Just last week, I was cautioning one of my partners about aligning us too closely with the blogging movement, because blogs are but one part of our plan — and much of our content will be more tradiitional journalism, turbocharged with blogging’s best features.
But I’d be remiss in not pointing our BusinessWeek‘s cover story on blogging and the similarity of their conclusions to much of what we’re planning:
Try Johannes Gutenberg
out for size. His printing press, unveiled in 1440, sparked a
publishing boom and an information revolution. Some say it led to the
Protestant Reformation and Western democracy. Along the way, societies
established the rights and rules of the game for the privileged few who
could afford to buy printing presses and grind forests into paper.
The printing press set the model for mass media. A lucky handful owns
the publishing machinery and controls the information. Whether at
newspapers or global manufacturing giants, they decide what the masses
will learn. This elite still holds sway at most companies. You know
them. They generally park in sheltered spaces, have longer rides on
elevators, and avoid the cafeteria. They keep the secrets safe and coif
the company’s message. Then they distribute it — usually on a
need-to-know basis — to customers, employees, investors, and the press.
That’s the world of mass media, and the blogs are turning it on its head. Set up a free account at Blogger
or other blog services, and you see right away that the cost of
publishing has fallen practically to zero. Any dolt with a working
computer and an Internet connection can become a blog publisher in the
10 minutes it takes to sign up...
How does business change when everyone is a potential publisher? A vast
new stretch of the information world opens up. For now, it’s a digital
hinterland. The laws and norms covering fairness, advertising, and
libel? They don’t exist, not yet anyway. But one thing is clear:
Companies over the past few centuries have gotten used to shaping their
message. Now they’re losing control of it.
Want to get it back? You never will, not entirely.
Change content, and inevitably you change advertising. And that’s where it’s hard to be an army of one:
Still, blogs could
end up providing the perfect response to mass media’s core concern: the
splintering of its audience. Advertisers desperate to reach us need to
tap niches (because we get together only once a year to watch the Super
Bowl). By piggybacking on blogs, they can start working that vast
blogocafé, table by table. Smart ones will get feedback, links to
individuals — and their friends. That’s every marketer’s dream.
The big companies have what the bloggers lack. Scale, relations with
advertisers, and large sales forces. They can use these forces to sell
across all media, from general audience to bloggy niches. Already,
Yahoo and Microsoft have been investing heavily to position themselves
for niche advertising. And in February, the New York Times (NYT
) laid down $410 million for About Inc., a collection of 500
specialized Web sites that smell strongly of blogs. "What’s to stop
them from turning those 500 sites into 5,000?" says Dave Morgan,
founder of TACODA Systems, an Internet advertising company.
Most excitingly, the BusinessWeek folk get the ramifications of putting true open-source journalism into play:
What would this article look like if it were a real blog, and not just this glossy simulacrum?
Think of the way we produce stories here. It’s a closed process. We
come up with an idea. We read, we discuss in-house, and then we
interview all sorts of experts and take their pictures. We urge them
not to spill the beans about what we’re working on. It’s a secret.
Finally, we write. Then the story goes through lots and lots of
editing. And when the proofreaders have had their last look, someone
presses the button and we launch a finished product on the world.
If this were a real blog, we probably would have posted our story pitch
on Day One, before we did any reporting. In the blog world, a host of
experts (including many of the same ones we called for this story)
would weigh in, telling us what’s wrong, what we’re overlooking. In
many ways, it’s a similar editorial process. But it takes place in the
open. It’s a discussion.