Tuesday, March 29, 2005

BNB's ("Blogs" not blogs) will be the real threat to trad media

I've just read my 5000th story about how blogs won't take over Mainstream Media (or MSM as it's derisively known now). When any new medium pops up, the automatic reaction is fear and loathing from old mediums. Radio was supposed to destroy print while print and movies were supposed to be destroyed by TV and VCR's were supposed to destroy movies, P2P was going to destroy music, etc.. Nevertheless, all of these are still around and ubiquitous. As many print editorials note, the stories that they report on allow many bloggers to exist and survive because they can then comment on the stories on their site. That won't last for long though.

Usually, when we see stories about blogs and MSM, it's just a set-up. It's always written by someone from MSM who's usually defensive and thus, the answer is always that blogs are not a real threat. But they're right about it nevertheless, at least so far. When they make this unfair, slanted match-up, they're always referring to how blogs fare against news reporting- invariably, blogs come up short. If there's a story about a warehouse fire for example, a TV or print reporter will find it easier to get resources to cover the story than any blogger who would jump in a car and drive out to the scene (maybe having to leave a day job or something else they're doing). The reporter on the scene could then do a blog to expand on what they've reported but we've seen little of that except in Iraq (and less and less of that now). The best a blogger can then do is to link to an article about the event or comment about it.

But in the world of entertainment, it's a much more level playing field. Here, all you need is a computer, a fertile mind and access to the movie or CD or book or museum or play. What's to stop you from writing your own review otherwise? Since blogging is becoming more commonly seen and read, the biggest names and most linked sites can likely get labels or studios or publishers to front them advances so that their write-up's can appear simultaneously with a release date. And there you have the whole promise of the egalitarian nature of the Net in all of its glory.

The reason that the arts are more accommodating for a blogger is the reason that the field doesn't really threaten MSM: by nature, blogs are off-the-cuff opinion pieces and usually not 'hard news.' At least for now.

Blogs are being used a lot of different ways for a lot of different purposes. Usually, we just think that they're places for people to let their thoughts roam free. But because it's a hot new medium, it's also seen as something that can be exploited for other means. Many companies are now putting up blogs, having their senior management keep their own public journals. Believe me, they're mostly not anything that you'd want to read- they're basically very, very thinly veiled PR (i.e. Google, Yahoo).

The idea here is that since this has become such a booming area of the Net that's generating such interest, these companies can get in on it and become 'bloggers' without really being bloggers per se. They tout new initiatives by their company but do it in the style of a blog (personalized) so that it doesn't totally look like a press release. The best company blogs out there actually provide some useful information that doesn't constantly push the organization: Security Awareness, Forbes (no kidding), ZDNet, Webmail. It's actually pretty wise of them to do this as you're sucked into their realm and finding useful things there. You can also bet your gluteus maximus that they have a lawyer to vet what's there- despite all of the warning language, those sites are still technically part of the company's online presence and representing them in some sense.

You'll also notice that a number of entries at these sites look like articles and that's no accident. In the blogsphere, many of the biggest names are already known entities in the print world (i.e. Andrew Sullivan) but you notice that many times, their blogs look like blogs (i.e. random thoughts and sightings) and not full blown articles. It's not just time that limits them from doing such but the fact that they already have readily-available outlets for their longer, more in-depth work. For them, the blogsphere is another place to get the word out about themselves and their work and for their employers, it's a good way to break into the blogsphere, using proven entities that are tied to them. Since companies don't have the same luxury of regular print columns and have to rely on dry press releases to get their word out, they use the blog medium to also get the word out about their work but in a more humanized way that will hopefully reflect well on their image.

The idea of "blogs" that aren't really blogs per se is something that you'll see more of and not just as corporate promos. You can set up a blog that looks like one (logo on top, previous postings and links on the side, main section with entries by day, archive of previous postings) and reads like a blog (again, the personalized, spontaneous style) but it's not really a blog beneath the surface. If you have an editor reviewing the material and having it vetted by other people, then it's not really a blog but a regular piece of journalism.

The idea of the blog-not-blog (BNB's, if you like acronyms) is too appealing just for corporations- I guarantee you that news organizations are working on the same model for themselves. For the traditional newsgathers, this is a way to do their usual job but like the company blogs, they can present it in this fresh way to attract online eyeballs. For upstart news companies, this same BNB model can work well- you do your usual job of covering a story with a team of people BUT you present it as a blog to make it look cooler. The additional effort in doing this is minimal and can get additional clout for your business. You could even do your regular report in print (or TV or radio) and then put up any additional info with some personalized touches as a BNB- many print writers do this legitimately for stories that were cut or edited.

By extension, even less scrupulous BNB's can come about too. If your station or publication doesn't want to be too tied to blogs that look official, there's nothing to stop them from having their own employees start fake blogs that look to be just your average person out there but actually works under their wing. They can have links and banners back to the company and give the occasional, subtle shout-out to the org and maybe some digs at rivals.

News companies may have something to fear from BNB's because unlike your regular blogger, they have the goods to actually compete with them on news as opposed to opinion pieces. The simple solution is to man yourself with your own BNB to compete. Consider this for a minute and you can see how dizzying this can become.

In the end, some of the more artful, thoughtful BNB's will succeed and some will bomb as they'll look like obvious mouthpieces and fronts. As with the company blogs, the secret is always providing useful, unique information that people want and need. I'm not entirely thrilled with the idea of these things populating webspace but if they feed my brain with a good meal of news, I won't avoid them either. I'm sure it'll be fun to see yet other blogs who try to out them as phony blog sites but as always in the media/entertainment world, content is king- if it's useful enough to people out there, they'll succeed and become the real threat to many parts of the MSM kingdom.

ADDENDA: In my example of regular bloggers (not affiliated with anyone company) vs. traditional media, I forgot all about what's called Participatory Journalism, as heralded by American Press Institute's We Media project. The idea is very appealing: online communities of new-gathers that spring up and report on what's going on in their area. The only draw back initially would seem to be the filter process: how do you keep fake news, nutballs and such from taking over the process and making the whole thing into garbage? Even in this case, there are some form of moderators at work and the rest of the group (who are all registered members of the particular group) can comment and grade information that each member provides so that certain participants gain credibility- they call this 'reputation systems.'

As long as you have one central site and system to login to, you have a forum ready to work for a project like this. Already in South Korea, twenty-thousand people have signed up for a project like this called OhMyNews. No reason that you couldn't see the same thing happen elsewhere. Even though some of media outlets have embraced this idea, hiring their "citizen media editors" to gather and distribute this information, independent participatory journalism projects could be healthy competition not just for BNB's but also traditional media.


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