Sam got a lot of grief for his comments but I think most of the criticism was ill-directed. It is simply a fact that Twitter has been embraced by the mainstream Australian media in a way that blogs never were and it is interesting to consider why.
Between about mid-2002 and, say, 2005, Australia did have a blogosphere worthy of the name. That was when I was doing The Road to Surfdom from the US, and there was definitely a strong network of Australian blogs that used to interact with each other in that full-on, networked way.
The question for me is why it didn’t grow from that promising start into something more sustainable. There are a few answers, but size and money are at the heart of it.
Ultimately, what sustained blogging in the US — the reason it was able to move from a bunch of keen amateurs into something more professional and enduring — was that the US market is big enough to support that transition.
The first big breakthrough was when the company Blogads launched. They were able to aggregate individual blogs into a single “market” and thus interest advertisers in their combined reach. There were enough small and mid-size businesses to find that new (cheap) market attractive and so they started using it. Suddenly, a number of part-time bloggers had an income. Blogads is entirely the reason why, for example, Duncan Black (Atrios of Eschaton) was able to quit his job as an economics professor and blog full-time.
Other people to benefit were Josh Marshall and Matt Yglesias.
The other thing that happened was US bloggers started to be employed by mid-size magazines and think tanks. Kevin Drum went to the Washington Monthly (he’s now with Mother Jones); Matthew Yglesias was picked up by The American Prospect (then The Atlantic, then Centre for American Progress, now Slate); American Prospect also picked up Ezra Klein (and he’s now at The Washington Post); Andrew Sullivan went from solo blogger (who was able to raise more than $100,000 via an appeal to his readers in c.2003) to The Atlantic and is now at The Daily Beast. To name just a few.
During the same period, established journos (Eric Altman, James Fallows, Greg Mitchell, Charles Pierce and many others) started using blogs as their primary genre, whereas maybe they would’ve been columnists in another era. Again, this was largely sustained by the mid-size magazines and think tanks and only later spread to the mainstream (WaPo, NYTimes etc). The net effect was to legitimise the form.
All of this was possible because of the size of their market and this just didn’t pertain to Australia. Apart from overall market size, we completely lacked that mid-size magazine infrastructure. To this day, I think I am one of only two Australian amateur bloggers given a paying gig with a major media outlet (the other is Peter Brent, aka Mumble, who works for The Oz).
In the absence of that sort of market, the original Australian political blogosphere just evaporated. The people who had sustained it simply couldn’t keep up the pace (not without payment anyway) and so they went off and got proper paying jobs. Some still operate of course but they tend to be people like John Quiggin who are gainfully employed elsewhere.
Even in the last few weeks we’ve seen the demise of one the mainstays of Australian blogging, with Mark Bahnisch and his collaborators closing down the long-running Larvatus Prodeo blog.
News Limited had some sway here – basically, I think, by employing me and launching Andrew Bolt as a blogger, they took the wind out of the independent blogosphere. But that theory requires more space than I can give it here.
Any chance that the Australian blogosphere might revive itself in the way Rogeveen is talking about was, I think, killed by the rise of Twitter. Suddenly, this shortform, less time-consuming form of social media seemed like the best option for people who might otherwise have tried to take blogging seriously. I think most of them thought their prospects of making anything like a living out of blogging in Australia were next to nothing and Twitter was the obvious default.
The embrace of Twitter by mainstream journalists is interesting. Australian journos shunned blogging (Peter Martin is an obvious exception) and so their interest in Twitter is noteworthy.
All I can suggest is that they felt blogs, in the early days, were a genuine threat and thus there was an amazing hostility towards them -- and I’m speaking as one who experienced it. The only blogger local journalists took remotely seriously (ironically) was Tim Blair and that was because he was “one of theirs”, a “proper” journalist. The rest of us were to be ignored.
Bloggers were initially shunned in the US too, but by being able to gain employment in the mid-range magazine market and in think tanks, they established their legitimacy. Eventually, they were simply present in too many established forums to be dismissed.
For Australian journalists, Twitter suffered the same taint as the blogosphere. It was never competition to what they did, simply an adjunct to it. It was a way of promoting their work, of talking to each other and of building a fan base. The dip-in, dip-out shortform aspect of it is also attractive to people who have fulltime jobs.
Overall, I think it’s a tragedy. Those early days of political blogging (between early 2002 and around 2005) threw up a lot of very good and interesting writers, it’s our loss that more of them couldn’t find gainful, sustained employment somewhere in the media. Had mainstream editors been less hostile and more adventurous, or if the local market had an adequate supply of smaller outlets capable of employing and nurturing some of them, the Australian media landscape might’ve wound up a much more interesting place.