What’s more, a blog is like a shark: If it stops moving, it dies. Without fresh postings every day—hell, every few minutes—even the most well-linked blog will quickly lose its audience. The A-listers cannot rest on their laurels. Federated Media owner John Battelle recently published a book on Google, and while on the book tour, he neglected his own well-trafficked blog (No. 81 on Technorati’s rankings) for several days. “And suddenly I was getting all these e-mails going, ‘If you don’t get your shit together, I’m out of here,’ ” he recalls. He stayed up late that night frantically adding posts. “If you start sucking,” he says, “it’s through.”
Yet the rapid rise of the Huffington Post represents a sort of death knell for the traditional blogger. The Post wasn’t some site thrown up by a smart, bored Williamsburg hipster who just happened to hit a cultural nerve. It was the product of a corporation—carefully planned, launched, and promoted. This is now the model for success: Of Technorati’s top ten blogs, nearly half were created in the same corporate fashion, part of the twin blog empires of Jason Calacanis and Nick Denton.
“The good news is that it’s still possible to create a top-ranked blog,” says Shirky. “The bad news is, the way to get into the top ten now seems to be public relations.” Just posting witty entries and hoping for traffic won’t do it. You have to actively seek out attention from the press. “That’s how they’re jump-starting the links structure. It’s not organic.” Indeed, when Huffington announced her venture and her celebrity guests, bloggers grumbled that it weirdly inverted the whole grassroots appeal of blogs. Larry David and Danielle Crittenden are hardly what you’d call outsiders to mass media.
Will professionalization turn blogging into media-as-usual? Or will the idiosyncratic voice of the lone blogger prevail? Elizabeth Spiers thinks that both statements are true. After she left Gawker, she learned about the power of the first-mover advantage the hard way, by trying to repeat her success. Last year, she spent three months launching eight media-gossip sites for Mediabistro, a career-development site for journalists. They amassed an impressive 1 million page views a month, a healthy amount, but hardly Gawker-class. Then in January, Spiers jumped back into the blog pool with a splash, announcing that she was launching her own blog empire.
When I call her, she is at her desk in her new company’s offices in Tribeca. She’s being backed by two angel investors—Carter Burden, head of the Webhosting company Logicworks, and Justin Smith, president of The Week, a news magazine. Their first blog, launching in March, will be called Dealbreaker, and devoted to Wall Street gossip. Her advertisers would be? “For Wall Street? Pretty much everybody,” she says. “It’s a high-income demographic, pretty attractive.” The start-up money lets her pay for a full-time blogging staff, which she’ll need since she wants her writers to actually do reporting and break news. And this, she argues, is the future of the professional blogosphere.
“It’ll be more like the mainstream media, really,” she adds. “Blogging is increasingly becoming a survival of the fittest—and that all boils down to who has the best content. The blogs that are going to stand out are the ones who break news and have credibility.” Plus, it can’t hurt that Wall Street scuttlebutt is one of the last truly huge unfilled niches in the Manhattan blogosphere. “This is a business, and we’ll build business infrastructure from the get-go.” The age of the blog moguls is here.