Twilight of the Blog Critics, Part II

It must be blog hunting season this week, with two spirited takedown appearing in as many days. First we had one in Slate, and now we have a longer and considerably … uh, longer one in the Financial Times. Written by the Dickensian-named Trevor Butterworth (wasn’t he a lawyer in Bleak House?), the piece’s basic arguments are these:

  1. Most bloggers don’t make much (any) money
  2. Most blog posts are forgettable
  3. Most blogs over-indulge in opinioneering
  4. There is too much hyperbole about blogging
  5. Blogs aren’t going to destroy traditional media

To paraphrase an old Doonesbury strip, “Guilty, guilty, guilty”, but so what? You could say the first three things about most journalism. And as to the fourth … well, welcome to the 21st century. Finally, as to the fifth, new media modes don’t destroy old ones, and people who make those arguments are indulging in false dichotomies. And people who take those false dichotomies seriously and then waste effort criticizing them, well … they should collect stamps or maybe begin train-spotting, something better suited to their fussbudget tendencies.

Blogs and niche publishing are what they are — in my case a notebook, a place to share things I would otherwise email to friends, and a place to hone writing and arguments — but refuting the non-imminent death of journalism is not worth Butterworth’s sweaty and jejeune piece with its “look at me” recitation of the history of journalism.

I realize that a foolish consistency is the bugbear of the traditional media (and poseur academics), so I hesitate to point this out, but Trevor the Takedown Artist is defending himself on a blog, and also apparently contributes to & helps run a partially blog-based service that critiques blogs and the media in general.

Irony just refuses to take a holiday, doesn’t it.

[Update] And the N.Y. Times has joined in today, although Dan Mitchell’s critical comments there on blogs are considerably more nuanced. He rightly points out that blogs don’t present a real threat to traditional media, but specialty publications are another matter.


  1. It’s a cheap irony. The blog is just a venting-place for the article. However, the points made in the article deflating the blog hype are valid.
    Shorter version: Lots people ranting doesn’t produce quality work. It’s not a social revolution.
    Yes, this is obvious. But the marketers and the evangelists produce enough noise that it bears repeating, frequently.

  2. I think that’s just flat wrong. That’s exactly what lots of people ranting does – it produces competition that brings out the voices that people want to hear – it already has. This isn’t monkeys banging away on typewriters. And the fact that this can now happen for very little cost is exactly that – a social revolution.

  3. Hear, hear, Rob. Only, the revolution cannot get very far until someone finds a way to monetize it. And I’m not talking about advertising, I’m talking about micropayments.
    btw Paul, good to see you sprucing up your blog template. I hope the color scheme is next and I wish you hadn’t sliced off the timestamps. The author comment highlighting is nice and I appreciate that you take the time to follow and respond to comments.

  4. Thanks Ajay. Yes, I have spruced up some of the templates here, most noticeable in the Comments section where I have made my responses more obvious, and I have highlighted the authors of other comments.
    While I plan to do something about the color scheme here — which I’m not fond of anymmore — I have nada color sense. In other words, expect changes, but it may get worse before it gets better 😉

  5. I like the coloured comments idea, Paul. Might just have to nick that one :-)

  6. It’s all yours Mathew … !

  7. Hi – thanks for the link and comments on the piece. I’m afraid the “sweaty and jejeune piece with its ‘look at me’ recitation of the history of journalism” is – at least in terms of recitation – needed for readers in Britain – and those readers who have only a vague idea of what blogging is about.
    It’s easy to engage in shorthand on a forum like this; but I was constantly reminded when writing this piece – by neurosurgeons, lawyers, and non-media, non-tech people of all stripes – that many people are unsure of what a blog is, or have never actually read one.
    They outnumbered the other sample of non-media, non-tech professionals who knew what blogs were, but found them an utter waste of their time.
    I note that over on Buzz Machine has an article today about the need to break through the design limitations of blogging software. Which seems to me further evidence that those who are successful at blogging will be successful because they are leveraging their product into something that resembles the kind of mainstream media operation that Madison Avenue understands and is comfortable with…
    Best –
    (btw – there is no one bearing my name in Bleak House LOL)

  8. Yup, we’re all thick here in Britain. Surely if that is the case Trevor, you should be presenting readers with some facts so they can educate themselves and form their own opinions, rather than generalising on the basis of having had a few conversations?

  9. Niall, I don’t think you’re thick. Nor do I think that Britons are thick. But there are conventions to writing for a newspaper that has a mass readership as opposed to the niche readership of a blog.
    As for a few conversations: what you read is the product of discussion with a lot of people – and the fact that I’ve been involved in “new media” journalism in the U.S. for eight years…
    The conversations that appear in the piece are representative of conversations with a lot of other media people and ex-bloggers.
    Best – T

  10. Thanks for replying, Trevor. I admit that I don’t understand those journalistic conventions very well, but I do think that if you are writing for “readers who have only a vague idea of what blogging is about” you have a duty to educate them by being as unbiased as possible.

  11. I think that most bloggers aren’t in it for hte money. We get into blogging to get our views out there, not to make money.
    If one’s goal is to make money, blogging is a very bad way to realize that goal – very few bloggers make money, and I think that we realize this. We just want to say what we want to say and if we make money, that’s a happy plus.
    Personally, I don’t make any money. And I don’t really care.

  12. I’ve said it before, this looks like a good place to say it again.
    95% of everything is crap. Content is not king, editing is.

  13. Actually, Andi, that’s known as Sturgeon’s Law: Writer Theodore Sturgeon said that in response to a critic who said 95% of SciFi was crap.
    His reply: “95% of everything is crap.”

  14. >>Actually, Andi, that’s known as Sturgeon’s Law…
    Yes Barry, you’re right, thanks for the correction. The line was easier to remember than the attribution. It was an honest lapse of memory, next time I’ll give credit where credit is due.
    But I’m pleased to say the line works well as a comment on this post. :)

  15. I thought blogs were way overhyped to begin with and now I think the backlash will be far too strong. Dana Blankenhorn says it best: “these trends will boom, bust, conslidate and become ingrained in our daily lives…”). Blogs are already becoming ingrained, we’re just too busy talking about them to notice.