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May 14, 2007

Ask Not For Whom The Whip Snaps; It Snaps For Thee

"A 20 year-old college junior with little in the way of reporting skills to offer simply couldn't break into the blogosphere these days," writes Matt.  "Thus, I think you'll find that folks like me, Ezra Klein, Julian Sanchez, etc. are blazing a trail that nobody will follow."

Oh, I don't know about that.  I was just involved in the hiring process for a writing position, and we not only searched out online experience, we demanded sample blog posts.  And I doubt we're particularly unique.  Given that every major pundit-type magazine now has a blog, you'll probably see some familiarity with the form become a prerequisite, if not necessarily the primary credential.  Magazines need constant content, and they particularly need young writers willing to provide it, as older writers remain, by and large, reluctant and infrequent bloggers (there are obvious exceptions to this rule).  The effect of this need for blogging among new hires, however, is fairly immense.

It used to be very hard for a young writer to make a name.  The question wasn't one of talent, or brains, or style, but of simple opportunity: A traditional magazine has X number of pages a year, which are split between many authors and topics.  A new hire gets neither the best stories nor the finest assignments.  Her writing is edited and reshaped, homogenized into the voice of the magazine.  Given these constraints, it's not impossible that she'll break through, but it's unlikely.

Blogs and websites change all that.  Now there's an unlimited appetite for content and endless opportunity for young writers to speak and report on high-profile issues.  As Matt says, "It used to be that the closest thing to a reliable way to get glamorous pundit work was to pay your dues as a reporter."  While there's no guarantee of glamour in blogging, it's certainly the easiest path to playing pundit, and offers the most opportunity for a young writer to make a name in that field. And given how much more content is offered, there's proportionately more room for well-known and high-performing authors.  The economics of the profession remain a bit uncertain, but insofar as one of the relevant scarcities was how much room there was for publishing content, the infinite expanse offered by the web offers a lot more opportunity for success.

Additionally, my guess is you'll see a sort of long-tail phenomenon as young writers make names focusing on specific issues.  No generalist magazine could or would publish the amount of health care commentary I offer, but it's nevertheless become something I'm known and read for. With more space for specialization, more writers can become go-to pundits on specific topics, and thus carve out niches that would've been nearly impossible when they had to be magazine generalists.

May 14, 2007 in Gaze at my Navel! | Permalink

Comments

It's an interesting question, but I think it ultimately depends on the personality and the career a person wants to set out on. Blogging while in school has unquestionably helped me shift careers toward journalism - forced me to follow issues I might want to report on on a daily basis, and also to hone my writing, make it more crisp, and think of how to appeal to a wider audience.

But I think the flipside is for people who are convinced that blogging will get them into trouble. And there's a lot of them. They're convinced the digital bread crumbs will get picked up by potential employers in a variety of fields, who will then hold it against them for ever and ever.

So for wanna be journalists, it depends on the kind of journalists they want to be. You and Matt and others bring your voices into the stories you write. A lot of people hoping to work for other outlets fear that getting their voices into it will send their resumes tumbling toward circular files.

Posted by: Michael Roston | May 14, 2007 11:01:57 AM

"But I think the flipside is for people who are convinced that blogging will get them into trouble. And there's a lot of them. "

I'd say the flipside applies to way more people then then those that would find a benefit from blogging.

Posted by: ChrisB | May 14, 2007 11:35:28 AM

"as older writers remain, by and large, reluctant and infrequent bloggers"

I think that this is true, but the converse is not. Many top left political bloggers are old (>40?)--they just hadn't been professional opinion writers. Digby, Billmon, Ed Kilgore, Firedoglake, Huffington, Sawicky, etc. It is not an age issue; it is an incumbency problem.

Posted by: Joe S. | May 14, 2007 11:46:20 AM

All too often folks feel that the ladders have been pulled up after they have reached the roof, but the vandals have been storming the walls for a long time, and offense still prevails most of the time against defense. And now we have asymetric warfare (didn't we always have it?).

Will (drive) and talent have a way of being exposed and welcomed, and the barriers fall. And all of this is healthy too. Whippersnappers arriving make the incumbants aware that what they did last year won't protect them from being judged on current performance. That's what scares many in the media forums (like Brian Williams, wailing in his cosmo after work).

Newbies are a Good Thing in every line of work.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | May 14, 2007 12:22:05 PM

When I saw Matt's post about how the window was closing, I thought his view was shaped a little too heavily by his own experience as one of the first movers in blogging. Certainly, you can't do things exactly the way he did and expect them to work out just as they did for him. But someone starting from the bottom today still has plenty of opportunities for advancement -- write some good posts and comments responding to more prominent bloggers, catch their attention and get links, and maybe get invited as a weekender or something. (Thanks Ezra!)

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | May 14, 2007 12:39:43 PM

you know, you and Matt are really missing something crucial here.

The fact is, you guys are *exceptionally* good. I'm not saying that you are unprecedented or irreplaceable--maybe there are a handful of other kids out there who could have done it just as well as you and simply lost out for random reasons.

But I'm an educator who has been working with really, really smart and talented kids for decades now. And I've got to tell you, writing, thinking and analysis chops like you kids have just don't come around very often.

Especially not in combination with the historical perspective and overall good judgement that you bring to it.

Combine that with surreal levels of emotional maturity in your blog personae--I'm twice your age, and I find myself throwing blog-tantrums far more often than you do--and I think you have both gotten to where you are largely because: you deserve it.

Which is also why I feel an investment in keeping you two honest, and telling you when you screw up.

Posted by: granddad | May 14, 2007 1:23:37 PM

I try to be hopeful - after all, I'm a blogger in the wake of all of this - but I do think some of the paths have been run through and closed. It's going to be hard for random cool blogger (and I'd argue, especially random cool white guy blogger) to break through a set of establised bloggers with established connections who aren't necessarily keen on letting every Tom, Dick and Harry into the game. As I say often round these parts, the web is still a small subset of all folks, and the blogging fields still smaller, and if I think about the Prospect circle - Matt, Garance, Ezra, etc - it seems pretty set, and no offense, kind of a closed loop. I think you could say the same of the folks around Instapundit and Hugh Hewitt and Huffington Post and on and on. It's lovely to think that the blogosphere is shaking out more democratic and open than publishing has been, but it is and it isn't. The field was wide open and now it's not, it's, well, sort of open, but sort of closed. If people believe it should remain wide open, it may. But I think a lot of established folks are, well, established, and getting established is now harder. That's just what I see. Self publishing certainly offers a new and interesting option, but it does not necessarily solve the problem of getting known.

Posted by: weboy | May 14, 2007 4:31:43 PM

Don't confuse "unlimited appetite for content" with unlimited consumption of content. Over time, I think Web 2.0 will evolve to give people greater and greater tools to weed through the ever-increasing chaff. As that happens, many bloggers will find themselves speaking to an empty auditorium as it were.

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