Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mainstream Media

No pictures today - just the following food for thought. Read the article first, then I'll offer up my thoughts below:

Bloggers hitch wagons to the traditional media

August 23, 2009

A funny thing happened on the way to blogosphere dominance of the global conversation. Many of the most prominent bloggers have hitched their wagons to the traditional mainstream media (MSM). Yes, the same MSM that bloggers, or Internet diarists, ceaselessly ridiculed as slaves to conventional wisdom.

If the struggle to "monetize" online readers is the chief priority of MSM proprietors from Rupert Murdoch to the Sulzberger family of The New York Times, venerable newspapers and TV networks are at least deriving some revenue from their online products, despite the current, unprecedented advertising drought.

Yet even the best-read bloggers, the ones who break news and whose analysis is of must-read value to specialized audiences, are in far more dire financial straits. And they are coming in from the cold.

There was always a tendency for bloggers to save their best stuff for the MSM.

For instance, when it came time for a Rush Limbaugh takedown, David Frum penned a cover story last March for Newsweek. But now, even the pretence of independence is going by the wayside. Andrew Sullivan has moved his one-man blog to The Atlantic. Fellow former independent bloggers Andrew Coyne and Eric Alterman (Altercation) now blog for Maclean's and The Nation, respectively.

It works the other way, of course. The Toronto Star is in the company of scores of MSM outlets, broadcast and print, in "repurposing" traditional journalists into bloggers. Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman completes the points he makes in his New York Times columns on his "The Conscience of a Liberal" blog for that paper.

It turns out that traditional media remain unrivalled in audience reach. More than anything, bloggers and other "opinionators" want a vast audience. But blogs reach their saturation point quickly, a big audience being 2,000 or so. There is little "stumble upon" factor in blogs – strangers who come across a website by accident and become fans. You won't stumble across the website of prolific blogger Mark Steyn at the dentist's office, as you will Chatelaine. Opinionators want to change the world, and only a tiny fraction of it is tuned in.

Peggy Noonan's weekly four minutes of face time on Meet the Press – must-watching for official Washington – and each of her weekly columns in the dead-tree Wall Street Journal make more of an impression than a thousand blog posts.

In order to drive up audience numbers, the U.S. political website Talking Points Memo, the first online journal to win a prestigious Peabody Award for investigative journalism, and Frum's recently launched newmajority website, have adopted the "aggregator" model of Huffington Post, Newser and Tina Brown's newish Daily Beast.

Aggregator sites offer congeries of mini-blogs, rewritten New York Times and Us Weekly articles, celebrity gossip and YouTube videos. As online variety shows, they do enjoy better ratings. But the voices of the erstwhile independent bloggers who have bunked in with the aggregators has been greatly diluted.

If that new online business model seems familiar, it is. It's the same role played by newspapers, the pioneer aggregators. (Unless you count all the contributors to the Bible.)

We are witnessing the triumph of the allegedly extinction-bound MSM over their cyberspace detractors. The economic reality is that the 224-year old Times of London boasts vastly more "brand-name awareness," as marketers say, than the best-written, most imaginatively designed blog in the world. So do The Lancet, Paris Match and National Public Radio.

And that's separate from the newspapers' and TV news channels' vaunted advantage in newsgathering, about which we so often hear from those making the case for "saving" our endangered traditional news media. The MSM win because of their continued, far larger financial resources, ubiquity of distribution, and decades-long familiarity and trust with audiences.

So if it ever was a war – and some of the early bloggers called it that– the MSM have won it. Why?

Because bloggers who piggyback on The Economist, Reuters, The Atlantic, The Nation, CBS News or the Toronto Star have to accommodate themselves to the standards and practices of those MSM outlets, which the original bloggers found overly restrictive.

There always will be independent bloggers content with an audience of 20, or 200, or 2,000 for their arcane field of inquiry. That's why there are an estimated 200 million-plus blogs.

But there will always be bloggers who want to reach a bigger audience, which is why the lifespan of the average blog is two to three months.

So, long live the best blogs in their evolution into appendages of the mainstream media.

Okay, so even though I am a blogger, I have to say quite ecstatically, HOORAY FOR MAINSTREAM MEDIA!! Yes, I'm still very much of the 20th Century mindset on this subject, as I wholeheartedly believe in "old" media such as TV and print journalism (as well as just general print publishing) being a superior way to communicate to the masses when utilized properly. For the record, my own blog is simply this ol' curmudgeon's way of waxing nostalgic over the past and griping about what I perceive to be this "Age of Mediocrity" that we now live in. Apart from that, The Cartoon Cave and its author do not pretend to be anything of great journalistic importance.

On another point - Many people have been after me to put together a printed collection of my celebrity caricatures, suggesting I self publish and sell my wares at comics shows, etc. While I would very much love to have a collection of my art published, I'd still far rather go through the more traditional route of getting an established book publisher interested in doing so. Why? Well, quite frankly, after having had a home computer now for just over 10 years, I still consider myself a rather hopeless novice. I really don't know how to design and publish a book myself, as I'm just not savvy to how it's all done. Even if I could figure it all out, then there's the expense of having a realistic number of copies printed up, or, alternately, going with some print-on-demand service like Cafe Press for example.

The big problem with the former approach is that I then have to worry about how to distribute my wares to whatever audience may be interested. Frankly, I'm just not keen on the idea of trying to sell books out of the trunk of my car! I suspect I'd never be able to make a profit on such a venture. The latter approach of setting up a print-on-demand service through Cafe Press or some other such online printing company doesn't appeal to me either. Sure, there'd be no physical inventory stacked up in my basement to worry about, but I also am painfully aware that the only people who get rich from Cafe Press are the bigwigs at Cafe Press itself. They take a huge chunk of the sales and only start paying anything when a certain dollar amount of sales are made - nothing until then.

No, I'm still hoping to someday have a collection of my caricatures published traditionally, preferably through some well established publisher of art-related books who would recognize the merit in such a venture. If anybody out there has any connections with potentially interested parties, please send them the links to my blog and website. If a publisher can make me some money, I'm more than happy to make them money too. That's the way it should be, and that's why I still appreciate and respect mainstream media!

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