The Times very generously takes the time today to look at a group of people who are mostly far too young and inexperienced for them to have hired, but who are still somehow nonetheless reaching large audiences with their writing and reporting. In a list of the top nine “Rising Stars of Gossip Blogs,” the paper of record singles out Mediaite’s Steve Krakauer, Crushable’s Erin Carlson, MediaTakeOut.com’s Fred Mwangaguhunga, Gawker’s Maureen O’Connor, Fashionologie’s Tommye Fitzpatrick, the Gloss’s Lilit Marcus, Curbed’s Sara Polsky, the Village Voice’s Foster Kamer, and Dealbreaker’s Bess Levin. In the story, writer Alex Williams kindly extols some of their accomplishments and talks up their rising influence. But he also takes care to pair the bloggers’ biggest scoops with their biggest gaffes, making it look as though they come at a one-to-one ratio.
This gets to the heart of the problem with the Times publishing a story like this. The paper simply still does not know what to make of blogs, even though it has many on its own website. It’s almost as if there’s a mental block against the concept that there can be a new form of media that doesn’t fit into a rubric to which they’re already familiar. (Did they really compare what 87-year-old Liz Smith does to what Gawker does? Yes, yes they did.) The Times’ blogs are largely straight news or opinion columns, with content that could, for the most part, fit into preexisting rubrics for their print editions. But that’s not what the vast majority of blogs are, even blogs like the ones listed here that break news. As the Times struggles to appreciate that there are other types of outlets that find and disseminate news (seriously, these people knew about Eliot Spitzer’s prostitution fetish before the government did, and they’re still grappling with this?), they continue to show their subtle and institutionalized disdain for blogs.
Is this disdain fair? Maybe — the Times devotes a lot more resources and care to reporting than almost all independent blogs, and have to watch as their own work gets endlessly co-opted. But that doesn’t mean that every blog that is not a newspaper blog is a “gossip blog.” Dealbreaker is a funny blog about business that sometimes publishes unconfirmed rumors. It acts as an online manifestation of the way news travels on the Street, thereby representing much more accurately what is going on and what is being talked about in the finance world than, say, the Times’ vaunted “DealBook” blog. Likewise, Fashionologie is a blog about fashion that combines news, opinion, and yes, gossip. But so do Women’s Wear Daily and Vogue. Would you call WWD a “gossip trade”? And Vogue a “gossip glossy”? We dare you to try that in front of Anna Wintour’s face.
There are certainly blogs devoted just to gossip out there, just as there are magazines devoted to gossip. But these nine blogs in particular aren’t real examples of them. But by putting the “gossip” label on them — a label that the Times would hate to have put on any of their own content — just makes it seem like the paper is revealing how it actually feels about these blogs it’s trying to recognize: that they’re actually just fluff.