Can Newspapers Compete With the Blogosphere?

Posted on January 29, 2006

Jack Shafer at Slate has an interesting article about the future of newspapers. He says that newspaper staffs and newspaper pages are shrinking at a time when the number of bloggers are expanding.

It's not just the best of the blogosphere drawing away big audiences that the guild need worry about. If Chris Anderson's Long Tail intuitions are right, the worst of the blogosphere-if it's big enough-presents just as much (or more) competition. Michael Kinsley made me laugh a decade ago when he argued against Web populists replacing professional writers, saying that when he goes to a restaurant, he wants the chef to cook his entree, not the guy sitting at the next table. I'm not laughing anymore: When there are millions of aspiring chefs in the room willing to make your dinner for free, a least a hundred of them are likely to deal a good meal. Mainstream publishers no longer have a lock on the means of production, making the future of reading and viewing anybody's game. To submit a tortured analogy, it's like the Roman Catholic church after Gutenberg. Soon, everyone starts thinking he's a priest.

I'm not about to predict what the collapsing cost of media creation will ultimately do to the news business, if only because my track record at prophesy is terrible. But this much I know: The newspaper guild (again, reporters, editors, publishers) can't compete by adding a few blogs here, blogging up coverage over there, and setting up "comment" sections. If newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters don't produce spectacular news coverage no blogger can match, they have no right to survive.

There are already some very good blogs from the mainstream media but it sounds like Jack Shafer is saying that the newspaper websites and blogs will have to be superior to what's offered by bloggers for them to be able to survive and/or excel. Shafer also makes a dig at TimesSelect: "I also want more for my Times subscription than TimesSelect and its stingy 100 'free' searches a month from the archives, its News Tracker, and the paper's columnists." Shafer must be forgetting about the exciting new blog the New York Times just added to TimesSelect.

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