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.