RealTime IT News

Blogs? Carr Says Leave Journalism to the Pros

NEW YORK – Iconoclastic author Nicholas Carr, famous in tech circles for his 2003 article "IT Doesn't Matter," today took aim at the evolving media landscape.

In an onstage interview conducted by BusinessWeek editor Jon Fine at the MediaBistro media conference, Carr argued that the highest quality media content will always be produced by professionals. Far from living up to its promise of democratizing media, Web 2.0 will leave a media landscape still dominated by large companies, but he suggested that the quality of content could be undermined by the collapsing business model of print media.

"I don’t think what we're seeing now means any kind of doom for the big media companies, even the traditional ones," Carr said. "In the end, the media business still comes down to talent, even if it's talent through blogs or YouTube videos. The secret comes down to aggregation."

But technology and the metrics that come with it could have some troubling consequences for the quality of content, Carr warned. Not all articles monetize equally, even within the same publication. An article about depression, for instance, would contain keywords that would be very appealing to deep-pocketed advertisers – namely, the drug companies.

Conversely, an article about African relief work would likely monetize much more poorly. Carr stopped short of asserting that online publications' coverage would one day kowtow to the keywords that produce the most aggressive bidding wars, but he noted that they, like any business, have investors to satisfy, and left it at that.

As far as the Web 2.0 myth of the individual blogger rising to Internet superstardom, Carr was dismissive.

"You’ll see some bloggers rise up and they’ll be very successful, and they’ll be incorporated into large media companies," he said.

The blogs that become commercially viable tend to move away from the single-person voice that characterizes the idea of blogging in its purest form. They add more writers, and eventually come to resemble more professional online media networks, Carr said.

A wave of blogging buyouts?

One need look no further than the headlines for evidence of that point. Notably, CBS last week announced its intention to acquire CNET. On Friday, Conde Nast (which includes Wired among its stable of publications), said it was buying the technology blog site Ars Technica. On the news of those acquisitions, analysts suggested that the market might see a wave of blogging buyouts.

But Ars Technica and CNET's sites are a long way away from the cult of the amateur that was so central to Web 2.0, at least how it was seen when the buzz word first hit the mainstream.

There is perhaps no more prominent symbol of that Web 2.0 ethos than Wikipedia. Marshaling the wisdom of the crowds, Wikipedia sought to index the whole of human knowledge. To Carr, Wikipedia never lived up to the promise of creating a polished product through massive collaboration.

"You're talking about writing by committee," he said, noting Wikipedia, as originally designed, could never hope to produce the quality of content produced by professional journalists or scholars and vetted by editors. "When you try to do it with a group of people with very loose coordination, the whole structure falls apart."