When the Weird Turn Pro

by Henry Farrell on June 8, 2010

Laura McKenna has an interesting claim and “data point”:http://11d.typepad.com/files/blog-evolution—mckenna.pdf (PDF).

bq. However, the move from independent bloggers to paid staff members of important newspapers and interest groups had an impact on the old system of blogging. Perhaps because these newly professional bloggers felt pressured to distance themselves from their amateur roots, they stopped linking to independent bloggers. They were more likely to link to academic studies, foundation reports, newspaper articles, or live-blogged events.

bq. Matthew Yglesias is one of the superstar bloggers who went pro. … His new professional status has had an impact on his linkage patterns. In the last week of September of 2004, Yglesias wrote 30 posts with 31 hyperlinks on his independent blog. Fifteen of those links were to independent blogs, and the remaining sixteen links were to newspapers, websites, journals, or think tank studies. In the last week of September of 2009, he wrote 66 posts with 131 hyperlinks for his blog at the Center for American Progress. Only seven of 131 hyperlinks were to independent bloggers. The remaining 122 links primarily pointed readers to everything else, but primarily traditional newspapers and journals. Yglesias is writing a lot more, but referring to independent bloggers a lot less.

I suspect that the story is a little more complex than this. The problem may not only be that ‘big’ bloggers are less likely to link to small ones because of perceived norms of professionalism, but that a lot of the amateur bloggers whom they used to link to have either dropped out of the game, or turned pro themselves. Population turnover may possibly be a sufficient explanation in itself. I emphasize the word ‘possibly’ – we don’t have good population data on the evolution of the blogosphere over time (actually, make that ‘we don’t have good _data_ on the evolution of the blogosphere over time’). Also, as I suggested “way back in 2006”:https://crookedtimber.org/2006/05/30/norms-and-networks/ economic incentives may have made cross-linking less likely as the blogosphere became more marketized. Under this pattern, we would expect less cross-linking _tout court_ – Matthew Yglesias may plausibly be an outlier in his willingness to link profligately.

Crooked Timber is a bit of an anomaly in all of this. I would guess that our linkage patterns have changed, but not all that much, since a lot of our content has been generated from external sources (e.g. academic papers etc) since the beginning. We also are one of the few biggish blogs from the 2003-2006 period (before commercialization really got going) which haven’t either been bought up by someone else or tried to start our own miniature empire (again at least in part because we occupy an obviously non-commercial niche, rather than because we’re Too Pure – we’ve never received any especially tempting offers). But then the academic blogosphere is itself somewhat anomalous – whenever I click over to the academic blogs wiki, I find new swathes of academic blogs that I’d never have been aware of otherwise (I’d never have known, for example, that there were so many “theology blogs out there”:http://academicblogs.org/wiki/index.php/Religion/Theology ), many of which seem to be happily talking to each other in little groups without seeing the need to talk to any wider audience.

So – open thread on changes in the blogosphere and linking practices – good, bad, indifferent. I’d also be interested to hear from bloggers, big or otherwise, about how they feel their own linkage patterns have changed over time.



cate 06.08.10 at 10:57 pm

How much of the linked material is in the form of supporting evidence for independent claims being made? The shift could be accounted for a change in style, that is, moving from writing primarily in terms of response to analysis and opinion of one’s peers to articulating one’s own analysis, substantiated by an increasingly specialized body of literature. In that case, it might be natural for the sources to move from commentary to data (or grounds/evidence in the Toulmin argument-model sense). And keep in mind that “going pro” happens in time, by which I mean that one’s writing style is bound up in larger processes of development and change.

I guess that while I don’t doubt at all that the knowledge environment one builds is connected at least in part to one’s institutional identity (pro/am), I also can’t help thinking how different my own scholarly writing from 2004 is from that of 2010, thanks to slow maturation and increasing comprehension.


The Raven 06.08.10 at 10:58 pm

I wonder if the difference is partly the time a steady income affords? With that time, a blogger can do more research, and ground their work in better-researched sources. Some bloggers, like those here, are knowledgeable experts in their fields, but most of us are dilletantes, and we aren’t the best sources. I like to think I have good intuitions in political science, and a pretty good flight record, but I don’t have half the specific knowledge that one of the political scientists her does.


Witt 06.08.10 at 11:39 pm

Perhaps I’m just bad-tempered because this is a longtime concern of mine, but I think your assessment is overly kind. Yes, it’s a complicated issue. But some aspects are pretty simple. Recognizable people link to recognizable people, even when there is better material available elsewhere. And sometimes even when people like me have e-mailed them links to better material.

As amateurs become more recognizable people, they begin to take on the values of their new environment. And in journalism, old value systems still hold tremendous power. Newspapers care a lot about who published a story first, although only when it comes to other media outlets. There are no social or professional penalties for failing to acknowledge legwork by smaller organizations or amateurs.

So, for example, my big-city newspaper has spotlighted several important issues in the school district that were originally identified, researched, and written up by a small but influential nonprofit that publishes an education blog. Zero credit or linkage to the nonprofit. As a reader, I don’t care about picayune professional politics as such, but I know *they* care. It’s pretty blatent disrespect to ignore the source of a story like that.


Tom T. 06.09.10 at 1:17 am

Bloggers who move into “the system” do so because they ultimately want jobs in a Presidential administration, either this one or the next Republican one. This makes them more risk-averse in general, and one manifestation of that is linking to “safer” sources. Who knows what crazy shenanigans an independent blogger is going to get up to? Better to link to something predictable.


stras 06.09.10 at 2:43 am

When the Weird Turn Pro

From what I can see, the weird aren’t turning pro – the mediocre are. The weird, along with everyone else, are packing it in when they can’t afford to do this anymore.


laura 06.09.10 at 2:56 pm

Thanks for the link, Henry. Another change that I mentioned in the comment section, but not in that essay, is that readers aren’t clicking on hyperlinks the way that they used to. Five years ago, a link to my blog from Crooked Timber would bring in 1,000 to 2,000 readers. Today, a link from Crooked Timber will bring in 100 readers. Why is that? Reader burn out? Have your numbers gone down that much? Are people skimming content in RSS feeds and not tuning into comments and following the extended debate?


Henry 06.09.10 at 3:33 pm

My best guess is RSS. Our readership, as best as I can tell, is still on a very moderate growth path. But lots and lots of people are reading us through Google Reader etc.


Ali Gator 06.09.10 at 9:09 pm

It seems that when some bloggers become professional, they start seeing amateur bloggers as less linkable, simply because they aren’t professionals. Which is kind of sad, since there are some very well done amateur blogs out there, who have broken some good stories.

I tend to link to wherever I found the story: newspapers, independent bloggers, experts, etc. Sometimes the best information comes from a random blogger who is actually on the scene. That’s what I really love about blogging.


tomslee 06.10.10 at 12:03 am

The Laura McKenna piece was an interesting tale well told: thanks. On the bright side, if “readers aren’t clicking on hyperlinks the way they used to” then perhaps it doesn’t matter so much that “Yglesias is writing a lot more, but referring to independent bloggers a lot less”.

The professionalization of the original A-List does make me wonder if there’s a generation thing going on. Is there a second generation of bloggers who neither know nor care about the older ones, or was blogging a single-generation phenomenon? It seems very unfortunate and quite remarkable that, the efforts of Henry and a few others aside, “‘we don’t have good data on the evolution of the blogosphere over time’”. Is that really the case? I know technorati has lost its relevance, but is no one else collecting all that data?


Witt 06.10.10 at 12:29 am

Reasons that I don’t click on links:

1. Caution. I mouseover the URL to make sure it’s unlikely to send me a site with blaring audio or objectionable content. If I’m on my lunch break at work, and someone links me to a newspaper website that autostreams a loud ad (my hometown newspaper is infamous for this), I won’t follow the link.

2. Disillusionment. If a blogger has sent me on a lot of wasted journeys before, I won’t bother clicking this time.

3. Satisfaction. If the brief snippet in the blog post gives me as much about the topic as I care to know, I don’t click through. (Because I am an incurably nosy person who much prefers to see for herself, this almost never applies.)

4. Strategy. Sometimes a blogger links to a site or a person whose work I strongly oppose. Refusing to click on these links is a way of withholding pageviews, attention and revenue from the person or organization in question.


mts999 06.10.10 at 3:37 pm

Weirdly, Yglesias and Ezra Klein link to Megan McArdle, so it can’t be that they are looking for quality links as one commenter said. Are in the same social circle in Washington DC? I’m wondering if there is some social pressure to send traffic her way…


Alex 06.11.10 at 10:40 am

Availability. If people send you stuff, you’re likely to use it.


Ali Gator 06.11.10 at 1:47 pm

I’m a second generation blogger. I’m a member of the Middle East Studies Association, and a few years back our big name bloggers basically put out a call for more bloggers. They were worried that blogging was dying out, that no one was interested anymore. I think they’re right; I’m not sure how many other 2nd generation bloggers are out there. It’s a bit of a commitment for someone in graduate school, who’s already very busy.


Hume's Ghost 06.12.10 at 12:18 am

I’ve been blogging since March 05, my readership and linkage peaked in June 06 while I was guest blogging for Glenn Greenwald’s original blogspot blog. My readership declined precipitously after I quit blogging for a half year and the amount of high profile links I used to get pretty much dissapeared when I came back; there is a simple explanation for this: when I came back Grreenwald had moved onto Salon and gained a massive readership with an exponential increase in comments. With more information overload and my unwillingness to wade through hundreds of comments to follow the blog conversation, the amount of links or mentions I got dropped off (although) you can find occassional posts around the time where I was commenting at salon more regularly where I’ve gotten hat tips, e.g. http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2009/01/04/terrorism … I guess this kind of reinforces my point.) Also: I’ve grown too lazy to type in my blog url when I comment at other blogs.

As a small time blogger who has maintained a core, minute audience, I can say I haven’t really noticed a trend in linkage one way or the other. Oh, and I can say I was a bit surprised when Yglesias the professional linked to my blog a year or so ago, precisely since my amateurish blog is an odd choice to use as a reference. (I can’t remember which post of mine he linked to and I can’t seem to find any tracking services that will help me track it down … )


Elayne Riggs 06.12.10 at 9:34 am

I believe that far fewer indie and sub-A-list bloggers have dropped out than you think. My blogroll hasn’t changed all that much in 7+ years, particularly not in the last 3 years or so. People who started around the same time as me are, by and large, still going. But many of the now-pro A-listers stopped linking to us. Fortunately, for every one who stops there appear to be at least two (off the top of my head, in my case, Digby and Kevin Drum) who continue to link to us smaller fish.

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