Today in class, in addition to discussing the breadth of topics our papers covered from last week, we touched on blogs that had made millions of dollars over the last decade.
While I found the entire concept refreshing–you don’t have to sell your soul to CNN to earn a living wage–the slideshow we watched made me question how the call for profit influences what kind of content is pursued. It also made me question where the line needs to be drawn: Isn’t there a significant difference between successful revenue streams that allow your blog to reach viewers, maintain quality content and provide some form of compensation and million-dollar machines that ignore what ads are being stuffed onto a computer screen-sized page?
Money-making is practical for turning blogs into careers. However, money-making isn’t to be confused with amassing wealth. I would say that the independent nature, even in light of successful examples like Talking Points Memo, still has the potential to become tainted under such pressure. Not to mention, most of the blogs making money are doing less heavy material — fashion or celebrities. The pressure from advertisers might be absent, but once you throw in politics and international events, the pressure might begin to accumulate. Serious debate produces serious questions, and if it’s coming from a boss who’s writing you a $100,000 check, you might cave in even without a corporate framework.
Plus, it isn’t just the cash that could possibly corrupt an independent publication’s or outlet’s motives. The entire concept of needing to be “popular” gets messy. When the drive for popularity becomes solely about money-making and being popular for popular’s sake–when it becomes about blog name-branding rather than blog-based informing, the entire structure might shift toward what we, again, see in the minimally competitive world between CNN, MSNBC and FOX: how can we hook people in just for the sake of doing so and not for creating an informed, engaged democracy?
Search Engine Optimization, a new and emerging trend that seems to be already on the way out, is an example of where the self-marketing blogging requires can get tricky when the strategy tempts authors to forgoe their original motivations.
Helpful SEO tips, some involving Twitter or social media sites, are great, but when it becomes simply about keyword-packing and not informing, the blog might get carried away from its original goals.
In the end, SEO usage and advertisements are not necessarily bad models to utilize. Bloggers need to develop a revenue stream somehow. However, I would argue that just because SEO, ads and other forms of revenue-build up are successful, doesn’t mean they don’t have potential consequences, too. We should always keep in mind the pros and cons of each model and be wiling to hold ourselves accountable as bloggers if and when such models seem to interfere with our motives as journalists, commentators, analyzers, etc.