, and then when I grew up, perhaps working for a magazine. The mighty editor up in the sky said, hang on a minute son, why don’t you skip the newspapers, and go work for a daily news wire. And maybe if you work hard enough, you might get a gig at a magazine. And who was I to argue! (Thank god it worked out as he had planned!)

News wires were great if you were a stock broker or worked in the news media. But if you were Joe Six Pack, then you had to turn on the radio, switch on the television or simply spend half-a-dollar on the newspaper in the morning. But something curious happened on the way to the newsroom: and it was called the Internet. The news wires were a beast that were replaced by a shiny new form of journalism called “online news media.”

Along comes “online” news media, and suddenly you could have the latest breaking news instantly. Think of it as the first step in the democratization of media. Anyway while this happened, some guys out in San Francisco decided to start a slew of publications like News.com and CBS MarketWatch.com. Salon.com and Slate.com joined the party. Out east, I jumped ship from the news wire world and joined a new publication called Forbes.com. Think of it as Forbes, only faster.

Fueled by Mountain Dew, Ray’s Pizza, and late night tournaments of Age of Empires, few of us built a brand new media property, sacrificing everything – in my case devilish good looks and an athletes’ body – to help grow the online news media. We were such upstarts, that none of the dead tree media took us seriously. No matter what you did, you could not get the props from the rest of media world for all the work you were doing. Our argument was plain and simple: it quacks like a duck, smells like a duck, and looks like a duck, it has to be a duck. So what if it flies a little faster.

Never mind, News.com broke stories on a daily basis, wrote compelling essays and brilliant features. Or Forbes.com nailed one of the fraudsters in the “old media.” Or that we generated more excitement for our parent company than any other part of the Forbes Inc. In short, despite what we did big media had no respect for the upstarts. The “online news exclusives” were somehow forgotten on the printed page. It would burn you up, that no one would credit you for the scoop you scored.

Fast forward to the future, and you find similar “cat-among-pigeons” attitude among the upstarts of the 1990s, the online news media. They are treating the Bloggers with same disdain as the old media treated the “online news media” back in the day. The headlines are the same, names have changed. Replace News.com by Bloggers! Are Blogs worth the hype? was the headline for a special package C/Net News.com put together earlier this month. (Interesting debate, with a special focus on negative.) And not quite surprising, since it is a worrisome trend for a large online publisher like News.com. It is something which needed to be said, someone had to say it, and well let it be me. I think “weblogs” are very threatening to some of these now old-new media.

Online news outlets changed the rules of the game and basically made most trade publications irrelevant. News.com won that round. Now it is facing its own waterloo. I think they have become nothing more than “news wires” with a better user interface. In their quest for mass market, the news has been simplified and reduced to the lowest common denominator. I am not sure about this, but some should do a historical study on the “News.com” links on Slashdot, and you would totally understand what I am talking about.

Here come weblogs, written by folks who have domain expertise. Russell Beattie on Wireless, any day over some article somewhere else. PaidContent over ClickZ, anytime. Weblogs let enthusiasts/knowledgeable folks have smart comments on news, and that is valuable to a very small niche that chooses to follow them. Throw in some guys like Rafat, Glenn and John and you have consistent slew of breaking news and scoops. So what does the old new media do? Deny them credit, and often use their “intelligence” as a source for their own stories. There are some on Wired News (not the magazine) who have made a career out of tracking what’s cool on Boing Boing! Jupiter Media and several others have adopted the “cat among pigeons” philosophy.

In words of great Yogi Berra, its like déjà vu all over again. An old editor of mine used to say, you have to give credit where it is due. I think one needs to have the same rules for the weblogs as well. Being someone who is fortunate enough to work for a magazine that indulged my blogging habits, it is fairly clear to me that weblogs are not going away. As a professional journalist, here are two simple observations: writing an article for a magazine, or a newspaper is like painting; while blogging is taking photographs. The end product in both cases is beautiful, just the end results and reactions are slightly different. Secondly, blogging is a “self correcting” media. You screw up, and people let you know in real time. As someone who gets paid to write, think about how cool it is that you have group-intelligence at your disposal, and you are less likely to make a mistake in your day job. There are three folks – you know who you are – who post so regularly in the comments section, and always keep me honest. And think about it – if there was no blogging we would all be denied Elizabeth Spiers’ wit, and Choire’s early morning verbal whip-lashing.

Last point, I think as Bloggers we should make an effort to credit the blogger who broke the story. We owe it to ourselves. David Sifry and Scott Rafer – can your smart engineering teams figure out a way to track who broke the story first? The entire blogger community could be grateful for a tool like that. (Support Open Media Project)

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