Citizen Kane Starts a Blog

Following Andreas Kluth’s essay in The Economist, Nicholas Carr, author of Does IT Matter? and the recent Atlantic essay “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” said on Friday that the blogosphere is dead:

While there continue to be many blogs, including a lot of very good ones, it seems to me that one would be hard pressed to make the case that there’s still a “blogosphere.” That vast, free-wheeling, and surprisingly intimate forum where individual writers shared their observations, thoughts, and arguments outside the bounds of the traditional media is gone. Almost all of the popular blogs today are commercial ventures with teams of writers, aggressive ad-sales operations, bloated sites, and strategies of self-linking. Some are good, some are boring, but to argue that they’re part of a “blogosphere” that is distinguishable from the “mainstream media” seems more and more like an act of nostalgia, if not self-delusion.

Noting that 94% of blogs have been abandoned, Mr. Carr compares the initial proliferation of amateur bloggers to radio’s earliest days when, as one contemporary account observed, thousands of amateur broadcasters turned the entire country into “a vast whispering gallery.”

It’s an amazing essay, exactly the kind that argues for professional writers to blog. And of course he’s right: when Tina Brown edits Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and then a blog, you can’t really deny that blogs have become a major commercial enterprise.

It’s about time. The commercialization of online journalism isn’t a tragedy; it’s the de-commercialization of journalism that has been the tragedy. For years now, the suppliers of information — the writers who actually gather news — have done all the work and the Internet aggregators such as Google and Yahoo have mostly profited from it.

Karl Marx would have called this a contradiction of capitalism, with technology taking the place of capital as the way to create surplus value.  It’s good to see online journalists take charge of the machinery and turn their blogs into businesses. As for the rest of us, Mr. Carr shouldn’t worry: trust me, there will always be a place on the Internet for amateurs.