Bloggers vs. the old media (are they panicking yet?)

Sack_of_romeI think the old media verge on panic. One or two symptoms are beginning to show.

Thursday, I noted Lance Ulanoff’s alarmist treatment of YouTube. Ulanoff thinks it will turn us all into iVideots and that things must end badly:

The inescapable truth is that the moving image will be everywhere, yet iVideots will soon lose any true connection with the live people moving all around them.

Tom Guarriello caught the WSJ’s Henninger calling our world, gasp, uncivilized.

But there is one more personality trait common to the blogosphere that, like crabgrass, may be spreading to touch and cover everything. It’s called disinhibition. Briefly, disinhibition is what the world would look like if everyone behaved like Jerry Lewis or Paris Hilton or we all lived in South Park.

Recently, Ann Moore, CEO of Time, Inc., implied that blogging was cheap opinion.

One of the biggest threats to our business is this confusion in the public between real, fact-based, checked news and opinion, which is very cheap… And so, I’m really committed…to really paying attention to Time and figuring out how we can hold up the price value of fact-based news.

I am sure there is an "anthropology of decline" that documents the symptomatology of regime transition. I just don’t know it. 

But here’s a simple typology. I keep it on cardboard in my wallet….to make it easier to identity institutions in their last days.

Stage 1. Benign neglect.

In the early days of regime transition, the incumbent (aka New York Times, Wall Street Journal) treats the new challenger (aka bloggers) with a certain high handed indifference. If acknowledgment occurs at all, it comes with a patronizing pat on the head, as in "Hey, aren’t the newcomers charmingly amateur? Welcome to the party. Now, run along and get me a drink."  More often, bloggers are not acknowledged.  They just don’t matter. 

Stage 2. Lordly disdain

Blogging actually wins a couple of battles. In its "wisdom of crowds" way, it begins to threaten the traditional players. These respond with certain sneering, scolding, dismissal.  The implicit message: "who do you think you are, don’t you know who I am?"  Now we’re getting somewhere.

Stage 3. Irritation plus Obfuscation

As it turns out, bloggers refuse to wither in the face of high handed treatment.  In fact, they get stronger.  Their victories grow more numerous.  Their voice becomes more compelling.

Now it’s clear that the traditional media outlets must pay attention.  They begin to "cover" blogging.  They begin to read blogging.  They begin to help themselves to its content. 

And now they begin to see the writing on the wall.  If Wikipedia can rise to become a creditable challenge for the Encyclopedia Britannica, surely the NYT and the vulnerable too.  And at this point, things can get a little chippy.  See my account of a skirmish with a Canadian journalist (McCracken 2004) below. 

Stage 4. Panic! Attack!  Panic Attack!

In Stage 4, the alarm is now running full time.  You can hear  it coming from the old media world as if from a neglected warehouse.  It’s time to roll out the "barbarians at the gate" argument.  Enter Ulanoff, Henninger and Moore. 

Now, not everyone reacts this way.  I had lunch with a senior journalist who cheerfully admitted that the NYT might be dead in a decade.  But for most people, it is time to defend the vested interest.  (And this is of course a rich irony, coming as it does from profession that is supposed to protect us against same.)

Naturally, these aggressions can make thing worse.  Moore reveals a deeply patronizing attitude towards her reading public.  She implies they are not quite bright enough to see the difference between fact and opinion.  (Yes, I appreciate she is trying to stake out a value proposition for the capital markets, but when a CEO makes her value proposition by dissing her customers, analysts are going to wonder if she’s fit for office.  This self destructive behavior may be taken as a real measure of the panic.)

What you can do

How far will they go? The old media is a little like the old mafia. We muscle in on their turf at our peril.  We can’t know how far they will go, but I think it’s more than remotely possible that the community of bloggers, normally so serene and tranquil, is this far from becoming one of those Law and Order episodes in which bodies start turning up everywhere. 

This means bloggers will want to think about hiring protection.  Plastic surgery and name changes are not out of the question.  (Finally, an excuse!)  I understand that a blogger was found beaten and bloody in Second Life.  He was incoherent, but in his hand was found a scrap of Saturday’s Wall Street Journal.  You are warned.  Take steps now!


Guarriello, Tom. 2006. Guest Post: On mass media and blogging. This blog sits at the… April 21, 2006. here.

Lance, Ulanoff.  2006.  Are you an iVideot?  Internet Video is sucking life out of our live world.  PCMagazine.  April 20, 2006. here.

McCracken, Grant. 2004. Newspaper vs. Blogs: I think we’re catching up. December 20, 2004. here.  [for the Canadian journalist thing]

McCracken, Grant. 2006. Youtube: a peril to us all? This blog sits at… April 20, 2006. here.

McCracken, Grant. 2006. Muddles in the old media models. This Blog Sits At… February 8, 2006. here

Steinberg, Brian. 2006. Time’s Chief Plans A Digital-Age Transformation. Wall Street Journal. February 8, 2006. p. B3.

Surowiecki, James. 2004. The Wisdom of Crowds. New York: Doubleday.

the Wikipedia homepage here.

Post Script. 

On Thursday, Steve Postrel offered this useful bigger picture of the regime transition:

Remember: it was always better Before. The ancient Greeks had Golden, Silver, and Bronze Ages before their own Lead. The Roman Republic looked back to Romulus and Remus. The early Roman Empire missed the Republic. The Renaissance thinkers and artists saw themselves as restoring ancient glory.

Nostaligia turned to "social criticism" during the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution. The romantic movements in poetry and literature set the tone. Then we had Rousseau and then Marxists (not all of them, and not Marx himself) who insisted that living in a free society with specialization and market competition and fluid social roles was inferior to rustic stability and feudalism.

Fast-forward to the postwar US. First we had the problems of the Lonely Crowd and mass society–things were better in the old days when people were more individualistic. Then we had the problem of excessive abundance and mindless consumerism and the Leisure Crisis–things were better when our mass economy wasn’t so productive. Then we had the Age of Scarcity–things were better when the economy was booming and we didn’t have to worry about foreign competition.

Then we had the transition to today’s New Economy, with flexible supply chains and firms facing gales of entrepreneurial creative destruction, higher returns to skill and creativity, and the ability to segment and individualize goods and services like never before.

Now the Before of the social critics is the Mass Society where people didn’t go Bowling Alone or watch different TV shows from one another. And they’re already campaigning to valorize today as a Before life-extension period, when people had the good grace to die quickly.

Thank you, Steve.

12 thoughts on “Bloggers vs. the old media (are they panicking yet?)

  1. Tom Guarriello

    One more thing. We Boomers are now in positions of authority in most of the mainstream media outlets. One of the most powerful engines of our generation was an implicit assumption that we would be the end of history: this is the dawning of the Age of Acquarius, we sang. Apres nous…neant. But then, history continued (quelle impudence!), and some of us ain’t too happy about it.

    These kids today, with their hip hop and Internets. Why can’t they be like we were…perfect in every way. We understood authority, we just questioned it…these whippersnappers invented ways to marginalize it.

  2. Candy Minx

    Great post and response Grant and Tom. This reminds me of when I used to have a zine , called Kuntgeist, (I know I know what a nerd!) and I went to a famous, for Canada, court case of Karla Holmolka and Paul Bernardo (serial killers for anyone outside Canada). The public stood outside over night on many days to get inside, it was a huge story. Most of the people in line where U of Toronto gender studies students, crisis and rape councelors and then a few odds and ends like me(mothers, concerned citizens, rape victims, friends of victims of the killer couple) We had eggs thrown at us , shocking name calling I hadn’t heard since grade school and a real eye opening surprise for me was the journalists that scorned us. I gave an interview to Details magazine who had the idea that we were a geek eating freak show audience. I asked, what is the difference between you being in the courtroom and me? The journalists had some interesting lame justifications for why they were the voice of public opinion rather than the actual public, heh heh.

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  5. Overworm

    Perhaps I’m simply an old fogey, but I hope more of this article was written with more than a hint of sarcasm. As it was, it reads with more than a hint of hubris, not on the author himself, rather on his generation.

    Blogging is nice. I have a blog myself. Do I believe blogging will unseat media empires that have existed for nearly a century or more? Not hardly. Remember when there was a company called AOL-TimeWarner? How well did that go down?

    Blogging is important. The web is important. In the end, it’s simply a new way of communicating, not the only way. The same is true of blogging.

  6. Candy Minx

    Hi Overworm, I hope I didn’t add to your confusion about hubris versus sarcasm. I don’t think blogs are going to take over the world, oh god, I am so laughing as I type this…but what my point is, that the court of public opinion is the public, not journalists or politicians or marketers. Its the public. (even though I’ve heard that journalists and politicians were people too). I don’t believe in generations. Heck I don’t believe in generations, age, race or gender either. I agree with you that communication is communication.

  7. Overworm

    Hi Candy, my comments were not directed at your post, but at the original article.

    Regarding your post, I don’t see anything wrong with your zine asking for press credentials to a trial. I can understand why a court (or any other deciding body) might not be able to pass out credentials to any person who declares him/herself a journalist.

    Imagine if the Academy Awards gave a press pass to every person who said she was an “internet correspondent”. There would be so many “reporters” in attendance there wouldn’t be any seats in the venue for the stars. The line has to be drawn somewhere.

    However, I don’t understand why you had eggs and vitriol slung your way while you stood outside the courthouse. Can you explain?


  8. Graham Hill


    Your change curve is similar to the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross Transition Curve in widespread use amongst change managers.

    The whole transition is:
    1. Shock – at the new situation
    2. Denial – that anything is changing at all
    3. Emotion, particularly Fear – that things have changed
    4a. Acceptance – of the new status quo OR
    4b. Rejection – and with it the risk of irrelevence as the world moves on
    5. Testing – how the new world works
    6. Search for Meaning – of what lies behind the new world
    7. Integration – of the new world into how daily business is done.

    You can see the rough mapping of your change curve to the earlier stages of the Kubler-Ross curve and also that your curve seems to stop roughly at the Kubler-Ross Emotion (Fear) stage.

    It is likely that most traditional media organisations will eventually accept what John Moore at Brand Autopsy called “Wedia” in a recent presentaion, and just get on with the job of testing it and incorporating what works into the new world of media.

    As you point out, it is going to be an angst-filled transition for many.

    The irony of all this is that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ book that described the transition curve was entitled “On Death & Dying”!

    Graham Hill
    Independent Management Consultant

  9. fouro

    Nice Post, and Graham, Kubler-Ross was leaping to mind for me too. Another lady, perhaps not so astute, is WaPo ombudsman Debra Howell–an object lesson in rolling denial and vituperation. The lovely thing about transparency, whether derived from Aldus Manutius or Brad Delong (see Howell link below) is how inexorably it marches forward aflicting the comfortable.

    Delong tackles the fact-challenged white shoe media:

  10. Grant

    Tom, [whistle] Piling on! Thanks, Grant

    Candy, superb addition, thanks! Grant

    Brad, Steve’s astute remarks came to this blog as a comment on the post for Thursday. Thanks, Grant

    Overworm, it’s a fair point, and hubris is an easy error to fall into. And, I agree, it is hard to imagine that lots of bloggers could bring down an institution as majestic as the NYT. But this is I think the disintermediating effect of lots of smart people with blogs. If we think of all the things that the NYT is, it’s hard to see that any of them are proprietary or not duplicable. Anyhow, hubris, c’est nous. Thanks, Grant

    Graham, beauty, I was thinking about Kubler Ross as I was scribbling this. But I didn’t see how beautifully it would work. Thanks for the illumination! Best, Grant

    fouro, white shoe media! damn, why didn’t i think of that, perfect, thank you. Grant

  11. Candy Minx

    Overworm, I fully support your plan to have a chia pet roof when you purchase Iabuilding. I dream of a world where all the buildings have food growing on them, and we see a shift away from totalitarian agriculture. Happy house hunting. And thank you for asking me a question. The main reason for eggs and vitirol being thrown at those of us waiting outside the courroom for a serial killer trial was that a general impression, supported by news stories, was that we in the line up were like the women who wrote Ted Bundy love letters, or we worshipped/glorified serial killers, or we were some kind of ghouls. We were monsters because we were going to see monsters. The trial drew so many people that the public was sleeping outside, we ordered pizza to the line up and sared day care. It was an incredible band of folks in the line up and it surrpised even me to meet so many kindred spirits concerned with the trial. There were no press credentials required for going to a public trial. At least not back then, I wonder if this has changed…? I thought a major facet of justice was allowing and even encouraging the public to attend proceedings..but I am a bit of a Pollyanna ok a huge Pollyanna so I may be living in Candydreamland about our justice system in Canada. That would be the same justice system that can’t seem to throw out Holmolkas plea bargain, heh heh.

    Its funny about blogs, and their appearance to and often actual challenge to past methods of communicating. Short of the folks who write letters to newspapers and hope to see them published, blogs offer so much more to people who love to visit. and really, I think thats what blogs are about more than anything. Visiting and sharing. More than carreer correct news sources, people like anecdotal evidence. People like gathering evidence themselves by comparing each others stories. Its actually healthier to the species that we gather and suspect and challenge where we think and hear things. Money and stature can not replace the pleasure of visiting and thinking foroneself and with each other. I remeber the first time I noticed that rich people had everything, but they needed people like me. You can have all the money in the world but if you don’t have a funny buddy or madcap eccentric thinker and someone to screw the pooch with…what good is money? Heh heh.

    Blogs are someone to screw the pooch with. And a great big high school place where the smokers and cool people hang out. For now anyways. We always keep moving…keeping it fresh, heh heh.

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