The blogification of print media

From Fang Jun at MindMeters:

An opinion marketplace transformed by blogs

by Fang Jun / MM

In the Chinese world, blogs have brought great changes to the opinion marketplace and to columns in the media. Here's a short investigation into one small area.

Several weeks ago, Ye Ying exclaimed that (paraphrased): "the lifestyle 'chatter' page of The Economic Observer, begun in 2002, no longer has any value. It has been replaced by blogs, and though the page is still produced, the writing style of the articles has been blogified." In the past, that page included columns on life, one thousand characters apiece written by lots of columnists. They wrote about movies, life, play, and culture, and the writing itself was paramount. The commentary page of Southern Weekly had similar content and was once highly sought after; Shen Hongfei's fame is due in no small part to his column on that page.

This media content has been hit hard by blogs. We can look at this from two sides. First, from the side of the audience, it was all cliquish content, only of interest to a specific group of people, and there were different groups for each of the many columns on the page. Blogs are better able to satisfy the demands of these groups; readers can read just the content that they are interested in. Then, from the side of the writers: the writers that compose these columns for the media lag behind the legions of bloggers in terms of the diversity, interest, novelty, and reader relevance of their lives and thoughts (you could say that their position as experts has disappeared).

Frequency-wise, there is too much time between column that appear in the print media once or twice a week. Blogs have a much higher frequency. Moreover, using an RSS reader makes reading even more convenient - when there are new blog posts you will notice them automatically.

Such content is still prevalent in the media, but putting blogified articles in newspapers and magazines is meaningless. Uniqueness is what is needed:

  • As in the community pages in international media where the columnist personally experiences various scenarios on behalf of the reader;
  • As in greater uniqueness and elegance in language;
  • As in a viewpoint that is more unique, or more systematic or professional, or more carefully considered, or a combination of multiple viewpoints;
  • As in choosing writers with more star power. Forbes' 90th anniversary issue discussed network thinking, and the star writers filling the lineup made it a must-read. And indeed they wrote well. In Time's special issue on the 100 most influential people, many articles were written by friends and well-known individuals;
  • As in editors who move from backstage to the front to make stronger choices, as in a section like Modern Weekly's city pages where each issue has a chosen topic for four writers to address in short pieces;
  • As in more refined images, design, and production;
  • And finally, this content will continue on: one of its foundations is the credibility and magnifying effect of the media platform. Now, there is an even greater need to put to good use the unique capabilities of the platform of the media.

One slight tangent: many people's blog-reading experience is similar to how they read chatty columns. Their decision whether or not to read something is based not on the topic, but rather the author, because this is the only way to guarantee the quality of what they are reading.

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