These have been very interesting times for me. I am a blogger who has a degree in journalism that has been gathering dust during a 15 year career as a graphic designer. The recent typographic controversies that have sparked something of a feud between the mainstream media and the blogosphere have touched on all of that background. The story of the forged documents aired by CBS News will eventually fade but they will forever mark a turning point in the evolution of information.
The last major change in the flow of information occurred in the Gulf War. CNN’s virtually 24/7 coverage of the conflict changed the nature of the news media forever. That event marked the creation of the 24 hour news cycle. Gone were the days of the news being the morning paper, the 6:00 and 11:00 news. The news was now all day every day. The big three networks had to change the way the covered the news. FOX and MSNBC were launched. This year FOX News ratings for the Republican National Convention beat the Big Three.
The first major impact of the internet on the traditional news media came from the Drudge Report. Drudge broke the story of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski which lead to the impeachment of a U.S. President.
The next giant step in the change begun by Drudge came in the efforts of too may bloggers to link who in the span of a few hours had analyzed and discredited memos aired by 60 Minutes in report on George Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. Since that time the volume of words written about the impact of bloggers on the mainstream media has begun to rival the volume written about the document story itself.
Bloggers became the news. There were interviews, television appearances, photos in national magazines. And there were opinion pieces. Bloggers cheered, and rightfully so, the impact of the blogosphere on one of the newtorks. Blog posts, even a few of my own, were rife with predictions of the demise of CBS News and the ignominious end of Dan Rather’s career. The mainstream media were not at all kinder to the bloggers either. In addition to referring to them as group of partisan hacks typing away in their pajamas one columnist in the Star Tribune characterized bloggers as “hobby hacks, the Internet version of the sad loners who used to listen to police radios in their bachelor apartments and think they were involved in the world.”
So who is right? Will the internet and blogs spell the end of the traditional news outlets? Are the blogs just a passing fad, the passion of partisan nerds with too much free time?
I don’t believe either of them are right. I don’t believe either of them is going away. I believe they will change.
The mainstream media will have to adapt to the existence of blogs in much the same way as the the networks had to adapt to the advent of 24 hour cable news. They will have to become faster and more responsive. The news cycle will shorten. And they will have to become bloggers. They will have to hire a staff that reads and writes blogs. They will have to become apart of the blogging community. When they do, they will change blogging in a major way.
The key to the function and the success of the blogosphere is the link. That is how one brief post at Powerline lead to a retraction and apology from CBS News. Links work because links are free. Any blogger can link to any other and either build on what they posted or do their best to tear it down. But when blogging becomes a commercial endeavor what will that do to the hyperlink? How will bloggers respond to a site linking to their material for commercial gain? Will we see the advent of a pay per link system? Will bloggers be competing for the dollars to be earned from selling a link to CBS-blog.com? Or will bloggers continue on as unpaid stringers for the major media blogs?
I fear it is likely that the blogosphere my fall victim to its own success. When the media comes, and it will, it will come with dollars. And dollars will change everything.