Are Bloggers Selling Out?

Billmon of Whiskey Bar has an op-ed in today's LA Times, Blogging Sells, and Sells Out. He argues that blogads and their financial gain to bloggers will result in them being controlled and co-opted by the same mainstream media from which they pride themselves on being different. As the money and media attention goes to a handful of top bloggers, the rest will get lost in the shuffle:

Even as it collectively achieves celebrity status for its anti-establishment views, blogging is already being domesticated by its success. What began as a spontaneous eruption of populist creativity is on the verge of being absorbed by the media-industrial complex it claims to despise.

In the process, a charmed circle of bloggers — those glib enough and ideologically safe enough to fit within the conventional media punditocracy — is gaining larger audiences and greater influence. But the passion and energy that made blogging such a potent alternative to the corporate-owned media are in danger of being lost, or driven back to the outer fringes of the Internet.

....That world of inspired amateurs still exists, but it's rapidly being overshadowed by the blogosphere's potential for niche marketing. Ad dollars are flowing into the blogosphere. And naturally, most are going to the A-list blogs. As media steer readers toward the top blogs, the temptation to sell out to the highest bidder could become irresistible, and the possibility of making it in the marketplace as an independent blogger increasingly theoretical.

I have to say, I don't see any difference--not even a tempering of tone--by Daily Kos, Instapundit or Atrios, whom I consider the big three independent, non-media affiliated bloggers. While TalkLeft's readership doesn't come close to their's, it is in the top 50 or so political blogs, and it carrys ads, and I don't think either the increase in readership the past few months or the blogads have made a difference in my writing.

Where I think Billmon is correct is in his prediction that increasingly there will be an upper tier with readership numbers in the stratosphere, and that those bloggers will be the ones that the mainstream media brings in-house and hires as bloggers, columnists and on-air pundits.

I wonder how many bloggers would quit their day jobs to blog full time. For many of us, for example, professors, lawyers, political strategists and economists, it's our day jobs that provide us with context to the political events that we end up blogging about.

Is it different for free-lance journalist bloggers and student bloggers aspiring to be writers and journalists? I suspect very much so. Also, more and more reporters are blogging, so its getting difficult to tell who is a blogger and who is a reporter writing a blog on the side--using material that didn't or wouldn't fit in his or her day job's publication. I have no idea what percentage they comprise of political bloggers, but I think it's growing.

I don't know where I'm going with this other than to say I think ads on blogs are fine. I appreciate the dollars it brings in. But for ads and reader contributions, I wouldn't have been able to cover the conventions in Boston and New York. Also, knowing that individual readers contribute dollars, and political campaigns and activist groups think enough of TalkLeft's place in the blogosphere to take out ads, makes me feel like I am contributing to the dicussion out there and perhaps even helping frame the discussion on the admittedly limited number of topics covered on TalkLeft.

As to what other bloggers think (a roundup from Memeorandum):

Digby weighs in on the issue. So does Professor Bainbridge:

As long as blogging is cheap and smart people derive utility from having their own little space on the web, blogging will remain a big tent phenomenon with room for both commercial types and a vibrant grassroots.

Kevin Drum, who was one of the first bloggers to fold his site into a media publication, tends to agree with Billmon. Ed Cone says:

I think the key to the lasting relevance of blogs lies in numbers: as the big ones get coopted, new voices will fill the space they vacate. Independent voices will be heard, because we will get bored with the new establishment. Crunch all you want, we'll make more.

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