Blogs have come a long way from their earliest manifestations as little more than the online journal entries of individuals wearing bunny slippers while typing away on a home computer. Blogs are proliferating on the web—the subset tracked by Technorati alone stands at 112.8 million—at a time when consumers and enterprises are turning increasingly to online sources, blogs included, for their information.
One measure of the increased legitimacy of blogs is their role in the 2008 presidential election. In a January 2008 study entitled "Internet’s Broader Role in Campaign 2008" conducted by The Pew Research Center for People and the Press, nearly one in four Americans (24%) said that they regularly learned about the campaign from the internet, almost twice as many as at the same point in the 2004 campaign. While the majority turned to online news outlets such as MSNBC and CNN, 3% named the Drudge Report or MySpace as their primary online source for campaign news. Reflecting their increased authority, political bloggers are banding together in organizations such as the Media Bloggers Association to demand press credentials to cover debates. And all the major candidates have staff-written blogs on their campaign websites.
In the meantime, traditional media companies are still struggling to figure out how to leverage the innate characteristics of blogging—immediacy, focus, global reach, interactivity—in a way that will complement existing media channels. It’s clear that the line between "journalist" and "blogger" is thin, if it exists at all anymore. Indeed, the prestigious George Polk Award for Legal Reporting was bestowed on a blogger for the first time in 2008. Joshua Marshall of Talking Points Memo received the award for his leading-edge coverage of politically motivated dismissals of U.S. attorneys across the country.
However, not every blogger stands poised to make a living with their musings, nor has every traditional channel successfully embraced the blog bug. The key indicators for financial success in the blogging business turn out to be exactly the same as they would for any new media channel: understanding the audience and engaging them with quality content, then connecting the audience with advertisers who want to reach those readers. John Wilpers, a consultant who specializes in helping newspaper companies make the most of localized blogging content, says, "It’s really no different. The content has to be interesting, compelling, and serve a niche if it’s going to succeed."
The twist is that blogs, with their flexibility and relatively low startup and production costs, democratize the publishing process.
Blogs Make an Audience Connection
Take a quick scan of the sites listed in Technorati’s Top 10 blogs and one word springs to mind: engagement. Whether it’s Engadget’s daily updates on gadgets and consumer electronics or Daily Kos’ intraday commentary on the political scene, the blogs with the highest authority (as measured by the number of other sites linking to them) combine a consistent editorial voice with plenty of opportunities to draw in readers eager to join the conversation. Blog features like comments, tags, forums, and feeds enable readers to voice their views, not only deepening the related content on the site but giving the blog authors themselves a clear picture of their readership.
Bleacher Report is an open source sports network that relies heavily on the premise of audience participation. Its co-founder, David Nemetz, says "When we founded the site, we saw it as
the next step in sports blogging." Under Bleacher Report’s model, fans blog about their favorite teams, and other fans rank the blogs via an automated reputation system. The fan-bloggers with the best reputation ranking get better visibility on the site, as well as perks such as athlete interviews and game tickets arranged by Bleacher Report.
Nemetz says that the topic of sports was a natural fit for the open source blogging model. "Sport sites tend to be self-policing because fans are so well-informed," he observes. "Being a fan is like a second job to our bloggers." Bleacher Report had 400,000 unique visitors during its final month of beta testing in January 2008, and is experiencing a 30% increase in visitors month over month since its February 2008 launch.
Bleacher Report credits its "fan-first" focus for attracting advertisers who want to target fans in any of the six major sports leagues it covers with unique promotional opportunities. "When Warner Brothers was releasing the DVD version of We Are Marshall, we ran a promotion with them to ask sports fans to share inspirational short stories to tie in with the theme of the movie." During the 2-week promotion, the promotional page had more than 2 million views.