The Death Of Blogs? Or Of Magazines?


As part of his “eulogy for the blog”, Marc Tracy touches upon the evolution of the Dish – which he praises as “a soap opera pegged to the news cycle”:

[T]oday, Google Reader is dying, Media Decoder is dead, and Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish is alive in new form. This year, Sullivan decided that he was a big enough brand, commanding enough attention and traffic, to strike out on his own. At the beginning of the last decade, the institutions didn’t need him. Today, he feels his best chance for survival is by becoming one of the institutions, complete with a staff and a variety of content. What wasn’t going to work was continuing to have, merely, a blog.

We will still have blogs, of course, if only because the word is flexible enough to encompass a very wide range of publishing platforms: Basically, anything that contains a scrollable stream of posts is a “blog.” What we are losing is the personal blog and the themed blog. Less and less do readers have the patience for a certain writer or even certain subject matter.

I wish he had some solid data to back that point up. Of course, blogs have evolved – and this one clearly has from its early days. What began as one person being mean to Maureen Dowd around 12.30 am every night is now an organism in which my colleagues and I try to construct both a personal and yet also diverse conversation in real time. But that doesn’t mean the individual blogger – small or large – is disappearing. Our entire model requires, as it did from the get-go, links to other sites and blogs – and we have not detected a shortage.

One reason we have had to grow and evolve – and this started as far back as 2003 – is that the web conversation has grown exponentially since this blog started (when Bill Clinton was president). Yes, many bloggers now get employed by more general sites, or move on to more complex forms (think of Nate Silver, a lone blogger when the Dish first championed his work and now part of an informational eco-system). But every page on the web is equally accessible as every other page. Blogs will never die – but they might form a smaller part of a much larger online eco-system of discourse.

My own view is that one particular form of journalism is actually dying because of this technological shift – and it’s magazines, not blogs. When every page in a magazine can be detached from the others, when readers rarely absorb a coherent assemblage of writers in a bound paper publication, but pick and choose whom to read online where individual stories and posts overwhelm any single collective form of content, the magazine as we have long known it is effectively over.

Without paper and staples, it doesn’t fall apart so much as explodes into many pieces hurtling into the broader web. Where these pieces come from doesn’t matter much to the reader. So what’s taking the place of magazines are blog-hubs or group-blogs with more links, bigger and bigger ambitions and lower costs. Or aggregated bloggers/writers/galley slave curators designed by “magazines” to be sold in themed chunks. That’s why the began as a collection of bloggers and swiftly turned them all into chopped up advertizing-geared “channels.” That form of online magazine has nothing to do with its writing as such or its writers; it’s a way to use writers to procure money from corporations. And those channels now include direct corporate-written ad copy, designed to look as much like the actual “magazine” as modesty allows.

Adam Gopnik has a wonderful paragraph at the top of his review of National Geographic over the decades that captures the centrifugal force turning magazines into anachronistic forms of writing:

Magazines in their great age, before they were unmoored from their spines and digitally picked apart, before perpetual blogging made them permeable packages, changing mood at every hour and up all night like colicky infants—magazines were expected to be magisterial registers of the passing scene. Yet, though they were in principle temporal, a few became dateless, timeless. The proof of this condition was that they piled up, remorselessly, in garages and basements, to be read . . . later.

Or never. Alyssa likewise thinks blogs are evolving, not dying:

Obviously, it’s true that the first-mover advantage for blogging is gone, and that fewer people are coming online as individual bloggers. … The key technology now is less the publishing platforms that let people write short posts and publish them in a continuous stream, and more the ability to cross-post, so a piece can live both on an author’s individual page, or in the feed on a relevant subject or for a relevant section. …

And I think this is a situation that signals less the decline of blogs than their evolution. Readers can continue to follow the feeds of individual writers they prefer, or whole sections that they find interesting, depending on whether they’re interested in a particular perspective or a larger news feed. If blogging started out as a way to accommodate the way writers wanted to publish their work, it’s now come to serve a different end in giving readers flexibility in how they curate what they want to read, and publications the ability to accommodate them. That’s not death, precisely. It’s more like metamorphosis.