On bloggers and the sustainability of their roles as watchdogs

The following was excerpted from an e-mail I sent Ryan Tate of Gawker after reading his post about David Simon’s testimony at a Senate hearing on the future of newspapers May 6.

As far as the whole issue of bloggers attending city council meetings and what not… the fact of the matter is that bloggers can and do play a watchdog role, but it is rarely sustainable on a full-time basis, and watching city hall can be a full-time job. Yes, some people are probably managing to cover it with the depth and regularity of whatever the daily rag happens to be in that town, but again, it is the rare case where this is sustainable for any long period.

That said, while there are a number of news Web sites that are able to generate enough revenue to pay employees a living wage, I don’t know of any good examples of a local news site. Advertising on the Web only seems to be practical on a scale that doesn’t seem realistic for local content.

If anything is Google’s fault. This is where it happens. By owning the advertising market and garnering a small slice off every ad on the internet, it was to Google’s advantage to drive down the cost of advertising to the point that it became ubiquitous. Sure, they created an open market, but they did so in such a way that created a race to the top, but a race to the bottom.

Now advertising on the Web is so affordable, that I could take a month’s paycheck and probably buy a million “quality” impressions. Compare that to the cost of a million impressions through print publications and you’ll see why Google may not have violated their ‘do no evil’ mantra, we certainly can no longer say they’ve done no harm.


  1. Hi, Josh. I too think it would be great if there were ways local bloggers could get paid for things of civic value, but I think you’re totally wrong to blame Google for the low cost of ads.

    Google has a financial interest in maximizing both the number of ads and the rate of ads. The more advertisers spend, the more Google makes. They’d love ad rates to go up.

    The giant volume of ads — which is what is driving per-ad rates down — is due to the equally giant volume of content on the web these days.

    Before the web, a million impressions used to be a pretty valuable thing, because there was a relatively small amount of print space, and it was hard and expensive to make more of it. Setting up a magazine took months and real money; setting up a blog with ads takes minutes and costs little or nothing. As we learned in Econ 101, if you greatly increase the supply, the price will fall.

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