March 13th, 2006
So Dave Winer wants to stop blogging, and Mike Arrington says, NO, you can’t, because Scripting News belongs to “us,” the readers. Mike is half right — Dave does “own” Scripting News, but the blog has become an institution, like any other Old Media company. Dave suggested that he should sell Scripting News to TechCrunch, and the truth is he could.
As a Media institution, Scripting News has an identity of its own, which could, in theory, be perpetuated even after Dave has left the scene.
Blogging and citizen journalism is undoubtedly a revolution, but (capitalized) Media, AKA the Institution, is still greater than the (lowercase) individual.
But why is this so? Weren’t blogs supposed to be the antidote to institutionalized media?
It’s because Wonkette became a brand and a community. So it’s still Wonkette even without the wonkette. More importantly, as a successful brand, Wonkette became a successful business, and it’s still a business without Ana Marie. (Why didn’t Lat go back under the robes? Because Wonkette is a better brand, and a better business.)
This theory of the ontology of blogging, stated simply, is:
Blogs are PUBLICATIONS whose brand identity exists separately from the “publisher” (i.e. the blogger).
Under this theory, the blog phenomenon represents an explosion in micro-publishing, but blogs still live and die by many of the same rules as Old Media publications. Which is why the “gatekeeper” debate has eaten up so much bandwidth — just because you publish, doesn’t mean you will be read.
The counter-theory to blogs as media institutions is that blogs are “cults of personality,” i.e. Scripting News is Dave Winer, and thus has no value without him.
I think the reality is somewhere in the middle. Most blog brands are developed through strong personality and distinctive voice, but once established, they take on a life of their own.
If Dave abandoned Scripting News and started a new blog with a new name, would it be fundamentally different from Scripting News, even if it was still Dave? I think the answer is yes.