Cutting through the blog baloney

baloney.jpgFour months as a blogger hardly qualifies me as an expert. But this post deals more with observations of other blogs than authorship of this one. Observing I’ve been doing for a whole lot longer. Here’s my take so far.

Blogs are not the second coming of Gutenberg — not for news people, not for PR people, and certainly not for Joe Six-Pack. Are blogs relevant? Of course. Do they “change everything”? Hardly, and I don’t think they ever will.

Blogs won’t replace MSM. Mainstream media will need to morph, and quickly, if they hope to remain part of our lives. And I think many will, as there’ll always be a demand for clear, concise, tightly packaged information vetted by professional editors. The blogosphere, by contrast, is “edited” largely by a community of volunteers with wide-ranging opinions and quality standards.

Pressured by social media, the MSM are getting better at inviting reader input and comment. But I’d contend that most folks just want accurate reporting in a convenient package. Most (including me) don’t care if our news outlets offer online conversation. That may change.

Blogs remain on the margin. Yeah, a blogger occasionally breaks a big story. And the MSM knows a good source when they see one, which is why many A-list bloggers are now quoted there. But it seems that a blog’s credibility is gauged, to some extent, on how often it’s cited by the Times or Dow Jones. A bit of irony there.

Those of us who hang out in the blogosphere for a few hours every day (reading and writing) sometimes forget that most of the world ignores us. Last year’s Pew study said 39% of Internet users visit blogs. But a Gallup study, also released last year, said only 9% are regular readers. Both polls show NO significant growth in blog readership since 2005.

Still, that 9% who regularly read blogs can be important. In fact, that really is the blogger’s niche — serving motivated information seekers and “influentials” who impact the behaviors of others. So sure, in terms of influence, blogging should continue to grow. In terms of actual readership, I’m not so sure. For another angle on this, check this excellent post by Blois Olson.

Blogs are a great PR tool — but they remain only one weapon in the arsenal. Remember how excited you were when you first experienced the Web? I was downright smitten, but I never saw online media as any more than another arrow in the quiver (to continue a lame metaphor). Websites changed our world a good bit. So will blogs, but they won’t change “everything.”

My fear is that PR professionals will place so much emphasis on social media that they’ll neglect face-to-face interaction. Blogs do help humanize corporations, to be sure, but I never really know if I can trust you until I look you in the eye. That’s the “social” without the “media.” Let’s not lose sight of it.

A sea change? Even if social media and blogging aren’t the next great sea change in public relations, I’ll continue studying them. And there’s a good chance I’ll continue to fill this space with words and pictures.

While I still love the MSM, and I start my day with them, you just can’t have this much fun with the Wall Street Journal. I mean, it doesn’t even have comics.

6 Responses to Cutting through the blog baloney

  1. Bill,

    Our young PR-blogging brethren so need to hear more of this.

    Thank you.

    – Amanda

  2. Cody says:

    I like Baloney…and I also Like comics.

    I do not believe that the Wall Street Journal contains either of those.

    Nice Blog post Mr. S

    ~CodyLee

  3. Brian Wooley says:

    “And I think many will, as there’ll always be a demand for clear, concise, tightly packaged information vetted by professional editors.

    I agree with the spirit of this comment. I’d add, however, that the MSM, in these days of media consolidation, sell-offs, and layoffs, is losing traction when it comes to clear, concise reportage and professional editing. My current favorite examples from the print world are newspaper stories that contain second-graf quotes from individuals who are identified by last name only–and are not mentioned by their full name anywhere in the rest of the story.

    This is basic journalism, and it’s beginning to fall by the wayside as newsroom staff are cut, wire-service stories are used as space-filling crutches, and gossip items allowed to masquerade as legitimate news.

    News outlets definitely fill an important niche with which few, if any, are capable of competing. It would do them well to focus on that nice market, rather than trying to be all things to all people in the name of viewership/circulation.

  4. I see you still read the newspaper. Scary how the cuts have hit them where it hurts, but not surprising. When you lop off the most experienced of your editors then freeze hiring on bright young prospects, you’re left with the “mediocre middle.” But the only way you turn that around is to reinvent your revenue model. Some will figure it out, others won’t.

    In the end, we still need someone to gather, report and package the news. I can’t see an army of bloggers filling that role.

  5. Brian Wooley says:

    Yes, I still read the newspaper–but it’s mostly about the style of reading the paper versus surfing the web. (Is it still called that? Is there still an information superhighway, for that matter?)

    Here’s a good piece on what I mean: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chi-0701100038jan10,1,6758053.column?ctrack=1&cset=true

  6. Brian,

    Like old Gary Keillor, I enjoy the print version of news, but more b/c of its portability than any notion of “style.” But hey, I don’t hang out in places that charge $4 for a cup of joe.

    And yeah, I think you can still “surf” the Web, but I’m not sure how folks actually do it with a Blackberry screen. We need a way to make the Web portable without making it tiny. It’s coming. Hell, it’s probably here.

    I think if you research Web media use, you’ll find that most who seek news online are finding it on the Websites of the MSM. And as more publications begin to put the Web first, fewer and fewer trees will die for the cause of free speech. Of course, MSM’s effectiveness will depend on that revenue stream that they have yet to figure out.

    For a worthwhile discussion, check this piece from the editor’s blog at the NY Times:
    http://www.editorsweblog.org/analysis//2007/01/does_the_continuous_newsdesk_resolve_the.php#more

    In the spirit of credit where credit’s due, the link came from Jim Horton, one of the few PR bloggers who looks “big picture,” not just PR/Web 2.0. He also gets the importance of blog brevity — something I’ve yet to master.

    http://online-pr.blogspot.com/

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