Ed Driscoll

Po-Jama People

I’ve signed onboard with the new Pajamas Media consortium you’ve probably already heard about from Roger L. Simon or Glenn Reynolds. It will be interesting to see what comes of this–especially since it was founded by the Blogosphere’s equivalent of household names, including (see if you can spot them by their first names alone) Glenn, Roger, Charles, and Hugh.

But Jonah Goldberg has reservations, in a column in the (also rather new) DC Examiner:

Back when the then-fledgling network ran these strange things called “music videos,” the first video MTV ran was “Video Killed the Radio Star.” If you haven’t noticed, that didn’t quite pan out. While radio surely has its problems, it’s still around. Meanwhile, MTV is now basically a “lifestyle” network, running remarkably similar programming to PBS, A&E and other “adult” – in the non-porn sense – networks. Sure, MTV packages its wares differently, but if you can look past the exposed navels, pierced faces and butt-tattoos, you’re less judgmental than I am.

But, seriously, MTV’s programmers are basically recyclers: “Pimp My Ride,” “Trippin’,” “Punk’d,” “Cribs” and that vast wasteland of reality shows for wasteoids are hardly new to programmers who’ve been running shows about cars, homes, exotic travel and practical jokes for 50 years (does no one remember “Candid Camera?”). For all their radical chic, today’s MTV generation are just like the past generations they desperately want to transcend.

This should serve as a cautionary tale for those who are betting big on the doomsday scenarios currently being peddled about the implosion of the newspaper industry and the looming triumph of the so-called “blogosphere.” The more the media seems to change, the underlying patterns keep re-emerging.

There’ve been a slew of Chicken Little reports about the decline of newspapers of late, thanks in part to the latest numbers showing that in the six-month period ending in March, major newspaper circulation dropped nearly 2 percent – 900,000 fewer subscribers nationwide since last year. Meanwhile, the Internet is no longer the Rodney Dangerfield of media. According to Advertising Age, the combined ad revenues of Google and Yahoo! will be on par with the combined revenues of ABC, CBS and NBC.

There’s no denying that the media landscape is changing before our eyes. But the media landscape never stopped changing. Newspapers have been in decline for more than two decades, long before the rise of the Internet as a media player. The “Big Three” nightly news broadcasts have been bleeding viewers for a long time as well. Today the average age of the nightly network news viewer is 60 and rising, while the share of viewers under the age of 35 is less than 10 percent. CBS News is contemplating ideas to get younger viewers, but it’s hard to see how “Pimp My Ride” fans are going to switch to CBS Evening News.

But none of the newspaper industry’s woes translate into the utopian fantasy of a world where blogs rule supreme and newspaper editors and news anchors are hunted like Charleton Heston in “Planet of the Apes” (Dan Rather: “Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty blogger!”).

People forget that less than a decade ago, everyone was convinced that the Web was going to replace television. Hundreds of millions of dollars were poured into Web TV networks like Pseudo.com on the premise that cable TV was the 8-track tape of the 1990s.

The reality was something quite different. For some bizarre reason, people prefer to watch “Star Trek” reruns splayed out on the couch or in bed, not sitting upright at their desk staring at the same computer where they spent the entire day working. Television’s not going anywhere, but it is changing rapidly as it becomes more Web-like in its interactivity and the like.

Meanwhile, the blogosphere is coalescing. Media outlets are starting blogs and buying up the best bloggers. Independent bloggers are joining forces to achieve economies of scale for advertising and editorial direction. Just this week a small consortium of some of the best bloggers formed to create Pajamas Media. It is not inconceivable that consolidation will continue to the point where bloggers become new online newspapers.

In South Korea there’s already an online daily staffed mostly by 30,000 volunteer “citizen journalists” with a few professional editors handling the copy and fact-checking.

This may sound like a brave new world, but the idea of writers banding together to put out a joint publication is hardly new.

We used to call them “magazines.” If history is any guide, the Internet won’t kill the traditional media, it will be absorbed by it.

Much as I generally admire Jonah’s writing, I think he’s somewhat offbase here: I don’t think any of the Pajama prime movers (yes, the spelling in the title above is yet another Zappa homage) think that newspapers are going to vanish anytime soon. But just as the big three TV network news orginizations of the 1950s through the end of the 1970s have had to adjust to a world that also includes CNN and (more significantly in terms of how they’ve impacted the mainstream media) Fox News, newspapers are slowly (and sometimes painfully) adjusting to a world where they’re definitely no longer the sole source of opinion-shaping anymore.

According to the New York Sun, in an ideal world, they wouldn’t be the sole source of reporting either:

Instapundit.com’s Mr. Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor whose blog averages more than 130,000 unique visitors a day – according to the Truth Laid Bear, a blog that tracks Web log traffic – said large press organizations have nothing to fear from a successful Pajamas Media.

“I think it is a tired cliche that because there won’t be newspaper editors at PJM, that somehow the product will be diminished,” Mr. Reynolds said. “We do not need four or five layers of editors to screw this up like they have at the L.A. Times. Hopefully, we’ll have live feeds and middle-of-the-crowd commentary from the next Beirut demonstration.”

Mr. Reynolds’s mention of the Los Angeles Times was a reference to a March 29 column by that paper’s press critic, David Shaw, asserting that reporting at the Times and other papers was preferable to the work of bloggers because of the multiple layers of editing that each story undergoes.

Mr. Reynolds argued that the work of the blogger-reporters of Pajamas Media would improve the quality of reporting on major events.

“Hopefully, reporters from larger organizations will use us as another resource to cite when they report on a big story,” he said. “We’re not a threat to their jobs, but we’ll make them do their jobs better since their will be another record out there.”

From a practical perspective, he said, one of the goals of the founders, once financing is in place, is to get a handheld camcorder and a laptop notebook into the hands of all their affiliated bloggers.

The economics of launching what is in effect a global blog-based wire service is complex but not insurmountable, Mr. Simon said.

“We have about seven different investment offers on the table right now,” he said, “so getting off the ground shouldn’t be a problem.”

Syndicating advertisements through affiliated blogs so that advertisers reach a global network, according to LittleGreenFootball’s Mr. Johnson, will sustain the project.

Makes sense to me–I did a piece in 2000 (and reprinted here, the following year) that discussed new methods of news gathering. May a thousand pajamas bloom–or some other equally painful twist on a metaphor that would be appropriate to end a post like this.