DeBord Report (along with some other fine bloggers) gets a nice shout from Reuter's Counterparties, a really cool experiment in media aggregation that Felix Salmon and Ryan McCarthy are overseeing. Effectively, the stand-alone site is a outgrowth of Felix's feed reader, a natural evolution from the "Counterparties" post he used to do every day. This type of round-up post is a familiar feature of the blogosphere — I used to do one called "Reportings."
What's interesting about Counterparties is that it shows that smartly curated content from around the web can form a basis for an entire spinoff media entity, one that runs on a metabolism quite different from a big news site. The New York Times' DealBook pioneered this. Counterparties has added a dash of Gawker Media to the packaging and created something of a mega-blog, minus the dozens of contributors.
Anyway, Ryan's post from yesterday takes up a question that's been developing in the blogosphere for a while — namely, "Is blogging dead?" The starting point is this post from Ben Smith at the Atlantic. Here's some salient language from Ryan in response:
For a brief, heady few years blogs were supposed to be the future of media. What happened instead, besides book deals, was that, as Felix suggested last year, the tools bloggers use were co-opted by media companies.
Suddenly, Andrew Sullivan and Choire Sicha weren’t the only people who could pull out great quotes from otherwise dry news copy: everybody could, and did, on Twitter. Meanwhile, places like the Huffington Post and Business Insider moved the focus of blogging away from engaging with the blogosphere and towards the art of headline writing. And thus did the great blogging tradition of analysis and back-and-forth-argument get lost, amid a thousand rewriters, blockquoters and aggregators.
But the good old days argument of the Internet doesn’t completely hold up.The finance and econoblogosphere for one, is rich, varied, frequently contemptuous and not in any way dead.
That last point is important. The most significant development in the aftermath of the financial crisis was the blowing-open of numerous debates inside economics and finance. The "frequently contemptuous" aspect is what's so, so familiar to old-school bloggers — and what makes following the bloggers that McCarthy lists (myself included, many thanks) so worthwhile. Analysis, commentary, and disagreement trump SEO in this context.
Meanwhile, the distinction that McCarthy highlights — blogging versus aggregation, or blogging-plus-aggregation in the case of the something like the Huffington Post — undergirds AdAge media columnist Simon Dumenco's formation (seriously) of a Council on Ethical Blogging and Aggregation, which includes New York Magazine editor Adam Moss and New York Observer editor Elizabeth Spiers (she wrote the original Gawker, by the way) among its members.
What I think is happening is that both blogging and aggregation are maturing. The Golden Age of the original superbloggers is over, but the form continues to prove its extreme usefulness. Aggregation, meanwhile, isn't quite the Wild West is was, oh, say...two years ago. The temptation when looking at blogging is to follow Felix's logic and see the blog as a kind of media app — micro-blogs that provide more oomph than a Twitter post, but that can be created and un-created as needed.
I remember seeing this in action, sort of, when I wrote for Slate's now defunct business site, The Big Money. I wrote a car blog, but we also had a blog about the business of pot. We could have developed a Dodd-Frank blog, or a blog about the Eurozone crisis.
Felix is I think entirely right about this trend, especially where the "voice-y" blogs are concerned (voice was a Gawker Media specialty for a while and to a degree still is). But as voice has receded somewhat from the blogosphere at large, it's been replaced by the ideas-and-commentary-driven blogs that now make up the econoblogging project. That doesn't mean voice isn't relevant — bloggers like Cathy O'Neill at mathbabe and Josh Brown at The Reformed Broker are reliably irreverent in the context of tackling Big Thoughts and News Events. It's just that voice is only one arrow in the quiver these days. You also need to be able to interpret data and engage in running commentary on complex, fast-moving stories.
I've been trying to turn this discussion into a presentation, building on a "History of Blogging" presentation I've given here at KPCC. If I can flesh it out and make it work with my somewhat hard-to-follow-if-all-you-have-is-the-slides presentation style, I'll put it on SlideShare and try to move the conversation forward.