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The End of the Op-Ed

John Tierney's appointment as William Safire's replacement on The New York Times op-ed page seems as good a time as any to engage in a little speculative blogosphere triumphalism. Blogger versus traditional media conflict usually focuses on reporters because it's reporters' stories that bloggers tend to complain about. This usually strikes me as faintly ridiculous, however. Professional reporting simply can't be replaced by amateur blog-work for the simple reason that doing consistent reporting requires time and resources that an individual working on a part time basis simply can't muster no matter how clever he is. Beyond that, as someone who's been known to write a blog post or two but who also writes some long format journalism, it's clear to me that the latter has a role that can't be replaced by the hastier contrivances of the blogosphere.

The short-format column, however, is the journalistic product that the weblog comes closest to approximating and is one that I really think is being rendered obsolete by the blogosphere. I'm thrilled that Paul Krugman has a column at the Times because the Times op-ed page is very influential and Krugman's voice is invaluable. As a reader, however, I'd actually be much more interested in reading a Krugman-blog. The same is true, I would venture, of just about every columnist whose work I like. This, however, is a rather unstable situation. The value of the op-ed writer really only lies in the fact that more people read op-ed pages than read blogs. But as more and more people start reading blogs, the mere prestige factor of the column will decline. Eventually, I think, the format will vanish in favor of the greater flexibility afforded by online media.

March 2, 2005 | Permalink

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» The Death of the Op-Ed from YatPundit
Yglesias makes a very salient point this morning, in discussing the influence of blogs: The short-format column, however, is the journalistic product that the weblog comes closest to approximating and is one that I really think is being rendered obsole... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 2, 2005 9:20:54 AM

» Bloggers killed the Op-Ed Star from bennellibrothers.com
Matt has an interesting take on blogs vs journalism vs Op-Ed pieces. He states that: The short-format column, however, is the journalistic product that the weblog comes closest to approximating and is one that I really think is being rendered... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 2, 2005 9:23:20 AM

Comments

The other thing blogs do is reduce the power of editors to minimize stories by giving them two paragraphs on page sixteen with a misleading headline and lede. The gatekeeper function has been transformed and redistributed.

Posted by: John Emerson | Mar 2, 2005 12:58:56 AM

I never knew that you were a journalist. That's neat. Good for you.

Yeah, Krugman should have a blog. That would be very cool.

Maybe if we all nag him enough...

Nah, I guess he's got his hands full being a professor.

Imagine if Krugman and Drum teamed up to do the Washington Monthly blog together? That would be a cool blog.

Posted by: Swan | Mar 2, 2005 1:01:42 AM

MY writes for TAPPED mostly, but also some other publications I believe.

Or maybe I'm full of shit on this and don't know what I'm talking about :/

Posted by: Mimiru | Mar 2, 2005 1:13:33 AM

"But as more and more people start reading blogs, the mere prestige factor of the column will decline. Eventually, I think, the format will vanish in favor of the greater flexibility afforded by online media."

Balderdash.

Whether it's published on dead trees or electronically using pixels, there will always be a handful of elite publications. And a featured column position in one of those elite publications will always have a prestige factor similar to Tierney's gig.

Posted by: Petey | Mar 2, 2005 1:14:07 AM

Total agreement. This from a sixty-something who, until recently, read two newspapers a day and a couple of news magazines every week.

But I'm changing and I didn't really see it happening until you opined above. The only column I read and savor now is Krugman, all the rest I skim, then I turn to the blogs. The blogs are so much freer, compared to the labored writing of the columns---all that careful structure and editing, the obligatory kicker AND, they are all so inside the 45 yard line of currently permitted opinion, which is maybe their most debilitating feature. Not only that, with the blogs you can talk back. I used to write gobs of letters and saw maybe one out of ten printed. This feels so much freer and more democratic. Hail to the blogs!

Posted by: James of DC | Mar 2, 2005 1:41:41 AM

I want to see Krugman run for President in 2008.

Does anyone else think that's a good idea?

Posted by: Robert Talmage | Mar 2, 2005 3:21:54 AM

"I want to see Krugman run for President in 2008.
Does anyone else think that's a good idea?"

Most of the Republican party, I would imagine

Posted by: Adrian | Mar 2, 2005 4:56:24 AM

As long as the publications endure, the op-eds will, because they're not for the benefit of the readers, they're for the benefit of the publication, to express views the publication, (The people running it, anyway.) WANT expressed.

Bloggers can endorse candidates, too. Think newspapers will stop endorsing? Not until it becomes illegal with McCain/Feingold part III, in 2009...

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Mar 2, 2005 5:46:04 AM

Brett rides yet another hobby horse off into the sunset...

Posted by: Troy | Mar 2, 2005 5:54:27 AM

But as more and more people start reading blogs...

Get real, folks: no one reads blogs. It's the same small group of people here every day; probably around a hundred or so.

The NYT opinion page hardly needs to worry about internet competition till porno and sport sites start publishing Krug and endorsing political candidates.

Posted by: abb1 | Mar 2, 2005 6:57:07 AM

"It's the same small group of people here every day"
Yup.

If you want a good economics blog, Nouriel Roubini's Global Economics blog http://www.roubiniglobal.com/ is very good.

Posted by: Otto | Mar 2, 2005 7:41:22 AM

The success of many short-format columns seems to depend more on the reputation of the writer than the prestige of one publication. Most of the famous ones are syndicated, isn't that true? People around the country read George Will and others with their morning coffee, in their local newspaper. Many of them probably couldn't tell you what the "home" newspaper of their favorite columnist is.

I assume there will always be a demand for such people, and so that some people will always be able to earn a living at it. The question is just how their columns will be delivered to readers - via the individuals' own advertisement-supported websites, which may or may not include blogs, or individual subscription sites and syndication to the remaining print outlets, or by consortia of networked blogs and online news outlets, that charge a single fee for access to a large interconnected pool of content.

A lot of bloggers are young, with modest material needs, and the most successful are building demand now by blogging for only a little money while they work some "real" job. This won't always be the case. I suspect the market will begin to correct itself to more accurately reflect the emerging demand.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Mar 2, 2005 7:54:53 AM

"Get real, folks: no one reads blogs. It's the same small group of people here every day; probably around a hundred or so."

So, how many people READ blogs?

There is no definite answer, because the figure keeps climbing every day.

How many people READ newspapers?

There is no definite answer, because the figure keeps shrinking (at least in the West).

-A.R.Yngve
http://yngve.bravehost.com

Posted by: A.R.Yngve | Mar 2, 2005 7:59:18 AM

A.R. Yngve: I visited your web site but very quickly and desperately lunged at the X to close my browser when a voice started blaring out of my speakers. I hope your readership increases, but I'm guessing it won't include people like me who think web sites with unsolicited voice/music are incredibly irritating.

Posted by: Scott | Mar 2, 2005 8:30:21 AM

ABB1: you commit the comment fallacy. The number of readers who comment is incredibly small on most sites, at best (short of a Kos-esque site) about one percent of the readership of a large blog. Matt gets about 13,000 visitors a day and, on a typical good post, about 60 comments, a great number of which are back-and-forths. It would be akin to judging the readership of a newspaper by the number of letters its editorial page receives.

Posted by: jesse | Mar 2, 2005 8:30:57 AM

I think Matthew's basically right - the functions that blogs can't fully replace - reporting/longer format journalistic writing is not going to be totally replaced by the blogosphere. But the opinion column probably will be. That doesn't seem hard or complicated. Why the "blogs will change the universe" folks can't accept measured change is really beyond me. Things have changed and will continue to eveolve due, in part, to blogging technology. But some things really will remain the same. The death of the newspaper was and remains overstated.

Posted by: weboy | Mar 2, 2005 8:43:26 AM

"It would be akin to judging the readership of a newspaper by the number of letters its editorial page receives."

The issue isn't about total readership.

The issue as Matt defined it is about "prestige factor".

In other words, do Broder and Russert read it? There has always been a "Gang of 500", and there always will be. There will always be elite publications, and there will always be a few chosen voices that will be showcased on those platforms.

The canon may change, but there will always be a canon.

The Gutenberg-like democratic revolution of the web won't change that fact. Barriers to entry are lowered. Barriers to influence remain.

Posted by: Petey | Mar 2, 2005 8:44:32 AM

Somebody is reading blogs. Look what happen to Trent Lott, Dan Rather, Eason Jordan, and Gannon/Guckert. Maybe it’s the MSM that’s reading blogs – which is a good for journalism. They are getting the feedback and critical review that was sorely needed. They know we are watching. One blog means no more than one letter to the editor, but linking is voting in the Blogoshpere and that has the power of numbers that MSM cannot ignore. Blogs are the best thing to happen to journalism since the First Amendment.

Don’t you find it quaint that communication as old as print would be revitalized in something as modern as the net in a world gone visual?

If Krugman does get a blog, I hope he allows comments. I know it opens the door to spammers and such, but I tend to visit blogs that allow comments more than those that don’t. I see the same people commenting, and I’ve come to expect the same POV from the ones I recognize. So I visit other sites liberal, conservative, and those I can’t classify, but my POV stays the same. I also like to see the blogger, such as Matt, commenting in their post.

Is the Blogoshpere a means to a new world order for journalism or a passing fad that will go the way of talk radio? This phenomenon will be interest to watch – and to some degree be a part.

Posted by: scou29c | Mar 2, 2005 8:47:17 AM

I think more people read blogs than comment in comment threads, by a fairly large margin. Otherwise, Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Reynolds, Joshua Micah Marshall, etc would be far less popular than they are.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Mar 2, 2005 8:48:55 AM

Oh, no! Please don' make Mr. Krugman run for president, Brer Fox! I'd HATE if Mr. Krugman ran for pres' Brer Fox! Hillary/Krugman would be jes' awful, Brer Fox!

Steve

Posted by: Steve | Mar 2, 2005 8:54:29 AM

"Is the Blogoshpere a means to a new world order for journalism or a passing fad that will go the way of talk radio?"

Talk radio is a passing fad? As a Democrat, that's the best wishful thinking I've heard this week...

Posted by: Petey | Mar 2, 2005 8:54:43 AM

On the matter of the end of the op-ed, the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspaper last year downgraded it's op-ed pages from the A-section to the B-section, after firing it's staff editorial cartoonist and cutting other full-time editorial staff in favor of using 'community voices' commentators. It's worth noting that the Pioneer Press isn't doing well financially, and has had to cut other corners in order to make ends meet.

Posted by: David W. | Mar 2, 2005 9:26:38 AM

But as more and more people start reading blogs, the mere prestige factor of the column will decline.

And it is at that point when Matty will get a regular newspaper column ...

Posted by: jim | Mar 2, 2005 9:35:37 AM

well, to some extent bloggers depend on op-ed columns b/c they blog about op-ed columns, if anything a multitude of people blogging about a krugman, or a will, or even a carolyn hax or whoever column magnifies that columnist's influence by expanding the base of people reading and talking about their work, as well as keeping the discussion going. Although, the smart ones will start incorporating electronic elements, online chats, blogs of their own, etc because that will become increasingly important for building market share.

Posted by: flip | Mar 2, 2005 9:38:30 AM

It strikes me that the issue with respect to op-ed pundits is that they command huge salaries on no discernible basis that i can see.

I mean, would i not read the Post if George Will wasn't there? Have i not continued reading the Times for years despite Safire's incessant dishonesty? Who buys a newspaper for the op-ed writer?

What bloggers have demonstrated is that there is no economic value to the highly paid op-ed writing pundit, and sooner or later, publishers who no longer have a healthy income stream from help wanted ads (which now all go online) will, in looking to cut costs, realize this.

Posted by: howard | Mar 2, 2005 9:40:53 AM

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