A theory of bloggers and the MSM
Greg Sargent was hired by the Washington Post/Newsweek International company to produce and write for a new Web venture called Who Runs Gov. The idea was Wikipedia-for-politics, but to keep people coming to the site, Sargent was brought on board to provide daily content.
I was hired because the Post's business section wanted an economic policy blog in order to sell advertising off of a Web site devoted to the financial crisis, and when they asked Steve Pearlstein if he could think of anyone, he thought of me.
David Weigel was hired because he has spent years following the Ron Paul campaign and the "tea parties" and has proved himself the best beat reporter on the populist wing of the Republican Party, and hiring the best beat reporter on the most important movement in American politics seemed like the sort of thing the Post should do.
And there were a lot of other people hired over this period: Jeff Stein, who writes a blog on intelligence affairs. Karen Tumulty, who covers national politics. Jia Lynn Yang, to cover business policy. Nia-Malika Henderson, to cover the first family. Greg Miller, to cover national security.
But the bloggers get the Politico article. In part, this is because bloggers are good at getting attention from other members of the media. You're not going to get very far as a solo blogger if you can't get people to notice your work. But it's also because a media that's used to a very sharp separation between reportage and opinions is a bit tripped out by people who tend to operate at the intersection of both, because they wonder if they'll soon have to operate at the intersection of both.
They won't. What you're seeing here is the product of magazines moving into the blogging arena first, and so training the first wave of bloggers who do a lot of reporting.
The quote from me in Ben Smith's article is from a longer argument I made in our interview: Analytical reportage has traditionally been the province of magazines. It's the stock-in-trade of the Atlantic, the New Republic, the Economist, the American Prospect, the Washington Monthly, and Reason, just to name a few. And if you want to play six degrees, I interned at the Washington Monthly and worked at the American Prospect; Greg worked at New York magazine and moved to Talking Points Memo, which was started by a former American Prospect editor; and Dave got his start at Reason and The Economist, both of which are right-of-center magazines.
All of those magazines write reported, analytical (and opinionated) articles for a sophisticated audience. But because their publishing cycles are slow, they've not traditionally been major players in the day-to-day conversation. But now you've got people who trained at those magazines and adopted their sensibilities writing at internet speed, which is to say, faster than the daily cycle. And that's working, I think. At the very least, it's working with elite audiences.
But it's not, as Smith suggests, a story of ideology (though Tucker Carlson and David Frum might tell you that conservative publications place less emphasis on reporting and that accounts for why liberals and libertarians have gotten the first of these jobs), or even corporate strategy. Small magazines adopted blogs early because they were desperate for an entryway into daily reporting. Newspapers, for obvious reasons, were less concerned. But as newspapers got more concerned, they've hired the bloggers trained at small magazines because those bloggers report and write in a way that traditional media organizations recognize.
The media isn't so much changing as repackaging, and my guess is that five or 10 years from now, there will be a lot of bloggers doing analytical reporting and everyone will agree that that was just a natural process of adaptation to a faster medium with a more elite readership and no space constraints. Those who're inclined to more structuralist explanations will says that as the flow of information sped up and opinions multiplied there was more demand for reported, analytical content that helped people make sense of it all.
The first wave of these folks came from small magazines that have a more opinionated bent, but the second wave will come from inside newspapers and online publications that play it a bit straighter. But it won't be, and isn't now, a story of ideology. It's a story of technological change, and the way in which new markets first get served by marginal players and then get swallowed up by established institutions.
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