Who the hell are we, anyway?

Last week, after Pew’s survey of bloggers was released, someone you’d know plopped down in a chair in front of me and said: ‘So explain to me why most bloggers don’t consider themselves journalists.’

Easy, I said. I’ve long argued that we shouldn’t assume that bloggers want to be reporters. Sometimes some of them do. But mostly, blogs are just people talking. That’s my essential definition of the form: people in conversation. And when you see blogs through that light, you have to relate to them differently: Your customers, voters, neighbors, students, audience are talking and only a fool wouldn’t want to listen. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore the journalism in them.

I also said that what confuses the pros is that acts of journalism are mixed in with moments of life. One minute, I may report some news or comment on it, but the next moment, I’ll complain about Dell. To bloggers, this makes sense. Journalists have trouble figuring it out; they think that something journalistic must be purely journalistic.

The Pew survey supports that view, finding that 34 percent of bloggers consider their work journalism but 65 percent do not. Instead, most bloggers blog about life. Asked the reason they blog, 52 percent said that expressing yourself creatively was a major reason, 50 percent said documenting and sharing personal experiences, 37 percent said staying in touch with family and friends. Those top three reasons are about blogging as life. The next major reason hits journalism (34 percent want to share practical knowledge or skills) and the next one advocacy (29 percent want to motivate people to action); no. 8 on the list combines the two (27 percent want to influence how people think). Rounding out this top 10: entertaining people (28 percent), storing information (28 percent), meeting people (16 percent), and making money (7 percent). The blogs that get attention in the news are those about news — and news organizations — but that ignores the great silent majority of bloggers.

In short: Blogs are different keystrokes for different folks. There is no monolithic motive for blogging. And what that really means is that we are approaching the point where measuring what bloggers as bloggers do is pointless, like measuring why typists type or phoners phone or talkers talk. That, to me, is the most valuable insight from the Pew study.

I spent some time with Pew’s report this weekend trying to suss out the narrative the numbers tell about blogging. Some of the themes I saw:

* Blogs are just people talking. See above. Note that most just do this for themselves. That is, traffic and money are not motivators for most. Nearly half of the bloggers don’t even know their traffic. Only 8 percent have earned income from their blogs. That clearly separates them from media moguls.

* Blogs enable new voices to be heard. 54 percent of bloggers have never published before. As I said above, most do it first to be creative. That natural human desire has been constrained by scarce media in the past. No longer.

77 percenet of bloggeers have shared something they created — artwork, photos, videos, stories — vs. 26 percent of internet users. 44 percent of bloggers have taken content they found online and remixed it, versus 18 percent of internet users.

* Bloggers are informed. 95 percent of bloggers get news from the internet, vs. 73 percent for the internet population. 71 percent of bloggers get news from the internet on a typical day. Compare this with a recent Belden survey that says that only 27 percent of newspaper online users come to their sites daily.

* Bloggers are engaged. 64 percent go online several times a day from home, vs. 27 percent for the internet.

* But bloggers are not obsessive. 44 percent of bloggers see it as “something I do, but not something I spend a lot of time on.” 13 percent update daily. 40 percent call it a hobby. Only 13 percent describe their blogs as big parts of their lives.

* Bloggers are diverse. Bloggers are less likely than internet users to be white, contrary to the popular and often stated assumption. 60 percent are white (vs. 74 percent for the internet), 11 are African-American (vs. 9 percent), 19 percent are English-speaking Hispanic (vs. 6 percent). More demos: Bloggers are evenly divided between men and women and most live in the ‘burbs. Oh, yes, and they’re not all old farts like me; blogs skew young.

* Blogs are not an echo chamber. 45 percent of bloggers say they’d rather get news “from sources that do not have a particular point of view,” equivalent to the internet population. 24 percent prefer political news “from sources that challenge their viewpoint” — more than the 18 percent who “choose to use sources that share their political viewpoint.”

The survey doesn’t delve into attitudes about mainstream media except consider this: 55 percent of bloggers say they are inspired to post something by media. “Bloggers frequently inspired by the news media tend to identify politically as Democrats or independents. Republicans are also inspired to blog by the news, but less often than the other two groups.”

The Pew study also continues to show that blog authorship and readership are growing. It finds that 8 percent of internet users (12 million American adults) blog and 39 per (57 million Americans) read blogs, an increase of 39 percent since February 2004.

: At the same time, MSN just released a study of bloggers in Britain. Shane Richmond of The Telegraph points out that the numbers are suspiciously high next to another study by Universal McCann, where the numbers seemed low. So take your pick. The Guardian’s summary of the MSN study:

One in four British internet users keeps a blog and more than half of that number share their online musings with the public, according to a report released today. The research suggests that, with 27 million internet users across the UK, the country now holds nearly 7 million bloggers – equivalent to nearly one in nine of the population.

  • Just Passin’ By

    You forgot: “Bloggers love to endlessly talk about themselves”

  • http://www.donatacom.com/blog.shtml Terry Heaton

    Great post, Jeff. I think you also need to consider the term itself (journalism). There’s so much baggage attached to it that I’m surprised any research group would assume a broad understanding of the term while asking such a question. Personally, I think bloggers are journalists, every one of them. It’s just that I have a different definition of the term.

    So if it’s “professional” journalism of which Pew speaks, then I can easily understand bloggers’ rejection of it as an identifier.

  • http://ruthcalvo ruth

    What about pajamas? and pictures of cats? This ignores the beloved blogger stereotype so I must go blog about it.

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  • http://how-infotaining.com hepzeeba

    An open letter to “Someone We’d Know”:

    We are longtime thinkers and readers and writers who went to the same schools as MSMers (No insult intended. Some of my best friends are MSMers.) but decided to pursue careers and professions other than journalism. We make our living doing other things, but we continue to read and to be engaged by the dynamic world around us and by the world of ideas. We like to read. We like to write. We like to make fun of what we oberve in public life, like in MST3K. We like to debate. We understand rhetoric. We know how to check facts and sources.

    It’s not journalism, though–few of us are out there bearing witness or interviewing people or acquiring other primary-source material (although with the advent of podcasting and various blogging consortia, that may be changing).

    It’s…I dunno. Maybe blogging is “opinion reporting.”

    We’re different from journalists, because we seek to mix it up with our readers. We’re looking for conversation and debate. We want to be involved in the intellectual/cultural life of our country (such as it is). Some of us are tired of shouting back at the talking heads on TV and NPR and at editorial writers and columnists. We have areas of expertise and opinions, too.

    The blogosphere is where thinking people go to debate the politics of the day, the ideas of public intellectuals, and the opinions of paid opinion writers. It’s where the national conversation is taking place. Be there or be square.

  • http://www.diaryfromengland.blogspot.com NAOMI

    This post was great Jeff. It made me smile, especially the bit about one in four British internet users keeping a blog. I’m one of them. You can find me at http://www.diaryfromengland.blogspot.com I use my blog to express myself and regard it as my little soapbox on what’s going on in England.

    NAOMI

  • http://www.customerlistening.typepad.com Laurent Flores

    Hi Jeff – interesting analysis, thank you… you may look at the French Profile of people in blogs… interesting insights there through Baroblogs, see below:

    http://customerlistening.typepad.com/customer_listening/2006/07/tes.html

    Will be interesting in your ideas!

    thanks, Laurent

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