January 20th, 2006

Who Are the New Media Gatekeepers?

by

Who decides what’s worthy of your attention — a Web 2.0 application, a newspaper columnist, a talk show host, an editorial staff, an influential blogger, a community of thousands, a community of millions?

(UPDATE: Oy vey, this post is NOT about getting links, although it’s completely my fault that it’s been misread that way. It’s about the question above and the questions raised in the second half. I’ve had a lot of interesting debate on the questions of “gatekeepers” and would welcome more.)

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot this past week as I’ve tried to make it past the gatekeepers of the blogosphere, to varying degrees of success (and ignominious failure). It all came to a head yesterday when — against all odds — one of my posts spent the entire day on tech.memeorandum. I’m not sure how it got there in the first place, but it started a virtuous cycle of reading and linking, then more reading and more linking, until it had as much stickiness as all the blogging about the subpoenaing of Google’s search records and the sale of sex.com. The same post also made it briefly onto the front page of Reddit before starting a steady decline — it stayed in the top 50 for much of the day. It was also on del.icio.us/popular the last time I checked. (Site stats tell me the post appeared on trendalicious!, but by the time I got there it was gone. UPDATE: Since I wrote this, del.icio.us/popular has become the new rainmaker.)

All in all, quite ironic, given my rag on Web 2.0 media applications. But then maybe not, since I was aiming at the sacred cow of the geeks who use these apps (I use the term “geek” respectfully, since I’m one too), which has a way of “getting under the skin,” as Mathew Ingram put it. Needless to say, my traffic doubled.

Contrast the exposure and traffic I got through Web 2.0 sites with what I got through the “A-list” bloggers I emailed directly:

BuzzMachine — Some traffic from trackbacks, but despite corresponding with Jeff Jarvis by email (he’s a great guy), I haven’t made it through Jeff’s rigorous filter (part of why he’s so widely read).
Scripting News — Dave Winer didn’t take kindly to one of my earlier posts (which he found on his own). His mention generated good traffic, but despite Dave’s willingness to discuss it by email, I suspect I’m permanently off his radar.
Micro Persuasion — Steve Rubel took flack for his post suggesting that wannabes need to get noticed by the B-list blogs first. Scott Baradell took Steve to task for this, and he recanted, but I emailed Steve and only got a terse “no thank you.”

I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong here — these influential bloggers are one-man operations, and they only have 24 hours in the day like the rest of us. But the “system” is starting to feel a lot like Old Media, with the high-traffic blogs acting as gatekeepers for the blogosphere’s attention.

(UPDATE: Richard MacManus at Read/WriteWeb included this article in his great Read/WriteWeb Daily filter, and reminded me that I need to give thanks to the great bloggers who have given me a chance — some of them haven’t agreed with me, but that can only be a good thing. Mathew Ingram, who enjoys disagreeing with me, replaced my article as the root post on techmemeorandum and is probably getting some well-deserved attention. Richard refers in his citation to our correspondence by email, which I’ve enjoyed with him and many others — this is the great reward.)

The problem here (there’s always a problem), is not that the best bloggers have earned their place in the spotlight, but that there are so many good bloggers — I can’t read them all, and I’m having a helluva time choosing among the hundreds of feeds in my reader (I won’t start on RSS, I won’t, I won’t, I won’t…okay).

That said, I think the bigger problem with media gatekeeping lies beyond the bubble of the blogosphere. If I want to reach an audience of Old Media executives who are wrestling with the painful transition to New Media, I don’t think tech.memeorandum is going to cut it. It’s not that none of them read it — it’s a matter of media fundamentals. Tech.memeorandum is highly efficient for reaching fellow geeks in the blogosphere, but much less efficient for reaching outside of it. (I did get quoted in one non-blog, WebProNews — interesting that they feature content from “A-list” bloggers, e.g. Steve Rubel, Robert Scoble, who they call “Expert Authors.”)

I have the same problem with Technorati, which drives steady traffic, but I suspect it’s still used only by the technorati (hence it is well-named — and while we’re on the subject, when are they going to update their crumby database? — it shows 51 links to Publishing 2.0, but then my rank is only based on 22 links.)

Maybe I’ll have to do an outreach to some Old Media gatekeepers, like Folio or Editor & Publisher. (I’m wondering how many blogging media commentators have ever “picked up” either of those media business standards — if you really want to understand Old Media’s dilemma, read this from Folio, “The World’s Toughest Transition” — I’ll be picking up on that theme in a future article.)

So here’s the really big question — as Old Media gatekeepers fade, who will ultimately take there place? Will it be thousands of micro-gatekeepers (oh, my head hurts), or will there emerge a handful of new uber-gatekeepers (like the three TV networks)? No doubt I’ll be knocked around for suggesting there’s even a chance that it won’t be the former — but not so fast.

Lloyd Shepherd of Guardian Unlimited uses a critique of Digg to raise some interesting questions about the micro-gatekeeper model:

Another point about this: digg.com is obviously not the only “participatory media” site out there. Its 140,000 users also use other sites (Slashdot, for example), while there are millions of other users who don’t use digg at all. The number of people “participating” is spread across more and more sites. If the wisdom of crowds counts for something (and I believe it does, of course), then how big and active does the crowd have to be before it becomes wise?

All of which is a long-winded introduction to the core question: are 50 digg users more “representative” of the 140,000 digg users? Or is a group of GU editors more representative of the GU community? In my more militant moments I’ve often wondered how GU would look if we handed over the front page to the 12 million unique monthly users – would it be more reflective of the community, or less? Isn’t it probable that, actually, all that would appear on the front page would be stories around issues on which people tend to hold “extreme” positions, so they are prepared to work harder to force those issues to the fore?

Justin Fox, Editor-at-Large at Fortune, also poses some fascinating questions about the public good in Out with old media; in with… what?:

This is not an unprecedented state of affairs — big American cities used to have lots of different newspapers, each with pronounced political leanings and articles explicitly shaded to reinforce those leanings. There is nothing natural or inherently superior about the monolithic media institutions of the mid-to-late 20th century.

But there is still a need for the community-building, consensus-shaping role that the best of the media gatekeepers can play. The question is, who’s going to play it? And how are they going to make it work economically?

There are the existing gatekeepers, of course: Network TV, newspapers, mass-circulation magazines. Some may survive and thrive. But they’ll have to do without economic advantages they enjoyed in the past. Newspapers in particular are in a panic right now.

But it does raise some subversive thoughts: Are Americans willing to pay for what’s good for them? Are there great new fortunes to be made in telling us what to pay attention to, or is this business of media gatekeeping going to be chiefly a sideline (think Oprah Winfrey and her book club)? Is there a role for public broadcasting as the last uniting, subsidized medium?

(Yeah, how about a gatekeeper funded by Congress?)

So will it be “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” — are we going to get fooled yet again?

Comments (28 Responses so far)

  1. about the new gatekeepers is a close cousin to the guards at the clubhouse door I’ve been talking about for a while. I’m happy to see others thinking about this, even if they approach the issue in a slightly different manner. Scott Karp has a very interesting post

  2. up to the hype – be interesting to see if it responds to Mike’s detailed list of issues…) – Interview With Digg.com Founder, Kevin Rose (incl stats… “Digg’s registered membership is currently at 140,000 and is doubling every three months.”) – Who Are the New Media Gatekeepers? (I’ve been emailing with Scott Karp and we disagree on more than we agree on, but it’s stimulating conversation — and he sure knows how to get attention ;-)) – Hey, Your Content Chocolate Is In My Portal Peanut Butter!

  3. Who Are the New Media Gatekeepers?

  4. Publishing 2.0 » Who Are the New Media Gatekeepers?

  5. it’s more about how to make the most of our independence. [Later...] Scott Karp characterizes the above as “blogger defensiveness”. Scott has an earlier post on “gatekeepers” (which I hadn’t seen until now). Lots of good points in both pieces, including many with which I disagree. Here’s

  6. expand my point of view, but in this case – well, I’ll allow myself this once. Publishing 2.0 – Recent sampling of : Who Are the New Media Gatekeepers? , Blogging to a Higher Standard, Is there Hope for Content Brands. Don’t agree with everything he posts, however, it’s thought provoking

  7. In the Blogging World You Don’t Have Sex on the First Date Scott Karp is having trouble getting linked . The other day the proprietor of Publishing 2.0 and managing director of research and strategy for Atlantic Media admitted that despite emailing influential bloggers (Dave

  8. An involved look at the “new” media that’s emerging and whom, if any,gatekeepers will arise. I’m unsure why the attempt to apply the old model to what we currently have is a valid one. I.e on the physical side of old media’s grown I’d argue that the

  9. Scott Karp:Who Are the New Media Gatekeepers?: Is the new boss same as the old? Bill Burnham: A Unified Theory of Search, Social Networking, Structured Blogging, RSS and the Active Web and The Walled Garden “Hit List”. Related – Me – Karl Martino:

  10. Scott asks in his last post, “as Old Media gatekeepers fade, who will ultimately take there place? Will it be thousands of micro-gatekeepers (oh, my head hurts), or will there emerge a handful of new uber-gatekeepers (like the three TV networks)?

  11. Who decides what’s worthy of your attention — a Web 2.0 application, a newspaper columnist, a talk show host, an editorial staff, an influential blogger, a community of thousands, a community of millions?

    Well, I’d say the answer to all of these questions is…yes! It just depends on the situation you’re in.

    Thinking about the gatekeeper-issue makes me wonder where an A-list-blogger with millions (or so) readers differ exactly from “old” mass-media. I’d rather say that in mass-media there are always a few people deciding on what is published, whereas on blogs it is usualy only a single person.

    The one important question is: whom do i trust? And how did this person or company earn my trust? I think blogging became such a huge success because there are no gatekeepers. Everyone is keeping his own gate, so to speak, and it only matters how interesting the world behind the respective gate is.

    Well, please excuse my poor english…I hope you understand what I tried to say.

  12. Karsten, I think you hit the nail on the head — it’s all about trust. We choose media brands (blogs included, of course) to be our gatekeepers because we feel we can trust them. The citizen journalism phenomenon has provoked critical questions about how much we can trust Old Media gatekeepers, but the same questions will also apply to New Media. Can we be our own gatekeepers — will we be able to filter out the trustworthy from the suspect?

    (And your English is fantastic — if you didn’t mention it, I wouldn’t have noticed.)

  13. Karsten, This is an interesting statement. “Everyone is keeping his own gate, so to speak, and it only matters how interesting the world behind the respective gate is.” In my own experience I find this to be very true. I filter much of the news I read on my own. I read what is interesting to me. This creates an interesting dilemma. Eventually you may have a “blogosphere” of hype news. Similar to what some mass media is now.

  14. Scott:

    Just wanted to let you know that I linked to your post — but not just because you mentioned me after using the term “great bloggers” :-) And incidentally, your post got you back as a key link on memorandum.

    Anyway, I think the questions you’re asking are good ones — for more of my thoughts, see the post I just put up at my blog.

    Mathew

  15. Kenny said: nn

    Eventually you may have a “blogosphere” of hype news.

    nn

    I’d say that’s already the case. How often do blog posts offer real reflection? How often are they properly researched or utilize real, extended, quotes to build their case (obviously I’m not talking about Scott’s post)?

    There will always be a place for a skilled editor/publisher to collect and revise the best articles and present them to readers under a single brand. That brand can build a relationship with its readers over time by offering a broad selection of consistently high quality content. No blogger can post meaningfully on a daily basis but by working under a federation with professional oversight a blogger can improve the content of what they do post.

    The value add that an editor brings is something that no reader can – the ability to drive an author to create better pieces on more important topics than whatever the hype machine is pumping that morning.

  16. [...] First of all, I want to make it clear that I’m not linking to Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 again just because he linked to me and mentioned my name right after using the term “great bloggers” — although I can’t deny that I was flattered . I think his latest post about new media “gatekeepers” raises some good questions, just as a similar piece by Justin Fox at CNNMoney does. Even though I ranted a bit in a previous post about Scott, I think he is on the right track, and I think it is a debate and a conversation worth having. [...]

  17. [...] Getting user participation through the right value exchange Inside Old Media and the role of the editorial gatekeeper by Matt McAlister at 12:26PM (EST) on January 20, 2006              Tag it    Digg it yactions.setColor.button( ‘auto’ ); yactions.setColor.highlight( ‘#fff’ ); yactions.setColor.shadow( ‘#fff’ ); yactions.setText.color( ‘#990000′ ); yactions.setText.underline( true ); yactions.setHover.underline( true ); yactions.setHover.color( ‘#fff’ ); yactions.setPadding.button( ‘3’ ); yactions.buildButton( ‘save’, ‘My_Web’ ); yactions.buildButton( ‘blog’, ‘360’ ); yactions.buildButton( ‘print’ ); I’m enjoying the recent blogging activity from Scott Karp of Atlantic Monthly on “Old Media”.  What’s particularly refreshing is that his comments are coming from within old media itself, a position shared by few who criticize it.He sits in a difficult position riding the fence between shouting at the people around him who are slow on the uptake in New Media and representing those same people in their defense against boisterous New Media idealism.  We need more people like Scott to step up and speak out on the things that matter to them.  Otherwise, the blogosphere will just keep barking at the same dogs until everyone gets bored and goes back to watching TV.That said, I have to challenge a notion that keeps coming up in his viewpoints.  Scott asks in his last post, “as Old Media gatekeepers fade, who will ultimately take there place? Will it be thousands of micro-gatekeepers (oh, my head hurts), or will there emerge a handful of new uber-gatekeepers (like the three TV networks)?”Insistence that there’s an editorial gatekeeper required in the media model is going to hold Old Media back from embracing New Media at any truly valuable level.  The editorial gatekeeper is a role that won’t go away, but it’s importance is quickly fading.In Old Media, you have a whole team of people thinking about things like the table of contents all day long.  If those same people spent all that time thinking about how to engage with the audience online instead, I’m certain you’d see a more dynamic response to your brand in short order.The traditional editor isn’t a cornerstone in the media model anymore.  The traditional editor needs to start writing that damn book he or she has been wanting to write since college or to at least get on the blog train.  The voice is now coming from the web site UI, the software engineer and his clever tricks, the community itself and what they contribute, and the product managers who drive the development roadmap. Tags:  scottkarp, journalism, media, blogging [...]

  18. [...] Scott Karp poses a great question (before wandering into a maze of ideas that peter out with a solid conclusion): [from Publishing 2.0 » Who Are the New Media Gatekeepers?] [...]

  19. [...] Today’s topic about the new gatekeepers is a close cousin to the guards at the clubhouse door I’ve been talking about for a while. I’m happy to see others thinking about this, even if they approach the issue in a slightly different manner. Scott Karp has a very interesting post today about one of his posts that got legs yesterday and his efforts to sneak past the guards and into the blogging clubhouse. Like him, I and many others are standing in line waiting for the bouncer to either let us in or get distracted so we can dart past him. Scott talks about the glut of good bloggers and the transition of the old media onto the web and ultimately wonders if there will be new gatekeepers standing between the non-blogging readership and the content we all keep plugging away writing. He says that in many ways the guard at the clubhouse door plays the gatekeeper role formerly held by the old media that stood between readers and the content. I think that’s right, but I don’t think all of the guards are doing it on purpose. Clearly some are (see my prior rants for more on that). But for many, I think the gatekeeper role is just a function of their early arrival, hard work and resulting popularity. To understand the gatekeeper, you have to know how and why the gate was erected. Sometimes to keep you out. Sometimes it’s just the nature of things. So how will our readers find us, other than by the grace of the almighty link? Sites like Technorati (which I love almost as much as Flickr) help, but Scott suspects (as do I) that Technorati is used mainly by, well, the technorati. The challenge for us is to be found by the non-geek readers who vastly out-number the geek ones. As old media becomes new media this question will have to be answered. We need to make sure the answer isn’t another version of the old system. Scott’s take is that the A-Listers guarding the door may, if we aren’t careful, largely determine what the typical reader sees- via links and whispered cross-blog conversations. Mathew Ingram has a different take on it, viewing the popular web destinations more as turnstiles than gatekeepers. I think there’s an element of both gatekeeper and turnstile to it. Gabe Rivera had a stroke of brilliance when he created Memeorandum and let the algorithm determine what appears there. It may indirectly play to the strengths of the A-Listers, who get way more inbound links than the rest of us, but there’s no subjective decision to keep us out. Like Mathew, my posts generally appear there pretty regularly, except for those odd and frustrating 3-4 day periods where my posts seem to disappear from the radar completely, only (so far at least) to return a few days later. But there is definitely a very real pecking order in the linking activities of the A-List bloggers. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, and I have been fortunate enough to get links from some of them (thank you). This pecking order, as it may and will change over time, however, is what may create a new breed of gatekeepers. Perhaps gatekeeping is just the inefficient blogosphere market’s way of determining the best blogs. But it is an inefficient market and there is always a very real chance that you can get stuck on the wrong side of the gate. As you can tell, I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about all of this. On the one hand, I feel sort of good about things, having had some conversations with a lot of really interesting people (including some of those elusive A-Listers). So part of me feels really humbled that I have been allowed to participate. But in other ways, I feel like an outsider looking in- that I could write the most thoughtful and innovative post in the world and it would get passed over in favor of some off-hand comment made by an A-Lister. That’s why I hope we can minimize the role of any newfangled gatekeepers. Because if the playing field is fairly level and we can’t get where we want to be in the blogosphere, there’s no one to blame but us. We can handle that. But if the playing field is not fairly level, then all we’ve done is knocked down one wall and built another. No more walls. Tags: blogging, blog building [« previous 50] [...]

  20. [...] Who Are the New Media Gatekeepers? publishing2.com Found 19 hours ago Who decides what’s worthy of your attention — a Web 2. I’ve been thinking about this question a lot this past week as I’ve tried to make it past the gatekeepers of the blogosphere, to varying degrees of success (and ignominious failure). But the “system” is starting to feel a lot like Old Media, with … More on this thread: mattmcalister.com: [...]

  21. Scott, may I suggest reading Clay Shirky’s piece: Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality.

    It has the distinction of being cited by, and then denounced, from folks on both sides of the fence on this.

  22. [...] found here. By nix Feedbacks on this entry via RSS 2.0 Please leave a Comment or discuss via Trackback! Comments Please Leave aComment! [...]

  23. Like everyone, including me, you look at the world from a point of view. Why am I not getting linked to? To me, why you aren’t getting linked to isn’t nearly as interesting as my main preoccupation, namely, Why am I not getting linked to? We all want more attention, fine, but what’s the point of getting attention? See how “meta” this discussion is getting? We’re now discussing about discussing about discussing, I get dizzy there are so many levels to it. Basically it’s just not that interesting. And that’s why I am not linking to this, because my criteria for a link on my blog is whether or not an informed person would want to be aware of this. You’re not off my radar, and I didn’t take offense. You read too much into what I wrote. I suppose that’s natural too, everyone does it. Doesn’t make it right. Adios for now.

  24. [...] I also found it fascinating that the word “gatkeepers” emerged again in the debate over FON. Tristan Louis echoed my post on gatekeepers, which generated no end of defensive flack, and the same is true with Tristan’s post. Here’s some classic defensiveness from Doc Searls in response to Tristan: We’ve heard a lot about this before. I’ll grant that there’s a power-law curve, as Clay Shirky was perhaps the first to point out. But the notion of “membership” is a stretch at best. Clubbiness? As David Weinberger said yesterday, There’s lots to discuss there. I find the question of the “clubby atmosphere” to be especially compelling. But the Internet blew away the porches of membership. You don’t need to bark at a door you can just as easily walk around. [...]

  25. [...] Not bad for a company that does this : Google in court over refusal to let US examine search requests – Related :  Who Are the New Media Gatekeepers?] [...]

  26. [...] But, this site would buck the trend…it would have… deep breath… relax… GATEKEEPERS! Here is an article about gatekeepers in the web 2.0 era…Here’s another. I have not been around long enough to answer all these “new media”, “pinko”, “long tail” marketing pr type web 2.0 questions… but I digress. [...]

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