Journalists, bloggers and parasites

There’s an interesting discussion at the Online Journalism Review about whether bloggers are parasites:

Over the past months, I’ve heard several journalists make the same comment at various industry forums: That blogs are a “parasitic” medium that wouldn’t be able to exist without the reporting done at newspapers.

I hear the frustration behind the comment. You bust your rear to get stories in the paper, then watch bloggers grab traffic talking about your work. All the while your bosses are laying off other reporters, citing circulation declines, as analysts talk about newspapers losing audience to the Web. It’s not hard to understand why many newspaper journalists would come to view blogs as parasites, sucking the life from their newsrooms.

The piece talks about two types of blogs: political blogs and topical blogs.

To a large extent, the media have only themselves to blame for the rise of the political blogs. It’s the closed nature of the mainstream media that gave rise to the blogosphere. If mainstream sites were more like the newly redesigned USA Today four or five years ago, it’s quite likely that much of the enthusiasm and energy (and page views and ad dollars) that bloggers are able to tap would have belonged to them. Instead, reporters preferred to preach from atop the mountain, viewing interaction with readers as beneath them.

Even now, with the exception of USA Today, most media outlets have only taken baby steps to encourage user interaction. User forums are often kept very far apart from the news. The New York Times could (and should) host a lot of the political discourse in this country, but they choose to keep their most talked about content beyond a pay wall. I would love to talk about Paul Krugman’s columns on the NYT site. But I can’t even access them.

People like to talk. It’s only natural that they found outlets that the mainstream media weren’t willing to provide.

Topical blogs (like this one) serve niches poorly served by the mainstream media or offer additional analysis that wouldn’t be valuable to a mass audience. Take my “first-day” story on the iPhone. Instead of the 5 Ws of the iPhone annoucement, which were covered by thousands of media outlets, I focused on potential impact on carrier/handset manufacturer relationships.

In many cases, bloggers know a lot more about the topics they write about than top-tier journalists. It’s because they live and breathe their topics – they either work in the field or are passionate about the topic. The blogs I read regularly – TechCrunch, GigaOm, Matt Cutts, Search Engine Watch – are all written by experts in the field. The bulk of the content they write would never make the cut in mainstream outlets. (Nor should it.) But when something big happens in technology, these are the guys that the MSM go to for help.


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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2 Responses to Journalists, bloggers and parasites

  1. marcozna says:

    Absolutely right.
    The reverse side is that bloggers are becoming journalists. Such as Engadget, while a great site the bloggers are becoming more and more journalists which then needs to be recategorized. I predict the “pro” bloggers will soon separate into another category of bloggers which will merge with journalism.

    Keep posting – great views.

  2. isabel says:

    I read this at OJR too. I agree that we have media to blame (or to thank) for the popularity of political blogs, and that bloggers are closer to their subjects/topics than journalists are. This is why citizen journalism (e.g. OhMyNews) is such a hit.

    I read somewhere though (maybe in Global Voices? not sure now) that bloggers are not trying — nor do they want — to replace journos. In any case, it’s interesting to see how the dynamics of the blogger-journo relationship will continue to change in favor of the reader/audience. In all this, it’s the audience that should benefit.

    Thanks… keep blogging…

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