Blogs, media, parasitism, and symbiosis

By Ross Dawson on March 2, 2007 | Permalink

This issue has been discussed before and I’ve written about it several times, though it doesn’t seem to go away. Robert Niles, editor of Online Journalism Review, has written a very interesting post titled Are blogs a ‘parasitic’ medium? He notes :

Over the past months, I’ve heard several journalists make the same comment at various industry forums: That blogs are a “parasitic” medium that wouldn’t be able to exist without the reporting done at newspapers.

Back in April 2006 I wrote a blog post on The symbiosis of mainstream media and blogs, in which I quoted from the Financial Times and commented on this idea of parasitism:

“The present round of chiselling may feel exciting and radically new – but blogging in the US is not reflective of the kind of deep social and political change that lay behind the alternative press in the 1960s. Instead, its dependency on old media for its material brings to mind Swift’s fleas sucking upon other fleas “ad infinitum”: somewhere there has to be a host for feeding to begin. That blogs will one day rule the media world is a triumph of optimism over parasitism.”
Cute metaphor. Yet symbiosis is far more apt than parasitism. Mainstream media in its online form largely gets attention through blogs. Blogs add immense value to the original articles, by identiyfing what’s important, pointing out flaws, adding other perspectives, making visible to all the conversations that stem from media pieces. Blogs depend on mainstream media, with its resources and editorial capabilities, for sure. Yet media is increasingly dependent on blogging for the direction of attention and layer of value-add created.

I later wrote about the collaborative space of blogs and newspapers, discussing how Technorati enables blog commentary on newspaper articles to be visible when you read the original article:

Newspapers and other mainstream media are still the primary reference points for what’s happening in the world, and the first pass of editorial commentary on that. Yet mainstream media increasingly feeds off the dialogue and news that surfaces in the blogosphere. News sites are also vastly enhanced by having the conversations that stem from their articles being visible to all. Anyone who wants to comment on a media story can have their thoughts available to readers globally, not just on a single site, but through an entire world of syndicated media.

In the Future of Media Strategic Framework, the central feature is the Symbiosis of Mainstream and Social Media, as illustrated by the circular flow of the cycle of media (click through for anthe downloadable diagram and explanation of symbiosis):

Robert uses a diverse range of interesting quotes to unpack the idea that blogs are parasitic. Ultimately, the most important reason that this is nonsense is that blogs are collectively a mechanism for us to discover what we as a society (or subset of it) find interesting and useful. Even if there were no useful content in blogs (which of course is also nonsense), their collective function of collaborative filtering is an extraordinary bound forward for the world of media.
Dan Gillmor also notes:

For the record, there are at least a dozen bloggers whose coverage of topics I care about do a considerably better job than any journalist working for a traditional media company.

while Howard Owen comments:

The best way to understand blogging is to blog. That’s why I say: All journalists should blog. You can’t get modern media without understanding blogs, and you can’t understand blogs unless you do it.

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