Don’t you sometimes miss the days of Web 1.0? When the Internet was young and filled with cute little HTML websites, simple blue hypertexts and the occasional animated GIF. Few could suspect at the time how this series of tubes would come to change the media landscape in little over a decade until the World Wide Web dropped anchor in Eternal September. Newspapers didn’t have to try to attract readers with fancy graphics and think about charging them for online content yet. The Net was nothing to worry about surely.
But then came the blogs and the social networks and the rise of citizen journalism and opinion, not news, became the norm in media. Papers and news networks more so figured that to imitate the success of the Web, they had to mimic its style. Thus emerged the professional blogger who oftentimes failed to charm their online audience. For in a field of “decentralization and democratization,” common sense amateurs are rather more appreciated than the so-called expert panels who usually get to comment on TV in their blitzes of hysteria of faux folksiness. As much of the “real” media moved from journalism to mass-entertainment, intelligent people craving intelligent news and commentary turned online.
The media complained. The Internet, they cried, was unfair. Quality, they argued, could not compete against free content. But they forgot that most of them had stopped to deliver “quality” quite some time ago. Did they ever wonder what made blogs successful in the first place?
The professional blogger marched on nevertheless and in all fairness, some are doing a pretty good job. Magazines as The Atlantic and Newsweek prove that traditional media can make good use of the Web. They offer unique online features and integrate their print publication with their website so that readers need not pay for reading stuff online. On the other hand there are blogs like The Huffington Post and Politico that have turned into full fledged professional publications.
This had led some to reminiscence about the earlier days of blogging while we were still draped in Web 1.0 nostalgia. As Laura McKenna wrote at 11D last summer, the blogosphere isn’t what it used to be. Bloggers are burned, followers are bored and The Huffington Post “has sucked up all the readers.” And that one isn’t even a “proper blog,” according to McKenna. “It is run by people who don’t link to other bloggers and do not get the old ways and norms that greased the system in the old days.” Bloggers stopped linking to one another and it has undermined the blogosphere.
What’s left is niche blogs. “If you have a particular expertise and unique perspective, [then] you can quickly gain a following,” notes McKenna. “Everyone else is out of luck.” Niche blogs are prospering. War is Boring for instance attracted attention because of its outstanding citizen journalism focusing exclusively on matters of defense. Readers come to rely on their expertise exactly because their scope is limited. But who’s really interested in following the every thoughts of some anonymous voice across the screen anymore? Our disappointed with the all-round “experts” of traditional media is what prompted the rise of political blogs to begin with. The Daily Show generation doesn’t believe what some face on television tells it to believe. They demand to know more. Because the news doesn’t give it to them, they go online to find out for themselves.
Perhaps the blogosphere was cozier before it became professional but the success of The Huffington Post, Politico and niche blogs should not be interpreted as a failure of amateur blogging. Rather they prove its triumph and traditional media are forced to adapt. Knowledge is more freely available today than it ever was. Everyone can do their own fact checking and have their voice heard. As part of the media crusades against the Internet while the other half tries to fit in; as the revolution is Twittered and iReporting thrives, the Web has shown itself to be a powerful tool. Newspapers may be losing subscriptions but more and more, in blogs we trust.