According to Mark Penn, writing in the Wall Street Journal — and how’s that for strange bedfellows? Penn was Hillary Clinton’s 2008 chief strategist — thar’s gold in them thar blogs.
Penn writes (although Wright doesn’t pen):
In America today, there are almost as many people making their living as bloggers as there are lawyers. Already more Americans are making their primary income from posting their opinions than Americans working as computer programmers or firefighters.
Paid bloggers fit just about every definition of a microtrend: Their ranks have grown dramatically over the years, blogging is an important social and cultural movement that people care passionately about, and the number of people doing it for at least some income is approaching 1% of American adults.
The best studies we can find say we are a nation of over 20 million bloggers, with 1.7 million profiting from the work, and 452,000 of those using blogging as their primary source of income. That’s almost 2 million Americans getting paid by the word, the post, or the click — whether on their site or someone else’s. And that’s nearly half a million of whom it can be said, as Bob Dylan did of Hurricane Carter: “It’s my work he’d say, I do it for pay.” […]
Penn adds a whole lot of questions without answers, and even decides to go back to the hoary “wild wild west” analogy.
For now, bloggers say they are overwhelmingly happy in their work, reporting high job satisfaction. But what happens if they, too, lose work; are they covered by unemployment insurance if tastes change and their sites go under? Are they considered journalists under shield laws? Are they subject to libel suits? Are there any limits to the opinions they churn out, or any standards to rein them in? Is there someone to complain to about false blogs or hidden conflicts? At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Panasonic outfitted bloggers with free Panasonic equipment; did that affect their opinions about the companies they wrote about? There are more questions than answers about America’s Newest Profession.
Note: there I disagree. Blogging is just the latest take on the Second Oldest Profession. (Who do you think spread the word about the Oldest Profession?) Penn continues his info-dump:
It is hard to think of another job category that has grown so quickly and become such a force in society without having any tests, degrees, or regulation of virtually any kind. Courses on blogging are now cropping up, and we can’t be far away from the Columbia School of Bloggerism. There is a lot of interest now in Twittering and Facebooking — but those venues don’t offer the career opportunities of blogging. Not since eBay opened its doors have so many been able to sit at their computer screens and make some money, or even make a whole living.
And with millions of human-hours now going into writing and recording opinion, we have to wonder whether being the blogging capital of the world will help America compete in the global economy. Maybe all this self-criticism will propel us forward by putting us on the right track and helping us choose the right products. Maybe it will create a resurgence in the art of writing and writing courses. Or serve as a safety net for out of work professionals in the crisis. But for how long can nearly 500,000 people who are gradually replacing whole swaths of journalists survive with no worker protections, no enforced ethics codes, limited standards, and, for most , no formal training? Even the “Wild West” eventually became just the “West.” …
Interesting, one supposes.
A reminder that we are watching the transition of ways of writing life that go back to the Reformation. Sadly, it’s writers who are writing about it, and frankly, most of the publishing industry doesn’t seem to have enough distance from what they do to see what they do, and understand how it’s changing. Penn’s piece is certainly food for thought. More like a writing assignment I’m not willing to take on than an actual piece, but I earnestly commend that you read it.
As Frank Zappa said, “I’m is yo futum.”
As far as armies of freelance bloggers as modern typographic gunslingers, for hire to the highest bidder?
Just watch Faux Nooz™. Or ask John Fund (of the WSJ) or John Stossel (of ABC). Nothing new here. Only the medium changes. And the EASE OF ACCESS to media.
You see, the story of the first part of the XXIth Century is the democratization of media; formerly, presses, and then movie and sound equipment were extraordinarily expensive and that price threshold necessarily limited WHO got to say what got printed, what got filmed, what sound recordings got released.
Now, we face the democratizing possibility of a meritocracy of arts: your talent is the only barrier. Not who owns the expensive press, who owns the typesetting machine; not who runs the recording studio, the pressing plant, the movie studio, the TV camera.
THAT is an astonishing new development that really hasn’t been much talked about. The writing profession is moving from paper to pixels, but the change is not as profound as one might think.
When Penn complains about “sensationalism” in attracting pennies per click, that’s nothing new from the good old days of the newspaper, and newsboy of yore touting “EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT!” at the top of his tiny lungs:
Some sites even pay writers by the click, which is of course a system that promotes sensationalism, or doing whatever it takes to get noticed….
The old modes don’t vanish. They transmute into new forms. (This was exactly the criticism of Politico that was floating last week.)
It is in the sudden freedom of the press (since everyone now owns the virtual equivalent of a “press” or has access to one), there lies your revolution. No longer can the major publications and major publishers hold a virtual monopoly over what can and can’t be written and placed into the mainstream. (This was a big problem in the ’70s and ’80s as publishers were bought up and consolidated into media mega-companies that also included music and film divisions.)
So, if you wanted to know what a Renaissance looks like, you’re in one. Good incarnational timing! (Assuming that’s your thing. The old Chinese curse, may you live in interesting times certainly holds sway here, as well.)
Oh brave new world, that has such bloggers in it.