The Myth of an Independent Blogosphere

Think the world of blogs is a democratic utopia where an "army of Davids" can take down big media while holding onto its indie cred? Think again. So says the Atlantic's own Benjamin Carlson, who has a dispatch today on the rise of the professional blogger. For those dreaming of a Jeffersonian landscape of independent bloggers, these stats are damning:

Of the top 50 blogs, as ranked by Technorati, 21 are owned by big sites like CNN, the New York Times, ABC, and AOL. And 42% of all blog traffic flows to the those top 50 blogs. The blogosphere isn't like a online commune or town hall where somebody can fill out a domain name and suddenly have the Internet's attention. It's more like an aristocracy or oligopoly where big names rule in traffic and resources and up-and-comers are often absorbed by established names. Exceptions, like Talking Points Memo, exist, but after a while they take on the feel of just another online behemoth to be reckoned with. Ben Carlson writes:

An examination of the Technorati rankings for recent years reveals that turnover among the top 50 blogs has become increasingly rare. Even as the total number of blogs has swelled to 133 million from 27 million in 2006, the top 50 have remained relatively static. On March 15, 2006, 30 blogs out of the top 50 were new to the list, never having appeared at the top in any previous year; last month, that number was down to 18. Even the new entrants are no mom-and-pop shops: National Review, Entertainment Weekly and Politico are among the owners, and one of the few independent upstarts, Seeking Alpha, is backed by venture capital. The bulk of the list consists of familiar names, many of whom were among the first to emerge on the Web--from Andrew Sullivan, now of the Atlantic, to the Daily Kos and Boing Boing.

There are two ways to look at this phenomenon: The professionalization of the blogosphere might suggest the aging, possibly even stultifying, of a medium that was supposed to lead the democratic revolution of the internet. But the reverse -- the blog-ifying of professional journalism -- is equally true. As Ben and I discussed today, you often hear new age journalism gurus trotting out the wearying criticism that "Newspapers just don't get it." I'm not sure what "it" is, but if "it" includes being more open to blogs, then happily I think we can report that newspapers are starting to get "it." Look at the NY Times' and WSJ's army of blogs, or the Washington Post picking up Ezra Klein, or, you know, the Atlantic turning a monthly magazine website into essentially a blog hub. The professionalization of the blogosphere doesn't necessarily mean blogs are losing their zazz or punchiness (Not a whole lot of punches pulled at the Daily Dish, folks). It does mean, however, that the bloggers are winning something else: A larger paycheck and a larger platform.