Blogging as pure personal commentary may soon be a thing of the past as more mainstream journalism ventures dominate the practice and new entrepreneurial outlets take a more magazine-style approach to the medium, panelists and attendees at an Online News Association event agreed.
The discussion held recently at the Los Angeles Times' Chandler Auditorium centered on the transformation of blogging into big business and showcased a diversity of formats and philosophies.
In her introductory remarks, LATimes.com executive editor Meredith Artley noted that often when posting news such as the recent Southern California wildfires, staffers are pressed with deciding what is the best medium to share up-to-the-minute information; oftentimes blog posts can be more valuable than a traditional article format and the lines are blurring as more blogs turn to real-time reporting.
Two of Artley's staffers — Peter Viles, who writes about real estate on the Times' L.A. Land blog, and Andrew Malcolm, who co-writes the Times' election focused blog Top of the Ticket — served as mainstream media's blogosphere reps.
Malcolm, who came to blogging from a long traditional reporting career at the paper, said at first he was skeptical that there would be enough to write about in short pieces throughout the day. But now that he has been at it "498 days," he said he can post up to 16 items a day starting from around noon until watching the sun come up with his dog at home. His strategy: Not just reporting what is newsworthy but coming up with an alternate take that he hadn't yet come across while daily trolling Google News. His style, he said, is not to offer straight reporting but the insider information a reporter would tell his friends at lunch.
On the other side of the coin were a trio of independent operators. Eric Richardson showed off blogdowntown.com, a community news site focused on downtown L.A.'s burgeoning cultural scene. The USC computer programming grad started the site in 2005 and recently turned over control to a non-profit foundation in an effort to sustain its long-term viability.
David Markland, one of the writers at Metroblogging, and who used to run the Los Angeles-based news site that is also available in other cities, said he has yet to turn a profit on the venture, but his blogging endeavor has earned him enough notice to gain him more lucrative paid employment from traditional media outlets.
Certainly the night's most non-traditional presenter was Luke Ford, who talked about his transition from blogging on the porn industry into blogging on Judaism and being ostracized from five Orthodox synagogues. (Read his own take on the event and his performance.) Ford claims he has been making money at blogging since the '90s -- although his days writing on porn were more lucrative.
Logan Molen, digital chief at The Bakersfield Californian, split the difference between low-budget indies and fat-walleted large media outlets. He talked up Bakotopia.com, a community oriented alternative news site featuring blog posts from citizen writers. The site has since spawned a print version. The success of the venture inspired him to apply for -- and win -- a Knight Foundation challenge grant for a new project called Printcasting, which promises to enable amateurs to turn their blogs and social media into printed magazines. The venture is scheduled to launch in beta next month.
Molen could be on to something. As Valleywag's Paul Boutin writes this week in Wired magazine, independent bloggers are finding it more difficult to break through into Technorati's top ranks as new blog offerings from mainstream media and well-capitalized startups can use bigger staffs and resources to dominate market share. New ventures should focus on forging new business models centered on social applications:
"Writing a weblog today isn't the bright idea it was four years ago. The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It's almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter."
What do you think blogging and reporting will look like in the future? Leave a comment below.