Blogs may be hipper than mainstream media, but are equal in terms of the scrutiny they face

Mainstream media is catching on to blogs, just as some blogs are fundamentally turning into something else.

Mainstream media is catching on to blogs, just as some blogs are fundamentally turning into something else.

A recent BusinessWeek cover story on the phenomenon quaintly describes blogs as "online journals," when many of the most famous examples of the genre have morphed into mini media empires, with multiple contributors, advertising, and brand extensions.

Meanwhile, back in mainstream media, the picture is dismal. The Audit Bureau of Circulations last week reported that newspaper circulation has fallen by 1.9% over a six-month period, the biggest decline in a decade. The Newspaper Association and the Magazine Publishers of America have launched efforts to enhance the image of these traditional outlets, to readers and advertisers alike.

Decisions like the one that GM made last month, when it pulled its advertising from the Los Angeles Times in retaliation for negative coverage of the company, reinforce the message that the rules governing the relationship between traditional media companies and those they cover might be changing.

Compared to that atmosphere, the mythology of the blog world is that it is populated by purists intent only on advancing a debate or idea, and "normal" media relations won't cut it. Objectivity is unnecessary; it's the spirit of rugged individualism as embodied by Gilmor and Rubel rather than Lewis and Clark.

Meanwhile, the landscape is already changing. Sure, blogs have informed the fragmentation of the media and are a force communicators and companies must reckon with. But it is obviously a mistake to see the culture as a commercially agnostic medium, fueled solely by principle rather than capital.

It is also a mistake to see blogs as existing in a self-satisfied vacuum, separate from the mainstream media's influences and conceits. The more they are rewarded for their influence, the greater the risk that they'll lose it. Rest assured, BusinessWeek and others on the "boring" side will pounce on every lapse. The blog's rising power only increases the need for multiple communications channels, it doesn't diminish it.

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