Blogging was supposed to topple mass media — so what happened?

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Om Malik, publisher of GigaOm, recently posted some thoughts about his 12 years of blogging and he came to the conclusion that blogs today are where he can aggregate all his fractured expressions across the web: Instagram photos, articles, comments, and whimsical musings.

But he writes, “The concept of blogging as we knew it has lost some of its meaning and even a bit of meaningfulness.” It certainly has and Om is being too gentle in his criticism because blogging has fallen very far from the promise it once had, and in attaining real meaningfulness.

I started blogging in mid-2004 when I left my job as Technology Correspondent at the Financial Times to become a journalist-blogger. At the time I didn’t know I was the first newspaper journalist to leave his job to become a professional “blogger.” I did it because I felt something fundamental had changed in the media industry and that it wouldn’t be the same again, the media jobs would not come back, and the media business model had seismically shifted.

I wasn’t  sure what I was doing since I had never blogged before. This was when Om was still working his day job at Business 2.0 magazine and I remember at the time that he was very much an evangelist for blogging, urging me to start.

Dave Galbraith, co-founder of Moreover and Yelp, was also urging me to start blogging. I was thinking what is it? I already write five news stories a day plus news analysis and features during the week, blogging can’t be much different. So I left my newspaper job to become a blogger even though I had never blogged before.

Om and Dave were right about blogging, and its importance. I started to see blogging as an incredible superset of all other media.

I found that I could write stories in the same way as at the Financial Times, same interviews, news analysis; but I could also write those 3am posts that played with ideas and even the format of the text, hiding hyperlinks inside a period; writing stories that had text hidden in the source code of the page; playing with it because I could and because of the wonderful flexibility of the medium.

It was intoxicating because I could be creative and innovative in ways that no one had considered before, and that’s still true today. Digital media is an incredibly innovative space.

My Homebrew Club…

Back in 2004 there was a very small blogging community and I was suddenly part of it. They became my “Homebrew Club,” people like Robert Scoble, Dave Winer, Om Malik, Dave Galbraith, Gabe Rivera, Jason Calacanis, Nick Denton, Dan Farber, Steve Gillmor, Chris Pirillo, Shel Israel, Shel Holtz, Jeremiah Owyang, Dan Farber, Doc Searls, Rene Blodgett, Anil Dash, Dan Gillmor, Ross Mayfield, Jeff Jarvis, Mike Arrington, Scott Beale, Craig Newmark, Marc Canter, Stowe Boyd, John Furrier, JD Lassica, John Battelle, Richard MacManus, JP Rangaswami, Richard Edelman, Steve Rubel, Jeff Clavier, Jeff Nolan, Loic Le Meur, Loren Feldman, Andy Lark, Sam Whitmore, Nick Carr, Danny Sullivan, Charlene Li, Dennis Howlett, and more (see my Twitter “Original Thinkers” list and a description here).

There was much excitement in the air, there was a palpable sense of change, that big changes were about to happen.

A media meritocracy

There was a widespread belief that blogging would become a serious challenge to the establishment and its control of ideas, that the blogging movement was intrinsically revolutionary, that it would disrupt everything, and it would topple mass media.

Armies of of citizen journalists would arise and in their vigilance they would make transparent all government and corporate misdeeds. The hated gatekeepers of mass media would be swept away and their censorship of the truth would be vanquished.

Sadly, things turned out differently. Blogging, and other forms of social media, became mostly amplifiers of establishment ideas, a place for people to share links to mass media content.  Social media became social distribution of mass media. Blogging failed massively.

And now with the trend toward paid traffic, it’s even worse because money speaks loudest and free speech becomes worthless when no one can hear it.

[The disruption of the media industry is solely due to the devaluation of its business model by low cost advertising by Google, and other technology-enabled media companies — and not because of blogging, or any other social media.]

There used to be a strong camaraderie among the early blog sites and bloggers, yet today, they don’t even link to each other.

All the blogs/news sites look alike — they look like the mainstream media they were once trying to disrupt.

We should bring back blogging and some of those early ideals. And bring back the fun and the variety of writing styles. There’s a lot of mainstream-looking media to disrupt.

This article by Tom Foremski originally appeared on Silicon Valley Watcher, a Burn Media publishing partner.

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