Going pro

by Michael Bérubé on September 18, 2009

It’s time to blog about bloggers blogging about blogging!  Let’s start with Benjamin Carlson’s recent account of “the rise of the professional blogger”:

In early July, Laura McKenna, a widely respected and longtime blogger, argued on her site, 11D, that blogging has perceptibly changed over the six years she’s been at it. Many of blogging’s heavy hitters, she observed, have ended up “absorbed into some other professional enterprise.” Meanwhile, newer or lesser-known bloggers aren’t getting the kind of links and attention they used to, which means that “good stuff” is no longer “bubbling to the top.” Her post prompted a couple of the medium’s most legendary, best-established hands to react: Matthew Yglesias (formerly of The Atlantic, now of ThinkProgress), confirmed that blogging has indeed become “institutionalized,” and Ezra Klein (formerly of The American Prospect, now of The Washington Post) concurred, “The place has professionalized.”

This confirms what I’ve been hearing from people like Maud Newton (whom I met last spring) and Lauren Bruce (whom I met last week while sightseeing in West Lafayette, Indiana).  Because of course, when I meet bloggers in real life, we take the opportunity to talk about blogging.  (Well, actually Maud and I were supposed to do that—it was a forum at Penn State on blogging and the arts.)  Note, by the bye, that all three of these bloggers are (1) widely respected, (2) longtime bloggers (Lauren, of course, invented blogging in 1985), and (3) women.  So of course we have to ask them: where were all the women bloggers?

Sorry.  Did I take you back for a moment?  Ah, 2004.  Bad times.  How bad, you ask?  Really, really bad.  Why, back in September of that year, blogging sold out and became corporate.

Anyway, a couple of thoughts on the consolidation-and-professionalization of the blogosphere since its last sellout.  First, Laura’s.  This is point 3 of nine (Laura would have had an even ten but for blogger burnout):

3. Norms and practices. Bloggers have undermined the blogosphere. Bloggers do not link to each other as much as they used to.  It’s a lot of work to look for good posts elsewhere, and most bloggers have become burnt out. Drezner and Farrell had a theory that even small potato bloggers would have their day in the sun, if they wrote something so great that it garnered the attention of the big guys. But the big guys are too burnt out to find the hidden gems. So, good stuff is being written all the time, and it isn’t bubbling to the top.

Many have stopped using blogrolls, which means less love spread around the blogosphere. The politics of who should be on a blogroll was too much of a pain, so bloggers just deleted the whole thing.

Now, mine.

Thing the first. You knew this would happen eventually, right?  Check out Laura’s point four, about blogger burnout.  I said pretty much the same thing when I folded my own blog in early 2007—it’s just too much work.  Yes, I restarted Ye Olde Blog about a year ago, but it’s nowhere near the scale of what I was doing in 2005-06, and it has about one-quarter the readership of those heady days.  Which is, I think, just about right—i.e., manageable.

Thing the second, which follows from thing the first as the night the day.  Group blogs were always the way to go, because successful solo blogs are so difficult to maintain over many years.  Crooked Timber was simply way ahead of the curve.

Thing the third, it’s hard not to succumb to Blog Nostalgia in all this—for the wild and wooly days of the Rittenhouse Review (pbuh) and Steve Gilliard (pbuh) and Respectful of Otters and Fafblog’s interview with James Dobson, back when people wondered if Atrios was really Sidney Blumenthal, back when it was genuinely surprising that a major American political party would issue press credentials to bloggers attending its national convention. You know, back when blogging was cool, before it totally sold out and went mainstream.  Which brings me to

Thing the fourth.  Well, of course Crooked Timber was cooler before I showed up here.  Don’t think I don’t know that.  But I liked Hüsker Dü before you did, so there.

Thing the fifth.  Laura doesn’t mention this, but it came up in my conversations with Maud and Lauren: in the absence of the Koufax Awards, there really is no formal mechanism for bringing lesser-known bloggers to the attention of Liberal and Leftish Bloggers Everywhere. But:

Thing the sixth.  The demise of the Koufaxes is symptom, not cause: they started back in aught-two as a compensatory mechanism, as left-throwing bloggers huddled around the virtual oil can in fingerless gloves and lamented the fact that all the blogging awards, like the young blogosphere itself, were dominated by conservatives and glassy-eyed techno-utopian libertarians.  For the next couple of years, the Koufaxes were something like a big ol’ barbeque where you might meet people like Lindsay Beyerstein or Scott Lemieux hanging out by the keg.  By 2006, though, as the barbeque had to be moved to the football stadium, Dwight Meredith’s idea had gotten too big to manage.  (Here’s Meteor Blades talking up the Koufaxes in late 2005—for what would turn out to be the final year of the event.  And personally, I still have blog nostalgia for the Cobb Awards.  Could those have lasted more than one year?  Sadly, no.)

On the other hand, Open Pajamas Source Media.

Thing the seventh.  Wait a minute, Kathy G. and Jon Swift are no longer blogging?  You say they haven’t been blogging in months now?  But they just started!

Thing the eighth.  Back to Benjamin Carlson’s essay:

Of the top 50 blogs, 21 are owned by such familiar names as CNN, the New York Times, ABC, and AOL.

Well, the “political economy” media theorists were right about that—the Internet gets commercial, the big guys move in, and the weird turn pro.  But look again at the very tippy top of Carlson’s piece, where the teaser reads,

The blogosphere was supposed to democratize publishing and empower the little guy. Turns out, the big blogs are all run by The Man.

Ah, no, not exactly.  For one thing, the top-50 glass is still 58 percent full.  Apparently only 42 percent of the big blogs are Man-run.  Which is kind of remarkable, really, after seven-eight-nine years.  For another thing, the blogosphere certainly did democratize publishing, and it still does.  Why, you could start a blog right now!  Let’s not confuse the question of whether the blogosphere is a democratic medium with the question of how the structure of the blogosphere has changed over the decade, because that would be one of those blog-category mistakes.

Well, that’s all I have for now.  I’d come up with nine things, but I’m feeling blogger burnout.  Also, that’s AOL on the other line—gotta go!

{ 27 comments }

1

Jake 09.18.09 at 7:10 pm

Part of the issue around “professional” blogging is money: if you’re going to blog enough, it’s going to start seeming like a job sooner or later, and you’re eventually going to want to get paid for it. (Unless, as you note, “Group blogs were always the way to go, because successful solo blogs are so difficult to maintain over many years. Crooked Timber was simply way ahead of the curve.” But that’s slightly different from the lone-gunmen style of blogging that’s already being romanticized).

In any event, the problem is that blogs don’t make much money (at least directly, through things like advertising or selling t-shirts), never have, and probably never will, but stories about the rare successes constantly show up. I addressed one such example in You’re Not Going to be a Professional Blogger, Regardless of What the Wall Street Journal Tells You.

For almost any blogger, real life (and money) will eventually beckon.

2

Michael Bérubé 09.18.09 at 7:31 pm

I’ve been wondering for some time why there aren’t any Crooked Timber t-shirts for sale around here. You’d think that McLemee, at least, would be up for that, since his own brand of T-shirt sold out (in the good sense!) long ago.

3

Joe S. 09.18.09 at 8:00 pm

One thing I don’t understand is why more retirees don’t blog. A lot of talent; a lot worth saying; a lot of time; little need for money.

The only prominent retiree blogger I can think of is Calculated Risk. Maybe Meteor Blades (I’m less sure about him.)

4

tom s. 09.18.09 at 8:53 pm

On the Internet, no one knows you’re a retiree.

5

tom s. 09.18.09 at 8:56 pm

“For another thing, the blogosphere certainly did democratize publishing, and it still does. Why, you could start a blog right now!”

The only way to look at the democratization issue is from the demand side. Lack of supply has never been an issue in cultural production. Publishing used to be a significant step on the way to reaching an audience. Publishing a blog, not so much. Not that I’m complaining.

6

Keith 09.18.09 at 9:17 pm

It bugged me for a little while that I couldn’t get more eyes on my blog but then I got over it. I like being small time, even if my comments sections are a little sparse. There’s also the whole problem of advertising, which I’ve never been good at (otherwise my books would be selling better, too). Linkage doesn’t quite cut the mustard and never did and having some corporate overlord peering over your shoulder as you write isn’t fun either. But the process of killing phosphor with my thoughts keeps me off the streets and out of trouble (and has for 6 years now!) so there’s that.

7

rea 09.18.09 at 9:51 pm

Did Hunter S. Thompson call it, or what?

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. ” :)

8

Stuart 09.18.09 at 11:03 pm

One thing I don’t understand is why more retirees don’t blog. A lot of talent; a lot worth saying; a lot of time; little need for money.

I would guess it is likely they will, when generations used to using computers at work start retiring in numbers.

9

evil is evil 09.18.09 at 11:23 pm

I believe, Allhatnocattle.com has been around since 2000 or 2001. It is run by a single woman who culls the blogs and puts out what is equivalent to a Sunday newspaper, every week day.

I know that she has been having trouble lately, she had cancer, she went to Costa Rica and had an operation. She is trying to sell her house to get the money to have chemo therapy. According to wikipedia the type of cancer she has can be successfully treated with chemo and has a 90 per cent survival rate.

Bartcop.com has been around since I started reading the blogs regularly. Prickly but gutsy, a good blog from Oklahoma. He calls a spade a spade and the devil take the hindmost. I read him regularly.

Suburban guerrilla is an excellent blog by Susie.

I use Liberaloasis.com as my main start for looking at the blogs. I’ve tried contacting the blog owners to offer to cull the dead blogs and suggest more blogs that they might want to add.

The so called “news” blogs that are run by the corporations can quickly be skipped, because they lie just like all of the “news” organizations in the MSM. If fact, one blog that I read today has a rundown of who owns or controls which corporation in the MSM.

I have been advocating for some time now that blogs that link to MSM organizations, identify who owns or controls the MSM so a touch of truth to what is being attached is being added.

Sometimes when I am totally depressed, I will only look at wired.com, boingboing.net
or ted.com. Interesting and not so hate filled as the comments when the opposite opinion is expressed. tec.com is a must see for all people everywhere

10

evil is evil 09.18.09 at 11:25 pm

Last line should read ted.com not tec.com, sorry.

11

David 09.19.09 at 12:14 am

What is the substantiation for the claim that Lauren invented blogging in 1985? My understanding is that the term at least was coined by Jorn Barger as weblog which morphed into blog, sometime later than 1985. For starters, I think it is stretching it to claim that usenet and bulletin board forums are the original blogs. In that case let me make a case for fanzines run off on Gestetners and mimeograph machines.

12

Michael Bérubé 09.19.09 at 12:47 am

The only way to look at the democratization issue is from the demand side.

I suppose, but then we’re talking about the democratization of mass communications rather than the democratization of publishing. And democratizing mass communications is hard work. It’s hard! Hard work! Whereas democratizing publishing is relatively easy, it turns out.

Suburban guerrilla is an excellent blog by Susie.

I use Liberaloasis.com as my main start for looking at the blogs.

Here’s to the quite wonderful Susie Madrak, and allhatnocattle, and Bartcop too. Let’s not forget Ye Olde Horse while we’re at it. As for Liberaloasis, I met Bill Scher at a blog panel in NYC’s The Tank in late ’06, and thanked him for running the joint back when it truly was a liberal oasis.

What is the substantiation for the claim that Lauren invented blogging in 1985?

There is none — that was just a semi-private joke of mine. Sorry bout that. You see, my own blog pretends to have started in 1985, and Lauren really was blogging sometime around 2000, back when Josh Marshall, Andrew Sullivan, and Mickey Kaus were getting all the credit for it.

13

David 09.19.09 at 1:08 am

Well, it should have started in 1985. I’m sure it would have got things off to a rousing, better start and hastened the WWW.

14

Bill Scher 09.19.09 at 2:00 am

Dead on post Michael.

Evil is Evil, I am way behind in updating the LiberalOasis blogroll — as Michael said, it’s a lot of work! If you have blogs to add, please send them to contact – at – liberaloasis.com.

15

HP 09.19.09 at 2:20 am

the lone-gunmen style of blogging that’s already being romanticized

Oh, man, I really want to read that. Are we talking Brontë or something more like the pulps?

“Dan ensconced himself before the sleek Dell laptop and let his fingers dance among the keys. The words came easy to him, like a cheap hoyden in an after-hours joint up on Twelfth. In college he was D-Day, and on Usenet he was Bork.bork.bork. But in the blogosphere, everyone knew him as Aratosthenes.”

16

andrew 09.19.09 at 5:23 am

Blogging was invented in 4338, imagined in the 1830s by some Russian guy.

17

roger 09.19.09 at 5:29 am

I’ve never understood the deal about insisting and wanting to be marginal, and then resenting that one isn’t in the center. There are hundreds of thousands of blogs, and I imagine a good ninety more percent of them have never given a shit if they got a reward or were in the top ten (of what?). And they will chug along, commenting on sports, or porno, or dissing high school enemies, or soliloquizing about starving or cutting themselves. Because they learned a tongue.,

And this, I think, is wholly good.

18

JoB 09.19.09 at 8:34 am

Roger that!

19

David 09.19.09 at 4:29 pm

Or at least Odoevsky predicted the Christmas Letter.

20

justme 09.20.09 at 9:28 am

>> I liked Hüsker Dü before you did

>> that’s AOL on the other line

OMG! Another old geezer who thinks he is really cool …
(AOL? please, what are you still using dial-up or something?)

21

Michael Bérubé 09.21.09 at 2:10 am

You rotten kids today, with your OMGs and your NSFWs. Get off my lawn!

Srsly, I am old — 48 next week, in fact. But the Hüsker Dü line is a standard joke on Ye Olde Blogge of mine, and you can even find it if you click on the “hyper”-“link” on the phrase “blogging sold out and became corporate.” Apparently, the “hyper”-“link” will take you directly to a post of mine from 2004, almost like a “transporter” or “time machine.” As for my reference to AOL, check out the first citation in “Thing the Eighth.” I dunno, I thought having AOL on the other line would be something of a laff riot.

I also think gopher and Prodigy are going to be really big someday.

22

J. Fisher 09.21.09 at 8:46 pm

Ah, 2004. Bad times. How bad, you ask? Really, really bad. Why, back in September of that year, blogging sold out and became corporate.

And so what does that mean for the current iteration of your blog. Is it the Candy Apple Grey to ’04’s New Day Rising?

23

The 45 year old hag 09.22.09 at 6:38 pm

<>

Old? Ahemmm. Speak yourself.

Happy birthday, Michael!

24

Michael Bérubé 09.23.09 at 3:28 pm

Is it the Candy Apple Grey to ‘04’s New Day Rising?

Good question — I have to wait until Michael Azzerad writes the definitive history of blogging (This Blog Could Be Your Life) to find out.

Old hag: thanks! Saturday, to be exact.

25

subrosa 09.24.09 at 4:27 pm

I’m a retiree who blogs on politics from Scotland. For some unknown reason I’m listed 43 in Wikio UK and am third of the Scottish bloggers.

Sadly not enough women blog, especially women retirees who make all sorts of excuses about not understanding complex technology, but I really don’t blame them as it is hard work and most of all time consuming.

26

Demetrius 09.24.09 at 4:48 pm

Perhaps you have been reading the wrong blogs, up to a point. Professional bloggers often have to have a relatively fixed position, and an angle. Some amateurs or rather free agents can take an individual and thinking line. But not too many do, unluckily.

27

Katrina 09.24.09 at 8:41 pm

On the issue of bloggers not linking to each other like they used to: I had a blog in the olden days, and I used trackback a lot, and it was great in order to follow cross-blog conversations. However, when started a new one early in 2009, I couldn’t find this feature on the current blogger software (if I’ve missed it, please let me know). Without that feature, it’s impossible (or rather, so tedious nobody will bother) to find out where your posts are being referenced on other people’s pages.

Comments on this entry are closed.