Lines blur between blogs, newspapers
A marriage made in cyberspace: As traditional media gets 'bloggier,' blogs begin to look more like their traditional forebears.
When Jon Kleinberg wanted to study how news items bounced around the Internet, he set up an experiment. He tracked phrases in the news at the time â such as Barack Obamaâs colorful presidential campaign line about putting âlipstick on a pigâ â and traced their use online. For comparison, he split his analysis into two parts: the 20,000 or so âmainstreamâ news sources, as identified by Google News, and some 1.6 million âblogs.â
The conclusion: Attention seemed to peak first among the âmainstreamâ sites â on average about 2-1/2 hours before interest surged in the blogging community.
That finding, released in a paper by Professor Kleinberg and two coauthors in July, needed to be interpreted very carefully because Googleâs idea of the âmainstreamâ press includes numerous sites not affiliated with any newspaper or magazine. This new mainstream encompassed political talk sites such as the Daily Kos and celebrity gossip sites like Gawker and Just Jared. Bloggers appeared on both sides of the ledger.
Kleinberg, a computer scientist at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., remains excited about this âmeme-trackingâ algorithm and its ability to view news cycles scientifically and discover complex underlying patterns, which he plans to refine. But he also says he probably wonât try to divide ânewsâ and âblogâ sites in the future.
âNews and blogs now exist on a continuum, so thereâs really no such thing as a two-part classification of the world into news and blogs,â he says. âYou really have to think about the whole spectrum.â
His conclusion is echoed by close observers of the news world. Rather than any bright line between journalists and bloggers, they say, the picture gets muddier by the minute.
Not that news seekers are obsessed with the topic. Some argue that only professional journalists notice â or care.
âThereâs a lot of confusion between whatâs mainstream media and whatâs other forms of media,â says Sreenath Sreenivasan, a professor who teaches new media at Columbia Universityâs school of journalism in New York. But the average person poking around online doesnât ânecessarily focus on that issue,â he says.
âI have friends who get all their news from their Facebook news feed,â he says. They get links to news articles from friends, but theyâll also get news of friends who changed jobs, moved to a new house, or entered a new relationship. âThatâs all ânewsâ to them,â Dr. Sreenivasan says. Itâs not about mainstream versus nonmainstream. Itâs all about, âWhat is news to me?â he says.
Rather than relying on familiar news organizations, people are more apt to trust their friendsâ judgment. People may not even notice where the news item originated. âIf my friend Jim sent me this article, Iâm going to trust it more because he sent it to me,â Sreenivasan says.
âThe best newspapers are going to end up looking like the best blogs, and the best blogs are going to end up looking a lot like the best newspapers,â predicted a 20-something new-media prodigy named Garrett Graff five years ago. Now, âthatâs virtually happened,â Mr. Graff says. In 2005, he made news as the first blogger ever to be issued credentials as part of the White House press corps. This month, he takes over as editor in chief of long-established Washingtonian magazine, with 400,000 monthly readers of print and 400,000 more online.
Today, big blog sites such as The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, or Talking Points Memo â sites originally designed to be different from newspapers â âare basically evolving into newspapers,â Graff says.
They have bureaus, reporters, and editors.
âThe term âbloggingâ is going to become obsolete because what we once considered blogs are morphing into something broader,â adds Tom Rosenstiel, a veteran news-media analyst and journalist who now heads the Project for Excellence in Journalism in Washington.
On the other side of the equation, traditional reporters are blogging themselves, as well as posting observations on Twitter.com throughout the day, holding a two-way conversation with readers in which they not only dispense news but pick up information that enhances their reporting.
Other traditional journalists are jumping to new-media sites. Politico, a website covering US politics, was started in 2007 by two former Washington Post reporters. Now it has more White House correspondents than any print-based media outlet.
âItâs a really fascinating evolution that I think has happened much more quickly and with less hurrah than most people expected it to,â Graff says.
Maybe we should be talking about âbig-timeâ media rather than âmainstream,â Sreenivasan suggests. A dwindling number of American news organizations have the financial muscle to report methodically on the big stories, he says, especially in remote (and expensive) regions such as Afghanistan, Iraq, or Iran.
Still, old-fashioned but online newspapers set much of the news agenda, these experts argue â at least for now. In contrast, most blogs act chiefly as news âamplifiers,â taking that information and redirecting it, getting more attention and broadening the discussion of the original report.
âThatâs going to change as newspapers begin to shrink further and as alternative operations grow,â Mr. Rosenstiel says. âBut day in, day out, much of what you see in other media started in newspapers.â
Whatâs developed is a âsymbiotic relationshipâ between traditional news organizations and new media online âin which they are both helped,â Graff says.
âBoth sides need each other,â Sreenivasan agrees.
The Drudge Report, for example, wins a huge online following by displaying headlines from traditional news sites. But Drudge, in turn, drives traffic back to the original publications, creating a âwinâ for both parties.
While newspapers are struggling financially, theyâre also enjoying a boom in readership, the first upturn in 20 years, Rosenstiel says.
âThe audiences for even struggling publications like the San Francisco Chronicle and The Boston Globe are larger than theyâve ever been,â he says. âThe problem is that the Web isnât generating revenue. So all those new readers and consumers arenât bringing with them any financial benefit to the news operation.â
As traditional and new media may be morphing into one another, one aspect of news may be lost in the transition, Graff suggests: the bread-and-butter newspaper story. The Washingtonianâs website sports the short news snippets that people seek online, while the print magazine luxuriates in leisurely in-depth reads of 6,000 words or more.
âWhat I think youâre going to see die,â he says, âare the mid-length stories, from 500 words to 2,000 words, that are too long for people who arenât interested in the subject, but too short for people who are.â