When is a blogger not a blogger anymore?

A post on Poynter’s e-media Tidbits by Paul Bradshaw caught my eye. It essentially captures something I’ve been mulling for a while: When is a blogger not a blogger anymore? A typical lifecycle of some successful bloggers is that they start off as small, independent, opinionated writers but then, as they get popular and their blogging activity goes from hobby to business, they tone it down somewhat. (And yes, I’m generalising).

The big bloggers then start to resemble corporates or traditional media companies rather than the gutsy, independent, grassroots startups they once were. (In fact some bloggers get bought out by media companies or corporates.)

Some of the bigger bloggers just aren’t the one-man-bands they used to be, but have hired crews to write under them. Perhaps some of the bigger bloggers would even go so far as to employ scribes to secretly ghost write under their bylines? The big blog then begins accepting advertising and starts watching the bottom line. Most critically however it may lead — consciously or subconsciously — to a change in content, tone and style.

So, as the blogger begins to feel the public glare, he or she begins adopt a tone of corporate civility more akin to that of a major media house or business. They lose that independence and outspokeness — arguably a key characteristic of blogs. If a blog loses that, is it still a blog?

Now that a popular blogger is bigger, richer and more popular, it makes him or her a worthy prospect for libel. The blogger now reckons that he or she has so much more to lose and has now just become a small — or in some cases sizable — media company. Perhaps the only thing now resembling what we know as a blog is the blogging software the blogger continues to use or that the site looks like a blog.

Bradshaw sums it up nicely via this quote from the book “Making Online news” by Wilson Lowrey and John Latta:

More than one blogger said a key turning point in the way they practice blogging was the moment they felt the gaze of the public eye. Realising that people are paying attention… has led these bloggers to adopt a more careful, dispassionate approach and tone [ Read: BORING ].

Arguably you could even point a finger at me. Although this blog is independent and non-commerical, I work for corporate media. Would that affect what I write? I think there are cases of big, popular bloggers keeping their independence. Michael Arrington’s Techcrunch comes to mind. However, there are probably plenty of examples of blogs that have “sold out”. Perhaps it’s not entirely a bad thing and just part of a blog’s natural “progression”. However that assumes that all bloggers would want to “progress” to be bigger corporates — and many would find that insulting. Let’s debate!

Comments (5)

  1. Noto wrote::

    Nice thought-starter Matt!
    I think to have a fair debate around this you need to first define a blog with in the article’s context. If you take wikipedia’s definition then a blog would remain a blog regardless of the editorial process and/or tone.
    This is not so unique to blogging as you find the same in business. The owner of a small (not-so-)super-market around the corner knows and greets all the clients by name as they enter. Business grows and he goes the franchising route. Some of the authenticity gets lost with that decision.

    The main thing is finding a balance! One could have a set of ethos, which they use as criteria to run future decisions re: processes, etc by. If something doesn’t meet the criteria it gets dumped / re-worked. Change (growth) is inevitable more so if a blog is successful.


    Tuesday, August 12, 2008 at 12:32 pm #
  2. Peter wrote::

    Ahem, good post…

    on the same topic: http://peterbarlow.blogspot.com/2008/02/why-thought-leader-cant-truly-be-blog.html

    Tuesday, August 12, 2008 at 12:39 pm #
  3. matt wrote::

    @Noto — good example on the supermarket… to define a blog: i think a blog is more than the format or CMS (ie wordpress, blogger etc) — I think IT IS a type of content and tone and a general culture. It’s fuzzy alright, but then again there are clear instances of nonblogs using wordpress as a publishing system…ie we have to include content and tone etc, surely?

    @Peter — have just commented on yr b.l.o.g.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2008 at 2:56 pm #
  4. justBcoz wrote::

    @Matt – Bingo! “type of content and tone and a general culture”.

    Agreed … the use of blog engines for sites does not qualify them as blogs.

    I think it’s a sad fact, like the supermarket e.g., some “successful” blogs lose their character. For me, that’s part of what’s attractive about certain blogs – their content, their opinions, their voice. Without the passion that originally drives the blog, it becomes another dull collection of online ho-hum articles.

    I don’t think the “problem” about turning commercial though. It’s possible to do that and still produce good content in your original format. (Paid for reviews are questionable though?)

    Selling out is a tricky option – is it worth potentially losing your audience?

    For me, as long as your blog still grabs my attention and keeps me coming back, progression is fine. Just don’t lose your soul.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2008 at 3:18 pm #
  5. SaulK wrote::

    Surely any enterprise is like this. When you first start you might be edgy but as time goes by your audience has to change, you diversify, for you to make it big.
    I don’t think it’s a case of selling it, it’s more natural growth. As with any company as you get bigger your audience and their needs change.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2008 at 9:08 pm #