In a recent essay in the New York Review of Books, Michael Massing articulates a point made so often about the Web that it's nearly catechismal. Blogs, he says, have torn down the power structure of old media. "Decentralization and democratization" are the law of the land, offering “a podium to Americans of all ages and backgrounds to contribute.” This is a notion that bloggers and web gurus have been touting for years. In his 2006 book, An Army of Davids, for example, “Instapundit” blogger Glenn Reynolds argued that “markets and technology” empowered “ordinary people to beat big media.” And this June, internet sage Clay Shirky assured an audience at a TED event that the old model, where “professionals broadcast messages to amateurs,” is “slipping away.”
But is this really true? Among some of the biggest bloggers, this notion is increasingly seen as suspect. In early July, Laura McKenna, a widely respected and longtime blogger, argued on her site, 11D, that blogging has perceptibly changed over the six years she’s been at it. Many of blogging’s heavy hitters, she observed, have ended up “absorbed into some other professional enterprise.” Meanwhile, newer or lesser-known bloggers aren’t getting the kind of links and attention they used to, which means that “good stuff” is no longer “bubbling to the top.” Her post prompted a couple of the medium’s most legendary, best-established hands to react: Matthew Yglesias (formerly of The Atlantic, now of ThinkProgress), confirmed that blogging has indeed become “institutionalized,” and Ezra Klein (formerly of The American Prospect, now of The Washington Post) concurred, “The place has professionalized.” Almost everyone weighing in agreed that blogging has become more corporate, more ossified, and increasingly indistinguishable from the mainstream media. Even Glenn Reynolds had a slight change of heart, admitting in a June interview that the David-and-Goliath dynamic is eroding as blogs have become “more big-media-ish.” All this has led Matthew Hindman, author of The Myth of Digital Democracy, to declare that "The era when political comment on the Web is dominated by solo bloggers writing for free is gone."