Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bloggolalia: Why Blogging Happens, a Gawker Response

The Big Lead documented this New York Magazine article and thought well of it. I do not, and thus I am posting my revised comment to The Big Lead's post as my Friday blog ramblings. In the author's rush to document Gawker, she’s put on New York blinders so strongly that she can’t see the bigger picture about blogging. Please skim the article first, as otherwise this won't make complete sense. Sorry to blog about this and not the Indians, but I already had most of this typed up from my TBL comment.

First, I disagree with this idea that the top jobs are gone, and that's why Gawker exists. It’s not that employees are moving up the ladder, then finding they can’t make $200000 anymore, and jumping to Gawker. No, Gawker and Co are being run by very young employees in their 20’s who usually have been unable to find a job in the mainstream. And the average readers tend to be people in their 20’s, out of college, on their first job or two. Why?

Because there just aren’t good jobs for people coming out of school the way there used to be. So there’s this large segment of the population that is underemployed, in my view, and that’s where a lot of your bloggers and commenters are coming from. These people have been achievers for a while, joined lots of clubs or played sports in high school, had this really balanced life…and now they’re working at a boring job for 40K. So they turn to blogging as a hobby, and because they aren’t really able to use their full range of gifts at their current job. It's not the creative underclass in writing; it's the underemployed in society at large that are driving blogs right now. It's not that technology has changed since circa Geocities and 1997; it's that society and we have changed. Innovation happens when society is ready for it, not before.

I would also note a slight decrease in friendships because we move around more as people; thus, on-line community looks more attractive than it normally would. In addition, there’s a delay in growing up in our society; we marry, get that stable job, buy houses, etc., a little later in life than before. So it’s like adolescence is extended…and instead of having our small high school group to party and gossip with, we instead move to media culture, celebrity, or sports culture to fill that adolescent void, ha. Gawker is like a substitute for the high school/college atmosphere in some ways, no?

Finally, Nick Denton’s plan of turning contributors into commenters…it’s a trend that bloggers think they can turn their contributors into field reporters/writers and get this gigantic swarm of worker bees. It’s not going to happen. Why? Readers are lazy. As soon as it becomes work, not fun, they’ll quit. Sure, people are excited to be a part of Web 2.0 now. But I think a lot of it is a fad. I’m getting burned out on commenting, personally; it takes too much time from my job, and the pay-offs are too low. Over time, the rewards for commenting are just not high enough yet. And quite honestly, I'm tired of sites constantly trying to turn their readers and commenters into slaves for the greater glory of the site. I know that many of the site owners mean well...but I know others just want us to do their work for them. That's ok only up to a certain point. Yes, your site is free...but my time isn't.


  1. Sir, we've been meaning to mention...been a while since you commented on NOIS... :P

  2. I agree with your overall take - you are spot on.

    I think that also a factor in the Gawker success is that a lot of fresh out of school kids (Columbia, as the case may be, since Gawker employs a lot of them) don't see the benefit in "paying dues" at lower-end entry level jobs at magazines or other publications. When Gawker first took off about 5 years ago, I had a friend in publishing, with a degree, getting paid like $25K a year to be like an assistant editor or something. I'm sure the pay has gone up in Publishing, but it is still one of the most ridiculous fields.

    Now Gawker doesn't exactly pay great. It really doesn't. Most editors are around 55K a year, and their support staff - the non-Emily Goulds, but more like the Josh Steins... how much are they making? Probably not much more than they would at an entry level job, right?

    But the benefits are far better. Working at a nice non-corporate office spot. Being able to make creative decisions of your own. Getting your name out there, and making connections (note: for a 25, 26-year old to get a book deal, these connections are huge). Gawker has basically said "we're going to give you an entry level job, but you'll get to be the EIC of a magazine with a huge circulation". As you can imagine, that's very enticing. That's why, despite the complaints about the money and the work conditions, there is no shortage of would-be editors applying to work for Gawker Media.

    And totally agree with you about the commenters. Unless they are getting paid somehow, I don't think they'll put the work or effort in to make the site any good. Banking on "free labor" that's voluntary is never a good business decision.

  3. NOIS: Pay me more than $.01 in my PayPal Account in my account, and I'm back in. I have it on good authority that The Maj and Zeke are getting $.10 a comment. It's an outrage! I'm worth at least two cents!

    Sarge: Thanks! BTW, enjoyed the recent breaking down of the top NBA players, draft round by draft round.

    SML: Well-written. Yeah, these business plans that bank on us honest citizens working our tails off for the glory of Entrontechium.netcom are junk. The Internet cuts through a lot of ageist junk that limits us in real life. I posted that video of the kid on Wednesday who knows fantasy football and Super Bowl history. Who's to say he couldn't be just as eloquent talking about the NFL as me?

  4. MC, I agree with you on the hiring dynamics... and I'm a good example of it.

    I graduated in '04 with a journalism degree and pretty much spent my life in the college newsroom. Despite several internships and pretty good references, though, the best I was able to do was either a part-time reporting position at a relatively large daily newspaper or an even lower-paying full-time position at a smaller daily.

    Long story short: After two years covering crime, politics and other hard news, I went back to school for a master's degree and got heavily into blogging while in school. I don't know where it will all lead, but I'm betting there will be just as many Web jobs as reporter spots available for me in a few months. I don't think the biz is shrinking anymore... just that it's changing. For those under 30, it's the quickest way up.

    Red Sox Monster

  5. Your point about losing friendships due to moving around the country is spot-on. I had loads of friends when I lived in Kansas. I especially had a core group of three good friends from college who I could really count on. Now only one of them lives in Kansas. Another lives in Denver, another in Chicago, and me way,way out in Virginia.

    I have acquaintances that I enjoy spending time with here, but those once-in-a-lifetime friendships have gone by the boards for the most part. We just aren't in proximity enough to really play a role in one-another's lives.

  6. To complete my hastily submitted thought: that's part of why I enjoy blogging. I get to know people who have the same interests and can have good (typewritten) conversations with them. It somewhat takes the place of what I'm missing out on.

  7. MC, this column was valuable as between you and SML, you guys are probably in the midst of a book on the nature, history, and future of blogging

  8. Hey MC,

    Just finally got around to reading this. Amazingly, I had read the article in New York Magazine when it had come out, and I have to agree with your sentiments wholeheartedly. We are all looking for outlets. Blogging is quite simple, really. In the past, people would pick up instruments (some still do, but it's easier and more cost-effective to write), some people wrote poetry and attempted to submit it.

    Now, everyone with an opinion and a creative streak can join the internet writing revolution. I hesitate to use the word journalism, but I know why something like this exists. And you sir, hit the nail on the head... and described it quite eloquently. Excellent work, your blog is now officially must read.

    (Jehovah's Witness Protection Program)
    The Love of Sports