TCS Daily


Is The Blogosphere Half-Empty, or Half-Full?

By Edward B. Driscoll - March 15, 2004 12:00 AM

If you've read Weblogs for any length of you time, you probably already know that the "Blogosphere" is divided into two halves. There are those Weblogs that link to, and very often editorialize about, the news of the day; and then there are the more intimate -- and therefore more personal -- day-in-the-life diaries.

While many blogs contain both elements, most fall, more or less, into either camp. The dividing line is probably James Lileks' "Bleat." Lileks is an extremely gifted professional journalist who's chosen to keep an online diary of his family's daily life. And the skill of his writing often makes it sound more interesting than any Seinfeld episode. But when he wants to comment on the news of the day, he's definitely got the chops to get the job done. Nevertheless, he's very much the exception that proves the rule.

"Only" Two to Seven Percent of the Internet Blogs

One reason Lileks chooses to blog is that it allows him to promote his books and syndicated column far beyond the readership of the Minneapolis newspaper he works for. But how many other bloggers are there on the 'Net?

A recent story off the AP wire, which appeared prominently on CNN's Website, claims that there aren't many. Or does it?

Titled, "Study: Very few bloggers on Net", It begins:

Despite the potential of turning every Internet user into a publisher, relatively few have created Web journals called blogs and even fewer do so with regularity, a new study finds.

Some bloggers indeed update their journals often, in some cases several times a day. But it's clearly a minority who are taking full advantage of the blog and its potential to steer the online discourse with personal musings about news events and daily life.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project, in a study released Sunday, found that somewhere between two percent and seven percent of adult Internet users in the United States actually keep their own blogs.

Let's examine those numbers a little further! As I wrote on my own Weblog about the story, the numbers tell a very different story than its slant.

According to one study, there are 146 million adult Internet users in the US alone. The article claims that between two and seven percent of those Internet users keep blogs. If we round that number to five percent, it means that there are 7,300,000 Weblogs in the US alone. And that's a lot of Weblogs!

More Bloggers than CNN Viewers

This is the sort of cynical, "glass half empty/glass half full" story that bloggers love to parse, and many Weblogs had a field day with it. Scott Ott, the humorist whose Scrappleface Website is a Blogosphere favorite (in January of 2003, Ott coined the brilliant "Axis of Weasels" meme that later graced the cover of The New York Post), put things into sharp perspective. In one of his typical satiric news articles, he wrote that if only about two percent of Internet users actually write Weblogs, it means that there are more bloggers writing, than people reading USA Today (whose circulation is 2.6 million), The New York Times (1.6 million) or The New York Daily News (805,000).

Ott doesn't mention CNN, but since the article most prominently appeared on CNN's Website, it's probably worth noting that in the US, CNN's typically daily viewership is only about 450,000 viewers. (The Fox News Channel, the cable news ratings leader, gets an average of 799,000 viewers during their broadcasting day.)

Of course, if I were CNN, I'd be worried about having, in a manner of speaking, all of my viewers, and then some, owning Weblogs.

Blogs Work in Groups

At first glance, it's not that significant an issue. Because, with the rare exception of Lileks, Ott, Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Reynolds, Virginia Postrel, and Mickey Kaus, individual blogs typically aren't all that powerful. While the best blogs have thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands of daily hits, most have much smaller traffic than that.

It's only by working together that the Blogosphere has achieved its impact. For most newspapers and TV news channels, news stories appear in isolation. In contrast, the best Weblogs share links, examine each other's posts, and stress-test the facts and opinions of the major media repeatedly and from multiple angles, to see if they hold up. As I wrote in February of 2002, shortly before launching my own Weblog, it's no coincidence that Blogs took off in popularity after 9/11:

One interesting byproduct of that awful day was that the servers on most major news sites (CNN, The New York Times, etc.) were blown out from over capacity. Since a big chunk of America either didn't go into work, or left early that day, they went home, turned the TV on, fired up the computer, and wanted to know just...what...the...heck...was...going...on.

But with the Web sites of news biggies jammed to capacity, some people started going to alternative sites. Little funky one-man or one-woman sites. And some of those men and women, such as Virginia Postrel on her page, The Scene, and Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.com, spent the day keeping the nation, hell, the world, just as informed as the traditional news sites people couldn't get into.


Then, as the dust settled, that hoary old standby -- media bias -- started rearing its ugly head again, especially in newspapers, where the reporters seemed to pull out style guides left over from the Tet Offensive. Quagmire! Failure! Evil imperialism! The brutal Afghan winter! Remember the Soviets!


Seeking opinions and news that didn't seem to be outtakes from the Johnson years, many, many people stuck with the bloggers. And sometimes it seems that just as many people saw how much fun the bloggers were having and decided to get into the act themselves.

As Bernard Goldberg has written in his best selling books Bias and Arrogance, the combination of entrenched-midtown Manhattan liberalism and ever-tightening standards of political correctness have caused the mainstream media to fumble the ball on numerous stories, and to distort many more, all the while claiming ideological purity (although curiously, perhaps as a result of continually being hammered by Weblogs, lately more and more members of big media seem willing to declare their biases). It's created an opening for first talk radio, then Internet-based e-zines such as this site, then Fox News, and now Weblogs to pick up the slack. As a result -- as Brian Anderson wrote late last year -- the left is no longer automatically winning the culture war.

No wonder CNN doesn't want the concept of Weblogs to spread. If, as is frequently said, newspapers are the first draft of history, then blogs are its rewrite stage, where the facts and opinions of big media are carefully examined. If they survive repeated analysis by the Blogosphere, they're probably sound. But more and more, the first draft of history is looking like it needs a lot of red rewrite ink. And that's got to burn CNN and AP up.

Ed Driscoll recently wrote for TCS about the guitar's technological crossroads.

 


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