Blogging and the future of journalism

This week I helped out Peter John Meiklem on a story for the Sunday Herald about the future of journalism. Amid all the job losses in the Scottish media, the piece looks at whether bloggers can step up to the plate and begin to supplant traditional media outlets.

My view has long been that blogging is best consumed as a complement to professional journalism, as you’ll see if you read the piece. But of coruse there are other views out there, which the article also represents.

There are a few points I thought I’d mention, just to expand on or clarify a few points. It’s worth remembering what we mean when we talk about web stats. It’s a thorny area, and there isn’t really a good way to accurately estimate how many unique visitors a website has. I tend to look at visits rather than unique visitors because I think it’s more unambiguous.

I was a bit vague on the telephone about how many visitors this blog gets. I knew that all of my blogs put together get over 10,000 visits per month (this is the number I keep in my head because it’s nice and round, and it’s also sufficiently large to sound relatively impressive). In this case, it’s bad luck that the number of unique visitors to this blog in the month in question was 8,465. Not quite the >10,000 mentioned in the article, though if you throw in the numbers for my F1 blog vee8 it nudges above 10,000 unique visitors.

Apparently 10,000 per month is a similar readership to many local newspapers. I don’t know if this refers to the circulation of the hard copy or the figures for a local paper’s website.

Certain bloggers, who regularly post indulgent stat pr0n posts, get quite excited about how many visitors they get. But it’s worth remembering just how meaningless most visits actually are. Okay, this blog gets roughly 10,000 visitors a month. But it would be pure delusion to believe that there are 10,000 people out there who just can’t wait to read what I have to say.

Only an eighth of those visitors came here directly (i.e. on purpose). Over two-thirds of the visitors to this blog come from search engines. Of these, 94% have never come across this blog before. And 86% of search engine visitors to this blog look at one page and leave, spending on average a paltry 40 seconds here. They will probably never come back again, no doubt having failed to find what they were looking for. All-in-all, only 13% of this blog’s readers are returning for a second visit. Kudos to the 1% who have visited 100 times or more.

Of course, as always, these statistics come with all sorts of health warnings. Then there is the fact that many people are able to read blogs without ever having to visit, thanks to the magic of RSS. For what it’s worth, according to Feedburner, 270 people are subscribed to this blog.

Partly because of all the problems of getting accurate figures, I don’t get as hung up on stats as I used to. I like to know where traffic is coming from if someone has linked to this blog, but the numbers don’t excite me as much any more.

It’s come a long way though. I remember when I started out blogging, I used to be a bit freaked out when I saw the blog had had 60 visits in a day. That must have meant that I had (accidentally) said something too controversial or someone had ripped me to shreds and linked to it. Given that I was so young when I started blogging, they were probably right to do so. Eventually, getting 60 a day was the norm. Now 300 a day is a disappointment.

In the piece I am quoted as saying, “The average age of a blogger is around 40.” I don’t think that’s quite what I said (and I certainly didn’t intend to say that). I think the average age of the readers of political blogs is 40. My impression — it’s just a guess — is that the bloggers themselves are generally younger than that. But the point about blogging is that it can be — and is — done by people from all sorts of backgrounds. The eclecticism of the blogosphere is, of course, one of its biggest attractions.

As for the idea that the average reader of a political blog is aged 40, this is something I heard or read a long time ago and the source is long lost. I do like to pluck it out from time to time though to illustrate that blogging is not just a young person’s game. A quick search has yielded this study (PDF) which found that the median age of a political blog reader in the USA in 2006 was 49.

Another thing I wanted to mention was that the piece says that Guido Fawkes broke the story about North Lanarkshire Council’s head of communications job. In fact, my post about it was published about an hour before Guido’s, though I understand if more people came to learn about it through Guido. It’s also true that Gudio went a lot further, by actually naming the people involved, which I was reluctant to do.

Anyway, it’s great to have been quoted so much in the Sunday Herald this morning. I don’t mean to come across as sniping — inaccuracies are always bound to creep in, and you certainly couldn’t say that bloggers are much less error-prone.

One of the great things about having a blog though is that it allows me to clarify a couple of things which I said when I was working from the top of my head. That is one area where the blogosphere definitely has the upper hand over traditional media. On an open blog, some pedant like me will soon be along to point out the mistakes in the comments section. But the newspaper will never be corrected.

12 comments

  1. Delighted with your article DV. Such a shame that nobody’s done any research about the 60+ group who do political blogging. I hope I’m not the only Scottish female 🙂

  2. The interactive nature of political blogs and the debates that they spark are so much more engaging than passively reading a newspaper or TV report. You are right that traditional media often gives more detailed analysis but unless you buy dozens of newspapers and flick through all the TV channels it doesn’t give the width or depth of opinion that the blogosphere can generate on any topical story of the day within hours of it breaking.
    I believe it is making politics, in Scotland anyway, much more accessible and engaging than it has ever previously been. And that can only be a good thing.

  3. I think it’s an excellent article, plenty of food for thought.

    Have to agree about the perils of stat numbers, the number of people who stay on my blog for all of ‘0 seconds’ kind of takes away from the otherwise attractive numbers I’m enjoying. As a result, I personally try not to take it too seriously other than to see if anyone’s linking in to my site from somewhere unexpected.

  4. Yup, I have to agree — it’s one of the best articles about blogging I have seen. A good balance of optimistic and negative views, it’s got a pretty realistic take on blogging as a whole. It makes a change because normally articles are really sneering or they’ve got their heads in the clouds about blogging.

    PJ — I hope you’re right about blogging making politics in Scotland more engaging. The great tragedy about all the cutbacks in the Scottish media is not just that it’s happening, but that it’s happening during the devolution process. Politicians need more of an eye on them, not less. In that sense, it would be great if bloggers could step up to the plate.

    Jeff — Web stats is a complete minefield. ‘0 seconds’ is a classic example. Of course most visitors will stay for longer than 0 seconds, but there’s no way of telling. As you say, I’m more interested nowadays in who links to me rather than the figures.

  5. great piece and I agree with most of it. I think bloggers and journalists will eventually sit happily alongside each other. There will always be enough room for both sides and neither are a threat to each other in my opinion 🙂

  6. How do you get Feedburner to tell you how many people are subscribed to your feed? I have a Feedburner feed in my blog, but all Feedburner does when I log into it is complain because I don’t have a Google account (and can’t get one because I find their registration process inaccessible).

  7. Feedburner shows how many people are subscribed to your feed on the dashboard once you sign in.

    You might be able to see yours by using this image as a template:
    <img src="http://feeds2.feedburner.com/~fc/doctorvee?bg=222222&fg=fffffff&anim=0" height="26" width="88" style="border:0" alt="" />

    But change the address of my feed to the address of yours.

  8. Personally I’m sick of the whole Blogging vs Journalism debate. I absolutely agree with you that there’s no need for them to be pitted against each other the way they are in traditional media; the former is a reactive discipline, and the latter – for the most part – is pro-active.

    Maybe, as the Scottish media landscape shifts around us, bloggers will break more stories and adopt a more journalistic role but as it is right now they need journalists and traditional media to survive.

    Convergence is four letter word in the industry just now, but it’s happening like it or not. If it keeps going this way then bloggers will be well placed to step up to the plate as their skills and contacts become more in demand – but will they WANT to?

  9. I used to have a visitor counter on one of my sites, but removed it because, as you argue, it was pretty meaningless without any qualitative information to put the figures into perspective. Interesting what you say about blogging and journalism. I tend to agree with you that are quite different but can contribute something positive. It’s such a pity that the print media (ie newspapers) are struggling. I come from Liverpool and the morning newspaper there, The Daily Post, has just recently stopped printying a Saturday edition, due to falling circulation. There are fears it will fold eventually and just become on online newspaper. As someone who writes for newspapers, to me, that won’t be the same.

  10. great article!
    blogging is the way forward, digital media is shifting, google news is now the biggest news service in the world. anybody can be a journalist now 🙂