September 01, 2011

Blogging vs. journalism - time and money needed

I list both time and money, because serious news coverage, like investigative journalism, requires inputs of both that most bloggers just don't have. It also requires things like libel insurance, which old media provides for all staffers but which is probably prohibitive for any nonprofessional blogger, folks like TPM who are hybrid blogs/online newspapers.

Most New Media fluffers have one of two problems here. They either ignore the time and money inputs necessary, or they fuse professional hybrid bloggers/news outlets with John/Jane Citizen Blogger ... either accidentally or willfully. (Folks Josh Marshall and other TPM staff are paid professionals. I'm not sure about FDL. And, this isn't their "avocation," it's their jobs. Therefore, if you know better, it's intellectually dishonest to lump them with John/Jane Blogger.)

So TPM and,say FiredogLake as examples of investigative "blogging" actually aren't.

Let's look at the reality of investigative journalism and time and money costs.

Let's look at what traditional media can still do. And still does, like a 9/11 10th anniversary report on 9/11-related charities and scams.

This is just the shorter version of a great story on 9/11 charities. A LONG story.

How long? 17,000 words. Point? It takes money to do that type of reporting, a lot of money. And a lot of time. And, a lot of editorial teamwork. About none of which new media fluffers "get," I do really think at times.

The teamwork part? Especially if a newspaper’s staff rather than the AP’s, it takes writers with plenty of time to devote, as well as the flexibility to step from regular assignments to an ongoing “enterprise” assignment like this. Beyond that, the collaboration of different reporters and editors on enterprise journalism brings different talents and insights to the table, something, again, a lone blogger just can’t offer.

Or look at Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson and his expose on alleged cheating in University of Miami athetics.

He took 10 months on that. If he’s making just under $100K a year, that’s $80,000 of his salary. Even allowing one-quarter of his time for other reporting, that’s $60,000. Add $10,000 for supplemental editorial health, just like the AP uses multiple reporters on blockbusters. Add in $10,000 for expenses. Add in $10,000 for time and money of editors above his head. Add in $10,000 for legal consultations and miscellaneous.

That’s $100,000 of reporting. And 10 months’ time of reporting.

Jaron Lanier, in an old Edge essay, adds some significant background here.
Compounding the problem is that new business models for people who think and write have not appeared as quickly as we all hoped. Newspapers, for instance, are on the whole facing a grim decline as the Internet takes over the feeding of the curious eyes that hover over morning coffee and, even worse, classified ads. In the new environment, Google News is for the moment better funded and enjoys a more secure future than most of the rather small number of fine reporters around the world who ultimately create most of its content. The aggregator is richer than the aggregated.
Individual newspapers largely caused many of their old wounds. The Associated Press long ago decided to be selfish with its self-interests, for the short term, and aligned itself with cheap feed costs to those aggregators. (Irony and stupidity mix: Former AP chairman of the board Dean Singleton oversaw this even while running his own newspaper chain into bankruptcy. That said, I promise I will have a blog post on old media's shortcomings and self-inflicted wounds coming soon.)

Back to Lanier's quote. Problem? Google doesn't have a single reporter

Let's not forget that Stewart Brand's famous, or infamous, "Information wants to be free" quote was only one half of the issue, something New Media fluffers especially ignore:
On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.
What Lanier is saying is that the Apples and Googles of the world have the critical mass to make information free, or nearly so for now. Then, later, like WallyWorld, in a more and more semi-monopolized Internet, where they have more control of the "right place," it will get expensive.

My personal experience blogging relates to that.

Anybody who has Google Ads knows that they're paying out less and less all the time. Meanwhile, I am also a client of a company that connects with newspapers to pay for click-throughs. As old media continues to suffer, rates have gone down there, too.

But, Google's not suffering. Rather, because of the increasing fractionation of the Net, it's spreading ads over more places. But, because many of those ads get fewer eyeballs, they pay less and less.

But, on Google's end, that's fine. As long as it is increasing its share of Internet ads, nothing else matters.

End result? John/Jane Blogger makes less and less. If you're lucky enough to be the paid professional editor, or rather, marketer, of a stable of bloggers, whether the serfs at Demand Media, or the somewhat better than serfs at Scientific American whom Bora Zivkovic markets (I say markets, because I don't think he does much real editing; his own blogging shows he's not necessarily familiar with the concept of copy editing), you make money. If you're the blogger, not so much.

If you're on your own, even if you're good and insightful, definitely not so much.

Update, Feb. 22, 2013: Massimo Pigliucci weighs in well on this issue. 

(Update, Dec. 27, 2015: At the same time, Lanier is himself some sort of tech-neolib, who is dumb enough, naive enough, or on the take enough to assume that Big Data will give you or I micropayments for using its services.)

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