July 30, 2005

RICHARD POSNER has some thoughts on technology, markets, and the news media. This bit is likely to get the most attention around the blogosphere:

The latest, and perhaps gravest, challenge to the journalistic establishment is the blog. Journalists accuse bloggers of having lowered standards. But their real concern is less high-minded – it is the threat that bloggers, who are mostly amateurs, pose to professional journalists and their principal employers, the conventional news media. A serious newspaper, like The Times, is a large, hierarchical commercial enterprise that interposes layers of review, revision and correction between the reporter and the published report and that to finance its large staff depends on advertising revenues and hence on the good will of advertisers and (because advertising revenues depend to a great extent on circulation) readers. These dependences constrain a newspaper in a variety of ways. But in addition, with its reputation heavily invested in accuracy, so that every serious error is a potential scandal, a newspaper not only has to delay publication of many stories to permit adequate checking but also has to institute rules for avoiding error – like requiring more than a single source for a story or limiting its reporters’ reliance on anonymous sources – that cost it many scoops.

I think that Posner understates individual bloggers’ reputational concerns. However, he’s right about this part:

The charge by mainstream journalists that blogging lacks checks and balances is obtuse. The blogosphere has more checks and balances than the conventional media; only they are different. The model is Friedrich Hayek’s classic analysis of how the economic market pools enormous quantities of information efficiently despite its decentralized character, its lack of a master coordinator or regulator, and the very limited knowledge possessed by each of its participants.

In effect, the blogosphere is a collective enterprise – not 12 million separate enterprises, but one enterprise with 12 million reporters, feature writers and editorialists, yet with almost no costs. It’s as if The Associated Press or Reuters had millions of reporters, many of them experts, all working with no salary for free newspapers that carried no advertising.

Indeed.

UPDATE: A reader who — I’m guessing from his anonymous email and fire-spitting anger — is probably from a Big Media outfit points out that InstaPundit has ads. Yes, and I don’t see that as quite as important as Posner does. But InstaPundit didn’t have ads for most of its existence, and doesn’t need them to publish now. And plenty of blogs doing first-rate reporting of a sort that rivals any Big Media outfit — like Michael Yon’s or Faces From the Front, or India Uncut don’t. For now, at least, the ad-tail isn’t wagging the dog. This is different in the newspaper business — when did you last see a local paper do a big expose on car dealers or grocery stores?