The blogosphere, circa 2012 (Hint: it ain’t dead or dying)

One could argue, I suppose, that blogging has always been a cry for attention, but then you’d have to admit the same for all forms of media. As Dave Winer so brilliantly points out, “the readers are the product, and the customers are the advertisers,” so who can blame content creators for wanting attention? It’s one thing to have an idea and to put that on paper, but it’s like the proverbial tree falling in the forest unless somebody else reads it. However, when money is exchanged for content creation, everything changes, because the paradigm moves from just being read to the number of people reading. This is called mass marketing. Media has always thought it was the content business, but Dave rightly discerns, attention for advertisers is the real business.

Much has been written over the last few years about blogging and blogging’s future since the dawn of social media. The latest is Jeremiah Owyang’s “End of an Era: The Golden Age of Tech Blogging is Over.” I won’t attempt to deconstruct this view, because others with greater credentials than mine have already done so. I do wish to comment about what’s happened to blogging, however, because 2012 will be my 10th year with The Pomo Blog.

There are many definitions of blogging, but mine most closely resembles, again, Dave Winer’s. He’s writing here about how some tech blogs, most notably TechCrunch, moved from being “blogs” to being media companies writing about technology, like CNET.

It’s understandable because they earn their salaries based on how much they please advertisers. It’s like the hamster-farms they write about — the readers are the product, and the customers are the advertisers. Bloggers, as I use the term, are the product without bothering with the advertisers. It’s people and their ideas, for better or worse, and nothing more than that.

This is The Pomo Blog. You won’t see any advertising here, because this blog isn’t about attention; it’s about ideas and the challenging of assumptions. It’s a teaching vehicle, and the student is me. That’s all it is, and this brings me to the social media disruption.

Technology spawned the personal media revolution — the “Great Horizontal” to which Jay Rosen refers — which has given voice to the formerly voiceless. Telling the world what you think only requires time. Everything else is free. If you follow closely (from a distance) all that’s taken place with this in the past ten years, however, you’ll find thousands of people who’ve interpreted this as a way to “make their mark” and pursue dreams that aren’t so horizontal as much as they are hierarchical.

I always used to argue that bloggers were not really competing with traditional media companies until I began seeing the various A-list, B-list, C-list rankings. It was clear that some people were in it for the rankings, and in that sense — and just as Dave asserts — they were trying to generate a mass following. But regular blogging takes time, so when social media came along, these people fled the blogosphere to find the audience — the “Klout” — they were seeking elsewhere, because, well, it was more efficient and a whole lot easier to grow a reputation using connected social media.

Personal branding burst onto the scene, and we started seeing stories, posts, tweets about how to advance our personal brands. I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post “How to ‘be somebody’ on Twitter” that was based entirely on practices I had observed from those whose primary purpose on Twitter (and especially when tied together with Facebook) appeared to be growing an audience. There’s, of course, nothing wrong with that, but it has separated the wheat from the chaff in terms of blogging and the blogosphere.

I’m not suggesting anything untoward or disingenuous about this. It simply is what it is.

What I am trying to suggest is that this wing of the blogosphere has indeed vanished or transformed into plain old fashioned media designed to accrue an audience, and as long as this continues to be its goal, I’m not sure it’s all that sustainable, because their product — the audience — isn’t as necessary as it once was. That’s because the people who used to want that product — the advertisers — are now using the same technology to route around inefficient middlemen and go directly to the customers they seek. Further carving up the same old pie nets only smaller pieces and more confusion for the people who have the money in the first place. Any business model today based on traditional advertising has a rude awakening ahead.

I’ll never disrespect or discourage anyone for crying for attention, but if the end game is an audience for advertising, you might want to rethink your future.

(Disclosure: The Pomo Blog wouldn’t be here had it not been for the direct assistance of Dave Winer in getting me started.)

Why I’m abandoning TechCrunch and Techmeme

Farewell TechCrunch and TechmemeI’m separating myself from two old friends today, and it’s pretty painful. TechCrunch and Techmeme have both served me well over the years, keeping me informed on the cutting edge of news in the tech sphere. I can honestly say that these two websites have played a major role in my knowledge level, and I will miss them.

However, I can’t keep up with either. My RSS reader is overwhelmed with the stuff they crank out, most of which, frankly, is completely useless reading.

There is this belief in media that more is better. More produces more page views, and page views produce revenue, and so it goes. But this strategy disrespects customers, because I simply don’t have the time to keep up. And rather than stare at 100 unread items a day from each, I find myself simply marking them all as read and moving on.

Twitter is more than capable of keeping me connected with what’s really important.

I’m not sure if there’s an answer. Perhaps if Michael Arrington would personally oversee a specific RSS feed of “important” content, I would subscribe to that, but as of this morning, I’ve dropped both of these sites, along with The Inquistr, from my RSS reader.

Maybe it’s a sign of changing times. I don’t know. The only thing I do know is that time is the real scarcity in the life of any consumer today, and tactical revenue maneuvers designed to capture more of that scarcity cannot possibly win in the long run.

Farewell, old friends. Farewell.

Professional Journalism is its own worst enemy

Step aside son. This is a job for PROS.I’m angry.

Professional journalism will never save itself unless it gets off its pedestal. Since this is a nearly impossible human task, I have no hope that the answers to forces destroying professional journalism will ever come from inside the institution. It’s just not going to happen. We have seen the enemy, and he is us (but we can’t admit it).

I come from a unique class of television professional journalists, having worked in the industry both before and after it was taken over by corporations, corporate lawyers, shareholders, and the rules of being a profit center. I can honestly say that it was all about gathering the news before (see my 1998 essay “The Lizard on America’s Shoulder”), but it drifted to the industry of managing audience flow afterwards.

This was brought to mind this morning after reading yet another Chicken Little account of the collapse of professional journalism, and I need to point out a few things (again). “Without professional journalists,” wrote Tom Glaisyer and Sarah Stonbely for CNN.com, “who are paid to keep citizens informed and politicians honest, the very health of our democracy is in peril.” This statement is absurd on two grounds. One, professional journalists aren’t paid to keep citizens informed and politicians honest. They are paid to help their owners make a profit. That’s not cynical; that’s simply the truth. Two, and this is the most damaging, the people, the audience whose trust they assume, know it. Puh-leeze!

That which is important has taken a back seat to that which is easy and that which will attract, for the core mission of any business is to make money. In today’s business climate, things are really problematic, which applies even more management heat to control costs and earn more, more, more. The bottom line runs everything, and those who write stories warning of dire consequences for journalism and democracy are not examining the facts and, therefore, simply demagoging for attention. C’mon, people. Read the signs. People are sick to death of what we’re feeding them, and they’re revolting. That’s the problem, not our precious mission.

Once again, here’s the Gallup data. We’re at an all-time low in press trust. Note that the decline in press trust began in 1976, not 2000 or 2004.

Gallup trust in media 1973-present

Glaisyer and Stonbely’s piece (which you should read, BTW) concerns the FCC’s recent report on the state of the news, specifically television. That, of course, they govern, but the problem is much deeper than just TV. Moreover, the FCC report is highly biased, because the government has the deep pockets voices of the Telecom industry tickling their ears about using those public airwaves for broadband. Nevertheless, the article drones on about journalism.

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, it is impossible to ignore the inequalities created by changes in media or the harmful effects of the loss of journalists, newsrooms, and oversight. Local communities are suffering from a vacuum of relevant local news and accountability in news coverage.

I’d argue that the opposite is true and that communities are beginning to be served as never before — from the bottom up — by people who aren’t bound by the same corporate necessities of the pros. If I lived in Lewisville, a neighboring suburb near me, I’d be VERY grateful for the work of Steve Southwell, for example. Steve’s blog, whosplayin.com, has kept the heat on a school board that needed heat and has since been largely replaced by informed voters. How were they informed? Steve. Is he a professional journalist? He makes enough money to pay for his hosting, so I guess so. Did he go to school for it? No. Does he work for a big media company? No. He simply performs, as Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis and many others call “acts of journalism” that have resulted in elected officials being held accountable.

Steve’s not alone. This is taking place all across the country, mostly in small ways so far, but journalism is alive and well in the U.S. Only the fatted calves of corporate journalism are being whacked.

The Great Horizontal is responding to the Gallup numbers, because they know that we’ll never do anything about it.

The diminishing power of sources

who really runs the press?The Great Horizontal is Jay Rosen’s new term for the era-shifting communications disruption that J. D. Lasica first termed the “Personal Media Revolution.” I like it. It’s the ability of everyday people to use the tools heretofore reserved only for deep pockets, whereby they can communicate back “up” to media and, of course, with themselves. So low are the costs for entry today that you’ve heard me say “everybody is a media company.”

This has, of course, brought out the worst in the journalism profession, because it is their ox that’s being gored by all of this. I’ve written many times about the arrogant presumption that “real” journalism is done only by the pros, and that this amateur “movement” is simply unreliable poppycock. The ultimate demonstration of this for me came at a gathering of media thinkers in Chicago a few years ago during which a video by NBC News anchor Brian Williams was played. He “welcomed” the group by warning of the dangers of the Great Horizontal, and he did so by referring to a blog about nasal hair. There was widespread chuckling in the room as Williams mocked the content of the blog, comparing it to the “real” stuff produced by professional journalists. I was embarrassed for Williams, although he thought he was making a valid comparison.

While journalists kick and scream, there’s something incredibly significant taking place as the hegemony of the industry is disrupted. Those who really run the news — the sources — are finding it increasingly difficult to realize the results of their manipulation. This can only be good for journalism, those who practice it, and especially for the culture itself. For too long, outsiders who know the rules have applied them to their best interests, and the result is a convoluted and confused system of ethics that serves not the industry but those who use the industry to get their way. All of that is changing — and will continue to change — as the Great Horizontal marches forward.

Whether it’s the ease of social media or the more complex local blogs, those who are getting into the game have a sense of mission-simplicity that is refreshing, passionate and oftentimes very raw. These people — like the rest of the people formerly known as the audience — view with transparency attempts to control, in any fashion, the way they think and present their thoughts.

In 1990, I was news director at KGMB-TV in Honolulu. I got a magazine (The Animals’ Agenda) in the mail from an animal rights organization that contained a section called “Activist Agenda.” This particular month’s was penned by Richard Krawiec (“a nationally-published freelance writer and author of the novel Time Sharing”). It was called “Dealing With The Media: Advice From A Journalist.” This article is a veritable “how to” of media manipulation, using the rules of objectivity and common sense. It’s smart.

Try to cultivate reporters who will take a real interest in your issues. Read local publications regularly and identify writers who cover animal topics. Keep those writers informed of your activities.

Think local. Why picket a traveling circus if there’s a terrible zoo in town?

Be visible. Cook vegetarian dinners for the homeless. Do street theater. A person dressed in a costume is inherently more interesting to the media than someone sitting at a booth. But don’t overdo the tactic to the point of looking like clowns.

Most of all, be realistic. Don’t expect the writer to produce a public relations release. Criticism is all right as long as it’s offered because you’re taken seriously.

Taken seriously. That’s the mission: to be moved from Hellin’s sphere of deviancy to the sphere of legitimate debate. It happens every day in the world of professional journalism, because people with an agenda know how the game is played. This may be what professional journalism prefers, but it’s not what journalism is really all about.

Wade Roush published an interesting article this week about the end of the embargo, another manufactured “rule” of professional journalism by which those with connections, those in the know can get the most bang for the buck out of their news releases. Embargoes come from “sources,” and Roush has never been a fan.

Frustration…has led a few organizations to attack the system. In 2008, notably, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington declared “Death to the Embargo” and said that henceforth his publication would work to undermine the system by agreeing to embargoes, then breaking them at random. They’ve done this with gusto, and Arrington’s campaign has worked. Embargo promises, at least in the business and technology space I cover, are now tissue-thin. If TechCrunch—now a division of AOL—doesn’t break the embargo on a given story, someone else emboldened by its example often will.

Ah, tech media, those scruffy newcomers to the game who don’t always (rarely?) play by traditional media’s rules. They, too, are a part of the Great Horizontal, for many — if not most — of them wouldn’t have launched had it not been for the low barriers to entry offered by technology today. After all, they invented the blog as a way to communicate online, and it runs circles around the portal method preferred by traditional media.

And blogs will continue to disrupt. The Nieman Journalism Lab offered another illustration of what’s happening with an article this week appropriately titled: A place for Homicide Watch: Can a local blog fill some of the gaps in Washington, D.C.’s crime coverage? Of course they can, and I believe that local blogs will be springing up like weeds over the next ten years as the Great Horizontal continues to move forward.

And one of the neat things about blogs and bloggers is that they don’t always play by the nice-n-neat rules of the professionals. They go straight to the street without the checks and balances that we take for granted and that we rationalize are necessary for a professional press. We’re learning that a lot of that is crap, and while I’ll admit that the chaos we face is a little disconcerting, maybe we need a little chaos to rid ourselves of a world where corporations and those with money can buy influence from the press (oh yeah) and those with smarts can manipulate their way in.

Beware the death pronouncements

It's dead, because I said soWhile everybody is always on the look-out for the next great thing, there’s an equally large number of writers and observers who are quick to point out the “death” of things as well. This just adds to the confusion about what roads we should take tactically, and it’s something about which those of us at AR&D talk frequently. The problem with these forecasts is that they’re usually wrong. They make nice headlines, but the problem is those headlines are often the only thing people see. When understanding of something is limited, people often skim as much as possible to try and bring their understanding up to speed. With tech — and especially the media 2.0 world — that can be a dangerous thing to do.

This is why a New York Times article this week is getting so much attention among those who have this understanding. Like most newspaper headlines, this one probably wasn’t written by the writer of the article.

Blogs Wane as the Young Drift to Sites Like Twitter

This headline is actually completely false, and it’s proven within the text of the article itself. Growth may be slowing, but blogs are still a growing phenomenon. To suggest that blogging is on the decline, therefore, is simply untrue, as Mathew Ingram pointed out for GigaOm:

In many ways, this “blogging is dying” theory is similar to the “web is dead” argument that Wired magazine tried to float last year, which really was about the web evolving and expanding into different areas. It’s true that Facebook and Twitter have led many away from blogging because they are so fast and easy to use, but they have also both helped to reinforce blogging in many ways.

,what we really have now is a multitude of platforms: there are the “micro-blogging” ones like Twitter, then there are those that allow for more interaction or multimedia content like Facebook, and both of those in turn can enhance existing blogging tools like WordPress and Blogger. And then there is Tumblr, which is like a combination of multiple formats. The fact that there are so many different choices means there is even more opportunity for people to find a publishing method they like. So while “blogging” may be on the decline, personal publishing has arguably never been healthier.

So now we have the “blogging is dead” meme to add to the “Web is dead” and “RSS is dead” concepts. None of these are true, and it’s why a new company called “Trove” got a reported $5-$10 million from the Washington Post. Trove, according to Poynter, is a “personalization engine” for the news.

The site, which will aggregate and personalize news from among 10,000 online sources, launches into public beta next month. It will be free at Trove.com, and on mobile apps for the iPad, iPhone and Android devices.

The effort drops the Post into the middle of a crowded field chasing the elusive goal of news personalization. Several — LiveStand from Yahoo!, News.Me, originally a New York Times creation, and Ongo, a project the Post itself is a partner in — have been announced just within the past month.

Trove…also faces a challenge from tablet-only competitors such as Flipboard and Pulse, and older Web-based services ranging from Google News to My Yahoo!.

Two things strike me about Trove. One, it’s pretty cool. Two, it’s nothing but a pre-loaded RSS reader, just like many media companies made and threw away 7–8 years ago. Perhaps it’s the portable nature of the Web today that makes these more viable, but the technology for these kinds of applications is good old (dead) RSS. This is why I keep hammering away that we’ve got to get into real-time, RSS-delivered advertising, but that’s another story. Personalization aggregators is not a new concept, but start-ups and now traditional media players are suddenly seeing the value of the technology in a whole new way. I think it’s great.

The caveat in studying new media is to read enough from reliable sources to avoid getting trapped by headlines in the New York Times, the Wall St. Journal and other mainstream business publications. You’ll break your neck on the rocks in the shallows of their trend stories, if you jump in head first.

Pick one: Gawker takes a hit/Gawker is coming back

I’m noting with interest today the reports that Gawker sites took a pageviews hit after their redesign. I’m not a big fan of pageviews as a measurement of right and wrong, but I’m a huge fan of the reverse chronological presentation of the blog format that Gawker gave up in the redesign. Here I am out there trying to encourage traditional media companies to embrace the format, and one of the original blog superstars, Nick Denton, switches Gawker around in the name of “moving past” the blog. It was confusing, to say the least, because what Denton really moved “to” is the traditional media, top-story presentation. That’s not moving past; that’s going backwards.

Let me restate some old points. The blog format of reverse chronological order was created of the Web, by the Web and for the Web. Traditional media types had nothing to do with it and wanted nothing to do with it. The entire back end infrastructure of the Web is designed to seek out and sort that which is new, that which is “at the top,” if you will. If you wish your work to shake hands with the Web, the Web will shake hands with that which is new, always. There is no aggregator that seeks out the top story, because the Web doesn’t care, and if you artificially seed your output, it will figure out what’s going on. It wants what’s new, and, well, that’s one of the definitions of “news” anyway, right?

One of the points of genius about this is that it respects the recipient of content, the customer, the user. It does this by presenting the time of day as the only filter, something that cannot be manipulated for gain by the content creator. It respects the intelligence of the user to figure out and find what’s important without the manipulating guiding hand of the editor. Traditional media has gone far by assuming that the average person needs our help in “shaping” his or her experience, to understand what’s important and what isn’t. The problem is that this has been twisted in the name of self-serving marketing and people have lost trust in our assumption. They want to decide for themselves, and a system based solely on time that allows them to do that is refreshing precisely because it’s not filtered in any way.

There are two spins on the story this week: one, Gawker’s pageviews went down when they launched their redesign and, two, Gawker’s pageviews are coming back after falling off the map, etc.

Erick Shonfeld of TechCrunch explained why the masses are abandoning Gawker:

You can revert to a traditional blog view, but the default is the “top story” view. Most people will probably never figure out how to toggle back to the comforts of the classic reverse-chron design, so they leave instead in frustration. Tweets about the redesign are more negative than positive.

Schonfeld included a graph from Sitemeter showing how pageviews fell completely off the map for the Gawker site, Gizmodo after the redesign. A nightmare.

Sitemeter stats for Gizmodo

Meanwhile, a report in Business Insider is more optimistic, citing that those who’ve remained are staying longer and clicking on more pages.

It’s too soon to say whether it’s working, but the data seems to say “cautiously optimistic.”

It’s entertaining to read the comments to stories like these, because they can be revealing. One TechCrunch commenter, for example, pointed out that if RSS is the way you’ve always consumed any Gawker product, nothing has changed. Of course, that’s because RSS is a part of the Web handshake that only recognizes what is new in a feed, as the blog format does naturally. I think that’s the point anyway.