Do Bloggers Break News?

The new State of the News Media 2006 report is out, and it’s generally useful reading. Perhaps the finding that will get the most attention in the blog-o-sphere, however, is this: Blogs don’t break news. Here is the relevant snippet:

We found little of what would be considered journalistic reporting done by these bloggers, as in examining public documents, conducting interviews, or acting as a direct witness to events. In more than three quarters of all the posts (79%, 88 posts) the highest level of reporting offered was a commentary from the blogger. Just 5% (5 posts in all) involved some original research.

Fair enough, and also damning stuff. But then again, few blogs would claim to break news. This one doesn’t do it very often, and that’s by design. (Okay, to be fair, when I have a chance to break news, like when I had the Google analyst day PPTs, I also miss the opportunity.)

But there is a deeper problem in the above analysis. Because plenty of bloggers do break news — Om Malik does,  Rafat does, TechCrunch does, Read/Write does, TheStalwart does, Footnoted does, Jeff Matthews does, etc. — but they get tossed in the above analysis. Granted, it isn’t always investigative journalism, and the proportion of news-breaking blogs is a small percentage of the total, but I think, at the very least, the authors of the report might have stratified their results, separating pure opinion/link blogs (that are not designed to break news) from ones that occasionally or more frequently break news.

And there is a deeper problem. The sample size in the report is vanishingly small. A total of seven political blogs. That’s it. Seven blogs over one day. How is that in any way representative of anything?

A more legitimate criticism might be one directed at the authors of this report. How are we to take seriously an industry that continues to ignore the basics of sampling? Instead it’s the same old, same old: Collect a few data points, and then call it a trend. Q.E.D.


  1. Venkatesh says:

    I think its missing a major point. Lot of times readers are looking for analysis/speculation over a breaking news. When media outlet break news, its the same copy paste of press release almost ever where. It takea day or two to actually get some opinions out. Like with the Google PPT, analysis by Greg was something a media outlet could never do. BTW did they considered corporate blogs ? Google Blog broke a news today and so it did last week.

  2. TechCrunch has a great way of breaking news and delivering it to my feed. So does InfoWorld. We can redefine blogs, so the only difference … well, it’s not the way it’s delivered, or the order, or the content, so it must be the software running it.
    Blogs are different because they allow opinion/link authors like me to occassionally deliver news. I couldn’t do that without a blog, but I couldn’t do a news service either.
    So let’s not redefine blogs to exclude what they are.
    It also allows me to tune the news ratio I receieve. Right now, about 10% of my feeds are news, and that’s exactly how I want it to stay.
    At 10% it’s heavily biased towards a small subset of blogs (~20 out of 28 million) that provide news and just news.
    It’s not what blogs provide that matters, but I the reader can get out of them. The real question is: if my only source of information was blogs, would I be missing of anything important?

  3. Some thoughts:
    1)Blogging is still a relatively new medium with the vast majority of non-political blogs focused on technology (early adopters of the medium). As the medium expands more people will enter the market and inherently more original research will be conducted. Blogs started by Professors are a good example of this.
    2)The study does not take into account the number of times that commentary is copied. Many times Bloggers will break commentary that will wind up in the press a few days later.
    Traditional journalists, by nature, are generalists, and often will heavily research a story before writing. Then they have to have editorial approval, etc. The great thing about blogging is that it allows knowledgable people to comment instantly on news as they receive it. As the number of informed people, such as those mentioned in your post, enter the blogoshpere, I suspect this trend will change.
    Also, the sample is especially biased because political blogs are constructed to present commentary and not news. Most political bloggers use their blog as a soapbox to support their opinions on politics. My assumption would be that if the study was redone over a month and focused on tech blogs the outcome would be strikingly different.

  4. Franklin Stubbs says:

    Seems clear that news organizations and blogs have different strengths. A news organization has reach and depth in terms of reporting information, but they are limited in their ability to inject perspective. By definition a good reporter is supposed to go for ‘objectivity,’ i.e. filter as much personal opinion out of the piece as possible.
    Individual bloggers, on the other hand, are not news organizations. Their strength is different — the ability to give a specific opinion, a sort of ‘branded perspective’ on the way things are. Sometimes you want a specific person’s take because you have a feel for how that person thinks (and you respect the way they think). The best blogs (in my opinion) are the ones who deliver this branded content consistently… the readers are looking for specific opinions and unvarnished perspectives.
    This specialization plays to the strengths of the blogger and the tastes of the readership. Readers can also diversify their blog inputs in the same way that institutional investors allocate assets. For example, if you regularly read a libertarian guy and then contrast his take against a left-wing populist guy, you can often get a better sense of the issue from all sides. Sort of how objective investors benefit from reading bullish and bearish pundits regularly.
    The question of whether we need real time news is an interesting one too. Another blog advantage is the second and third derivative filtering that a specialized blogger engages in. If there is a guy who is knee deep in search engine news, you can scan his blog every so often instead of scouring the universe for search engine news yourself. And so on.
    As the ‘blogosphere’ evolves, I imagine we will recognize more and more that news organizations and blogs serve different purposes… maybe we’ll come to realize that blogs add value to the initial news stream in the same way that derivatives add depth and liquidity to primary markets.

  5. It’s interesting that this report hits the same day that Techcrunch is getting justly raked over the coals for serving up a transparently gutless product review.
    Paul, you do point out some legitimate problems with the report, but at the same time I think you considerably underplay the problems posed by the “reportorial” blogosphere by eliding the difference between breaking news and investigative journalism.
    You grant that Techcrunch et al. don’t always serve up investigative journalism. But wouldn’t a more accurate formulation be that they almost never serve up investigative journalism? These sites pass along tips, and Techcrunch in particular has become the sort of perfect ideological counterpoint of Fun to read, perhaps a useful mirror to the times, but not really journalism that matters.
    If “journalism that matters” sounds like an elitist, old-media phrase, so be it. It’s something I worry about these days, and I think it’s a conversation worth having.

  6. Adam —
    Fair and thoughtful points, all. I was responding more to the idea that blogs don’t break news, which is demonstrably untrue. Granted, however, on the continuum between “always” and “never” breaking news, the blogosphere is most accurately placed somewhere between rare and never.
    Turning to investigative journalism, again, it is even rarer, but it does happen. Om does it, and a few others, most of whom, admittedly, are professional journalists who do investigative journalism as a byproduct of their day job.

  7. One question not asked is if traditional news outlets “break news” either. In my experience, most don’t; they simply regurgitate stories put out by other news services and most are of a humdrum variety.

  8. Breaking News:’s State of the News Media 2006 reports results that aren’t statistically significant
    So if we estimate that there are, say, 1 million relatively serious blogs out there, with, say 1 post a week, that’s 52 million posts/year. If only 0.1% of them are breaking news, that’s 52,000 breaking news stories per year or 142 per day (how many does the NYT break?). But with a sample size of 100, the odds of finding even one of them are less than 10%. How do you like them apples,

  9. Well – if you take a look at the search engine data ie Google – Yahoo – MSN and the news reports that are linked to / from my Family LAW – Shared Parenting Blog – you might see a interesting pattern of Congressional concern developing here?
    Stephen Rene
    My OnlineAuctions:

  10. Roger Ridenour says:

    I think many “opinion” blogs do break news in that they put things into a broader, more accurate perspective than the traditional news media that reports unquestioned spin. For example, when a politician says “x” in defense of his/her party, bloggers are often the ones to say “wait a minute, two years ago, the same politician said ‘y’ when something similar happened with the opposing party.”
    I believe a politician’s blatant hypocrisy is very newsworthy, and traditional media almost always ignore it. Instead it reports manufactured “flip-flop” hypocrisy spin put out by the politicians themselves againt there opponents (and fail to point out its a weak, contrived, false political attack).
    There are of course many other examples that could be given where bloggers actually report realities while the traditional media “reports” falsehoods.