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State of the News Media

For an in-depth look at the state of the news media, check out the annual report from The Project for Excellence in Journalism.

For our purposes, we're focusing on the online portion - especially the section on blogs.

First, some quantitative stuff:

As the number of blogs grows, so do blog readership numbers. A study conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project showed that blog readership among Internet users increased 58% in 2004. Blog readership now stands at 27% of Internet users (or 32 million Americans), up from 17% in February 2004. Blog readers are more likely to be young, male, well educated, and long-time Internet users (online for six or more years). But the Pew Internet Project also shows there has been considerable growth in blog readership among women, minorities, and those between 30 and 49 years old....

The two most common reasons people read blogs, according to the survey of blog users, is to provide a better perspective, and get news faster. Those preferences generally reflect public opinion in general on why people go the Web for news: for diversity and variety of content as well as the speed with which the Internet posts news developments....

But the most compelling stuff is qualitative; with a discussion about how blogs are different than traditional journalism - and do different things with respect to the audience.

For now, blogs are largely an echo chamber and commentary channel, rather than a "news" source. Every so often a critical mass of blog chatter or a really newsworthy fact will emerge from the blogosphere, but their impact on the traditional media dialogue is still occasional. Instead, the overall impact of blogs flows in other directions.

First, the ease of creating a blog ("push-button publishing") allows millions of new people to throw their voices into the online "commons." It is even easier to grab a virtual soapbox using a blogger site than it is to create a Web site. Most blogs are probably not focused on politics at all, or even news in the broader sense, but rather are public journals. Not all of them gain an audience. Still, the most prominent of them have audiences rivaling some of the most influential columnists.

Second, even if bloggers aren't all newshounds, they represent a parallel culture that makes life more interesting and complicated for credentialed, mainstream journalists. In pre-blog days, the only real feedback journalists got was the occasional angry phone call or letter to the editor. Now every word Dan Rather utters and every sentence in The New York Times is dissected in the blogosphere. That must make journalists think twice about what they decide to publish - and what they decide not to publish. Journalists now live in the same panopticon environment - always being watched - as celebrities and public officials.

Third, bloggers have a substantial capacity to keep a story alive. The real-time nature of blogging shortens the news cycle to a nano-second, but the drumbeat of bloggers can keep a story alive for much longer than one news cycle. Look at how the Swift Boat Veterans worked for weeks before there was much attention to their campaign against Kerry. Look at how the constant humming in blogs and other online places about the return of the military draft kept the story alive even without much comment from the campaigns.

Fourth, it is so easy to measure things in the blogosphere using technology that provides an almost daily tracking "poll" on our culture. We know from a variety of measuring tools online (the Google Zeitgeist for keyword searches, DayPop for blog content, etc.) what the "buzz" is.

The larger cultural impact is that blogging has shattered the traditional boundary between "consumers" and "producers" of news. The audience is also a kind of newsroom, where ideas are absorbed, remixed, and republished.

Posted on March 15, 2005 in
news media.