Blogs are not mass media…

…yet some people continue to try and make them such.

Steve Rubel shouts out the Boston Herald for an article today announcing that “Americans aren’t all agog for blogs.” Steve’s rightly upset that this article — like so many others from people who don’t understand what the blogosphere is all about — uses mass media metrics to make a point. Steve says we shouldn’t measure audience; we should be measuring influence. “People,” he adds, “it’s time for us to devise a new way to measure blogs — and it aint eyeballs.”

I couldn’t agree more, and here’s another example. Academics seem especially fond of warning about the dreaded blogosphere using a mass media frame of reference. This time it’s David D. Perlmutter in a column in Editor&Publisher. Perlmutter is a mass communications professor at LSU, and he’s writing a book about political blogs.

Don’t fall for the hype behind inflated blog numbers. The cause of blogging is not helped by unwarranted and blind enthusiasm about their success that ignores the threats to their authenticity and independence.
He calls the blogosphere, among other things, “our newest…technology of mass media.” Anybody who will make that statement isn’t qualified to write a book about blogs. The blogosphere is exactly the opposite.

He likens the (imagined) frenzy to the bubble days of the Internet and predicts a winnowing process and states that bloggers aren’t really representative of “the people,” because “bloggers tend to come from the higher-education and higher-income portion of the population.” Both of these statements flow from the mass media model.

Professor Perlmutter adds that “astronomical descriptions of blogging numbers fail to account for that fact that many blogs are rarely updated or are orphans.” Technorati, a site he quotes in this piece, willingly admits this, as does every blogger or blog proponent I’ve ever encountered. Again, where’s all this hype?

He states that “Blog numbers are also falsely inflated by fake blogs, a new form of passive spam that I call “clogs.” This is no bulletin either, and companies like Technorati are taking steps to deal with this as best they can. It’s a red herring in the discussion of the validity of the lifeform anyway, for who’s using these numbers to make a case for validity anyway?

His conclusion is nice.

Blogs are indeed a democratic wonder — the first instance in human history where an ordinary individual can communicate her or his thoughts to the entire planet, instantly, and without editing by the elites of journalism or government. They provide a real service, as a complement and a watchdog to the mainstream sources of information and analysis.
I certainly agree with this, but I’d add that communicating thoughts to the entire planet is an ancillary benefit of the real reason that most people I know blog — they have something to say. People who are interested in those thoughts can find them, and THAT is the real power of the blogosphere. Influence here is a paradox, something those who view it as another form of mass media will never understand.


  1. I don’t think that many of the folks who write articles like that in the Boston Herald or E&P think of this as “the dreaded blogosphere.” Nobody “dreads” the blogosphere, but the fact that you think people do indicates just how myopic the blogosphere can be.

    In fact, it’s the precise reason that articles such as those exist. The point isn’t, “I’m scared of the blogosphere but, shew, it’s really not a threat.” Rather, the point is, “Many bloggers overestimate their impact; here’s the evidence.”

    It’s a big difference. Have you ever met any journalists? I know tons of them, and I don’t know a single one who’s “scared” of other media. Journalists tend to be the most jaded, self-deprecating group of people around. Mock the media in front of a journalist, and he’ll likely come back with some dry witticism that advances the mocking. Journalists, more than most, have a unique kind of worldview because of the very nature of their profession. Everything gets processed through the cynicism/skepticism filter, including their own place in the world.

    The kneejerk defensiveness of many of my fellow bloggers, on the other hand, reveals just how amateur the blogosphere can be. That’s OK — there’s nothing wrong with hobbies, even influential ones — but it does set up the contrast nicely.

  2. Yeah, Terry — have you ever met any journalists? *snicker*

  3. I’ve met a few journalists in my life, Thom. Most of them view bloggers with disdain and/or fear. The two are different animals and the conflict exists mostly with those who view the blogosphere as a new mass media competing for attention with the old. Regardless of which side one is on, this is an erroneous assumption.

  4. ‘Yeah, Terry — have you ever met any journalists? *snicker*’

    The question was rhetorical, obviously. I have no idea whether the initial post’s author has actually met journalists or not. From the post to which I was responding, however, it’s easy to suspect not, based on its describing the blogosphere as “dreaded.”

    Now it’s that journalists view it with “disdain” and “fear.” Seriously — I don’t know what reporters and editors you’re talking about, but they’re apparently of a vastly different breed than the ones I know.

  5. Thom, the “initial post’s author” has published fifty-odd essays — easily a book or two’s worth of writing — on his experiences of having been in journalism himself for three decades. Since you say it’s “easy to suspect not,” can I direct your attention to the links going down the left side of the blog? The “initial post’s author” is responsible for some amazingly innovative work with TV stations in Nashville and San Francisco.

    I was snickering because asking that question in the comments on this blog would be, oh, akin to posting a comment on the blog of an English professor asking if he or she does much reading.

    Your statement that it’s easy to suspect he’s not met any journalists is asinine, and as much as I would like to take your argument seriously, you suffer either from the myopia of which you accuse the blogosphere or a severe lack of reading comprehension.

  6. Lack of reading comprehension? No, more like a lack of attention to the accessories and tchotchkes that run down the side of most blogs. As advertisers long ago learned, Web users quickly become attuned to blocking out all but what they’ve come to see.

    At any rate, the point — which, believe it or not, wasn’t “Have you ever met journalists?” — stands either way: Journalists aren’t dreading, disdaining or fearing the blogosphere. The blogosphere has indeed created a myopia to which even some of the most well-intentioned bloggers succumb.

    I’ve got a handy perspective on the whole thing: I blog, I read plenty of blogs, I write for a major metropolitan daily, and I know plenty of journalists.

    Now that you’ve directed me to this blogger’s CV, I see where we might be running into a snag. I work in newspapers; he works in TV. With all due respect, I’m not sure most readers, upon hearing the word “journalist,” conjure the image of fine-haired folks snagging soundbites for Channel 9’s “Eyewitness News.”

    And I’d bet that includes writers with the Boston Herald and the professor writing for E&P.

  7. Wow, Thom. I’m neither a TV nor print journalist, but I work in media. A lot of your brethren in print still don’t know what blogs are, or are dismissive of them. Say RSS and they blank out. I’ll give you credit for being ahead of the curve on that point.

    But I will ask, have you checked your “major metropolitan newspaper’s” circ lately? I’m willing to bet it’s flat, showed perhaps 1–2% growth at best, or is declining. However, your paper’s website is probably gaining ground in hits and advertising (you know, what really pays your salary, not your in-depth, stellar print reporting). And Craigslist is eating your lunch in classifieds as well (in the all-important major city demographics), so start counting on that ad money going online and not on dead trees.

    In your particular case I think you’re correct — you aren’t disdainful, you are exactly what you accuse bloggers of being: myopic.

    If you disagree, I guess I’ll see you on the way to work on my horse on Monday.

  8. There are many competing defintions for the term “mass media.” What difference does it make whether blogs are brought under one of those definitions or not?

    I’m not taking a side in this debate. I’m just asking whether anything of consequence hangs on the outcome.

  9. I posted my question — Why are bloggers so worked up about whether blogs are “mass media”? — on three bloggers forums. It’s been viewed about five dozen times. And so far … NO answer!

    I’m a big fan of blogs, but this kind of thing only hurts blogs and bloggers. Skeptics cite it as an example that shows how bloggers piss and moan about things that don’t matter one way or the other.

    Looks like a lot of clueless pissing an moaning to me …

  10. LOL Morris.…it’s entirely possible that the bloggers all have lives. It’s been, if the timestamps are accurate, a whole thirty hours on this blog. Sheesh.

  11. Nice try, Holly, but no cigar. Notice the time stamps on the thread above … seven postings within eight hours. (You’re part of that debate. Can *you* answer my question?)

  12. Sure. The point of “mass media” is to build as large of an audience as possible, under the assumption that the larger your total number of eyeballs, the more powerful you are. Forms of media that get (or, in the case of TV news, once got) pretty big numbers of eyeballs give rise to a situation where the broadcaster/proprietor/whatever of the mass media thinks of him/her/itself as different from the audience. On a pedestal looking down. Separate, unique. Blogs are special because they are NOT mass media. Blogs are democratic in the sense that anyone who’s literate can start one anytime they like and be heard. Rather than looking down from a pedestal, bloggers simply stake out their own corner of a large, anarchy-driven, chaotic place called the world wide web. They participate in a conversation. Witness your calling me out to answer this question — if this blog were part of “mass media” — if Mr. Heaton’s thoughts were run through a gatekeeper like an editor or producer or other authority, the way that mass media works, you and I, as two members of his audience, would not be part of the conversation in the way that we now are. His “transparency” link wherein he lays out quite clearly what his starting point and biases are, is something that mass media is absolutely incapable of. Can you see the New York Times or your local television news or any other “broadcaster” telling you up-front where they stand on things? NO! That would taint their REAL goal and hinder them in their REAL objective — to look “fair and balanced” so they can GET ADVERTISING MONEY.

    Blogs cannot be treated like mass media. It’s not apples and oranges. It’s apples and…pizza.

  13. Sorry, Holly, your reply doesn’t wash. Blogs still have all the characteristics you mention — democratic, can be started by anyone, etc. — no matter what they are called.

    My question is, why is everyone in such a fry about the term “mass media” applied to blogs? A rose by any other name is still a rose. So is a blog.

    Thus far no one, including you, has been able to name anything of consequence at stake in the debate over whether blogs come under one of the various definitions of “mass media.”

  14. »The point of “mass media” is to build as large of an audience as possible, under the assumption that the larger your total number of eyeballs, the more powerful you are.

    If a blogger built the largest possible audience, on the assumption that more eyeballs equals more power, that wouldn’t change the nature of the blog.

    In fact, some blogs have a larger daily visitor count than some newspapers have daily circulation. Yet newspapers are plainly “mass media.”

    As I said, it’s all much ado about nothing.

  15. OK, Morris. I have no clue what your point is, and I’m plainly not going to ever “get it.” You’ve demanded answers on however many blogs, and no one can answer to your satisfaction, so you must have an unassailable point that no one can possibly countermand or discuss in any way that differs from your view. I congratulate you.

  16. My point, for you slow learners, is that the debate about whether blogs are “mass media” is a debate with nothing at stake. Nothing.

    The stakes in the debate about abortion, for example, are life, death, and liberty.

    The stakes in the debate about the Iraq war include life, death, the defeat of terrorists, etc.

    The stakes in the debate about whether blogs are “mass” media are non-existent. No matter which side “wins,” it wins nothing at all.

    Do you get it now, Hollygolly?

  17. Well, Morrishorris, I don’t know.

    First, suppose you’re right and nothing is “at stake.” So? Who said the only debate worth having is one where something is “at stake?” Do the rest of us need your permission to debate things where you find nothing “at stake?”

    You appear to be expending a great deal of energy to little purpose. Your examples are also telling. If you honestly believe the Iraq war has one damn thing to do with the defeat of the terrorists, why are you posting on blogs? Why aren’t you overseas, fighting it?

    I feel bad about using this blogger’s bandwith to discuss semantics with no relation to the actual point he made in his post, so I resign. You win, Morrishorris. Have a nice day.

  18. » OK, Morris. I have no clue …

    I think that says it all.

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