NY Times: Blogging’ll kill ya?

Matt Richtel is on the front page of today’s Times with a piece about the tech blogosphere as a 24/7 sweatshop — one that might even be killing some of its (older) practitioners.

“It looks like a desk job, but for some bloggers it is more like a factory,” reads the pullquote.

The piece is, I think, reasonably accurate as a portrait of the tiny sliver of the blogging universe that the commercialized tech-news blog world represents. Where it goes awry is in suggesting that this represents the archetypal blogging experience.

This passage is the problem:

There are growing legions of online chroniclers, reporting on and reflecting about sports, politics, business, celebrities and every other conceivable niche. Some write for fun, but thousands write for Web publishers — as employees or as contractors — or have started their own online media outlets with profit in mind.

“Some write for fun.” I think, realistically, this might say, “Most write for fun.” The emphasis now suggests that “a limited number write for fun, but THOUSANDS write for publishers…” To me even “thousands” seems exaggerated — does the pro blogosphere really employ that many?

Leaving that aside, the “some/thousands” construction suggests that the majority of participants are in sweatshop mode, and that’s obviously wrong. This sentence should really read: “Millions write for fun, but thousands write for Web publishers…”

Achieving more clarity on this point might have made the piece somewhat less appealing to the page one editors, of course.

More: Matthew Ingram says the Times was just “trolling” for links. Doc Searls points out that “scoops are overrated.” And Marc Andreessen mocks the Times with some other headlines we can look forward to, including “The Bloggers have WMD.”

P.S. I will make $0.00 on this post! And I’m at least 8 hours late with my observations. Then again, I got to drink my coffee before I sat down to write.

LATER: Larry Dignan of ZDNet has some sensible observations similar to some of what I was thinking as I read the Times piece:

Let’s put a little perspective on this blogging thing. You could be getting shot at in Iraq. You could be a single mom working three jobs to stay afloat (Happy Birthday mom). You could work in a coal mine. You could be in a life and death battle with Leukemia. You could be doing any one of thousands of high-stress jobs. Sure, the Web has a lot of stress but let’s get real: If you’re stressed out over 5,000 RSS feeds chances are good you’d be stressed by any profession you chose.

And Dave Winer points out in a comment below that there’s an element of professional-journalistic defensiveness in the article’s premise:

Of course this piece is aimed at themselves and others like them. Look, we’re being replaced by crazies who work for nothing, never sleep and die of heart attacks.

It’s like NAFTA for professional writers.

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  1. Scott, I’ve run across this curious idea in recent talks with professional news people. They think blogs have been completely absorbed by the professional publishing business.

    Of course this piece is aimed at themselves and others like them. Look, we’re being replaced by crazies who work for nothing, never sleep and die of heart attacks.

    It’s like NAFTA for professional writers.

    They’re taking the same kinds of liberties that Andrew Keen did.

    We need your book Scott. Hurry up!!

  2. don cardwell

    i really think winer’s comments miss the boat and may reflect more on his own POV about old media v blogging. personally, that’s a tired debate. the times did a story about a aspect of cyber life it thought worthy of examination. i think dignan’s comments are far more perceptive. as far as the ingram slam, that was just nonsensical.

    here’s a more interesting angle: winer talks about defensiveness but look at the rage within the blogosphere reacting to the piece. pot calling the kettle black, eh?

  3. Scott Rosenberg

    I’ve only been dipping into the reactions — busy family day today — but so far have seen no rage, particularly. Just the usual range on the thoughtfulness-to-derision spectrum…

  4. Also, did the Times interview a doctor?

    When Marc Orchant died there were some pretty awful allegations made that overwork by his employer caused it (by competitors, no less), while the family was getting over the shock of the death. Back then I didn’t get in the middle cause I didn’t want any of that kind of pain, but I was thinking — heart disease takes decades to get so bad that it can kill you. The chances that his last employer caused the disease, as far as I know, are infintesmal.

    Okay, you can’t expect flaming bloggers to stop to consult a doctor (why not?) but the NY Times doing a front page stoy? Is the premise of their story even reasonable? I don’t think it is.

    I remember a story from the Korean War, they were doing autopsies on US soldiers who had died in combat. Young men, some still in their teens. What they found shocked them — some huge proportion of them already had heart disease.

  5. Karoshi is the Japanese word for “death from overwork”. Death from working too much is not limited to specific professions. The Times clearly understands the blogosphere and has us talking/writing about it.

    It’s called free advertising.


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