You’re Next, Blogger

Yesterday I did something I never do: purchase the print edition of a newspaper. (I needed to light a charcoal grill, and my preferred method involves igniting a teepee of shredded strips of newsprint atop the coals.) This, however, turned into something of a happy accident, as this morning I found I had a copy of the Washington Post Magazine, which I never read, and found two stories in it I enjoyed greatly. One was an oral history of the Washington City Paper, and it ended with this quote from Russ Smith, the paper’s co-founder, about alt-weeklies:

I really don’t see any future for print weeklies. My oldest son is 16. He is in a band and plays in clubs around town. He’s also a filmmaker. So he is an artsy kind of kid, and his interest is such that 25 years ago he would be the type to pick up a City Paper the day it came out. He never picks it up. He spends a lot of time waiting for a leak of the new Animal Collective release or something, but he doesn’t pick up a City Paper. He says: "Dad, it’s cool that you started it and everything, but what does it mean to me? These guys are out of touch." You lose that audience, and forget it. 

First of all, my enduring memory of that kid is him as a seven-year old in 2000, smashing me in the base of my skull with a plastic sword on some awful, hungover Saturday morning while I factchecked the letters section (!) of New York Press, the paper Russ went on to found. He brayed with laughter when I collapsed in pain. 

Second, everything Russ says here will eventually apply to bloggers. Occasionally I talk to the youth about journalism. Every time I expect to hear how all of them get their news exclusively from the internet and TV and don’t even visit websites very often, preferring to have most of what they want to read come to them through RSS. But if I was to place a ballpark figure on this admittedly-unrepresentative sample, I’d say between a third and a half of them consume news that way. Fewer than a third rely on RSS. Still others say they like reading newspapers in print, and think blogs are no big deal.

All of this is to say that there is no inexorable march of youth to the blogosphere. The bloggers of today are smart to think about how different the media landscape will be in five years and then in ten; to poll their readers (and their non-readers) about how they are and aren’t catering to reader interests; and to shift up the game plan accordingly. A lot of them have. FDL, dKos, and TPM, for instance, are not the same organizations they were in 2004, 2006, etc. These are good models to follow. We don’t want to be the newspaper industry of tomorrow.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman