The war in South Ossetia is a great example of the power of blogging. On Friday, which was pretty much the day it started, Doug Muir posted a generally anti-Georgian explanation of the whole thing, while Svante Cornell posted a generally pro-Georgian explanation of the whole thing. For anybody trying to understand what on earth is going on and wanting to put the war in a big-picture context, these two fast blog entries are as good or better as anything the MSM has managed to come up with over the weekend. The combination of the two of them gives anybody the talking points they need to bluff their way through dinner parties for the next few weeks, I’m sure.
So are The Blogs beating the MSM in South Ossetia? No: the MSM is irreplaceable. The NYT isn’t even close to being out on front in this war, but just check out the byline on its story today:
Andrew E. Kramer reported from Gori and Tbilisi, Georgia, and Anne Barnard from Moscow. Reporting was contributed by Michael Schwirtz from Gori; Ellen Barry from Moscow; Matt Siegel from Vladikavkaz, Russia; Steven Lee Myers from Beijing; and Katrin Bennhold from Paris.
These are people who aren’t doing anything but reporting: they’re all dedicated to finding out the facts on the ground and communicating them as clearly and quickly as they can. For all that blogging is useful, such resources are invaluable.
Incidentally, it’s now been over a year and a half since I was fired by Roubini Global Economics. I wasn’t there very long; while I was there, I got my blog a relatively small but pretty high-end and influential readership. Eventually I popped up at Portfolio.com, and I’ve been very happy there indeed.
But when I left RGE and started talking to Portfolio, I was convinced that “name” blogs would nearly always outperform blogs like mine in terms of traffic and other econoblog rankings. People like Nouriel Roubini and Barry Ritholtz and Paul Krugman have credentials, and are much in demand as TV pundits. I, by contrast, am a lowly hack; I hate appearing on TV, and I’ve never taken an economics course or traded the stock market or worked in a bank or anything like that.
At a dinner party on Friday I was talking to a German blogger about the reasons why the blogosphere hasn’t really taken off in Germany: he said it was basically that Germans have no interest in reading or paying any attention to people without credentials, while the people with credentials have no interest in blogging. Both are actually perfectly sensible attitudes to take, and it would be interesting to examine the mechanisms by which those obstacles were overcome in the US.
In any case, I recently had occasion to revisit a couple of simple comparisons that I remembered from my RGE days. First there was a googlefight between myself and Nouriel Roubini: he used to utterly trounce me, but now I edge him. (It’s useful that both of us have names which aren’t shared by anybody else who’s got much of an online presence.) Then there’s the technorati rankings: I have an authority of 695 and a rank of 4,312 with 5,033 blog reactions, while Nouriel has an authority of 588 and a rank of 5,500 with 2,113 blog reactions.
Now I hasten to add that I couldn’t have done this on my own. Being part of an MSM website was very important for three reasons: firstly, it gave me a bit of that valuable credibility: people at places like the WSJ, it turns out, are much more comfortable linking to other MSM blogs than they are to small DIY sites like felixsalmon.com. Second, Conde Nast has put a lot of time and effort into building Portfolio.com’s traffic, and a bunch of that must have helped me, along the way. And most importantly of all, Conde was paying me the whole while, which allowed me to put all my efforts into the blog without having to go off and earn real money elsewhere.
Still, I feel that I’ve achieved something which, honestly, a year ago I would have thought impossible — especially given that Nouriel’s doomsaying has all pretty much come true over the course of that year, making him much less wacky and much more respectable and mainstream. Over at Aaron Schiff’s economics blogs ranking, I’m now in 13th place, above even Brad DeLong, which is crazy. (I think that’s because Brad has a lot of different URLs, which makes it hard for Technorati to track and aggregate him properly.) Nouriel is #24, which is too low, I’m not sure what’s going on there. Historically, I’ve compared myself to other MSM blogs: MarketBeat, Alphaville, Free Exchange. Now, I feel like I’m up there with the likes of DeLong and Thoma and VoxEU. And that feels great.