A one-stop shop for the 'best' blogs
By gathering an elite group of widely read bloggers, a young media company hopes to make them more attractive to advertisers.
If a single thought-provoking weblog can find a large audience, might 70 or more linked together start a revolution?
That's what Pajamas Media hopes to find out. Backed by $3.5 million in venture capital, the nascent media company has gathered some of the most highly regarded bloggers on the Internet at one site (osm.org), hoping, as co-founder Roger Simon puts it, "to be the place for breaking Internet opinion."
No one questions that the news and information media landscape is on shifting ground. Newspaper circulation is falling while audiences for Internet weblogs - the online journals called blogs for short - are growing rapidly. The Pew Internet & American Life Project estimates that more than a quarter of Internet users read blogs.
Though many of the tens of millions of blogs have few readers, a tiny percentage - often those that discuss the same news topics covered by the mainstream media - have won large audiences. Bloggers have made a name for themselves either by poking holes in the news coverage found on TV and in newspapers or, on occasion, by breaking news of their own.
That readership and notoriety is making these elite blogs attractive to advertisers. Mr. Simon and his partner, Charles Johnson, who writes the popular conservative blog "Little Green Footballs" (www.littlegreenfootballs. com), believe that forming a group of elite bloggers can be an even better moneymaking proposition as their collective site sees its readership and ad rates soar.
Others aren't so sure. The much ballyhooed venture had an early pratfall shortly after it staged a grand opening press conference Nov. 16 at New York City's Rockefeller Center. Launched with the title "Open Source Media," within days the venture had to give up that name, which was already in use by a program on public radio. The company since has reverted to its earlier working title, Pajamas Media, which slyly plays off a comment from a CBS News executive who dismissed bloggers as people who sit at home in their pajamas, posting whatever pops into their heads on the Internet.
Though Pajamas Media is bringing even more attention - and possibly a new revenue model - to blogging, the reaction from many bloggers has been nothing less than scathing. One site, pjmdeathpool.blogspot.com, is collecting guesses as to how many weeks or months Pajamas Media will last before it folds.
"If you say [something] is going to be great for months, and you announce it with a big gala bash, you're asking people to look at it," says Ann Althouse, a professor of law at the University of Wisconsin and a well-known blogger (althouse.blogspot. com). The nature of bloggers "is to mock and pick at things," she says, "that's sort of to be expected." But the Pajamas Media site hasn't helped itself, she says. It's been bland.
Mr. Simon urges patience and promises that the best is yet to come. "I don't think the site is going to seem the same to you in three weeks," he says. "We're learning. We are a work in progress. We are new media in the most extreme sense."
Simon promises a livelier front page that will pose a controversial question such as "Should the UN run the Internet?" and then let its bloggers have at it from all sides. The site employs editors in Los Angeles, Sydney, Australia, and Barcelona, Spain, so that it can be updated 24 hours a day. And it's streaming in feeds from conventional news sources while developing its own "fact checking" system to ensure the quality of its information.
Although Pajamas Media has been accused of being overloaded with conservative pundits, such as blogging star Glenn Reynolds of instapundit.com, Simon says it aims to include the whole political spectrum. One contributing blogger is David Corn, Washington editor of The Nation, a liberal magazine.
While bloggers such as Mr. Corn come from the mainstream media, many successful bloggers have built a following only online. Pajamas Media may win them wider recognition.
"I think the people who were once considered 'blogging' stars are now considered 'public media' stars," says John Palfrey, executive director of Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. Pajamas Media "is the front end of a trend that I expect to continue to play out in the next couple of years" as readers try to make sense of the "blogosphere cacophony."
"There's a role for a new kind of intermediary, people who are in essence editors who help you choose by hand [the] voices that you're interested in hearing," he says. Search sites such as Technorati.com try to sort through the blogosphere for readers, but with millions of blogs out there, they have a huge job.
Bunching bloggers in groups is a way to handle this "information overload," agrees Clay Shirky, who teaches telecommunications at New York University and is a respected analyst of the Web's social and economic implications. In such an ocean of voices, he says, people adopt a few "proxy sites" that they rely on to point them toward interesting things on the Web, he says.
No individual blogger can keep up the "once every 20 minutes posting speed" that high-traffic blogs seem to require, Mr. Shirky says. Whether such aggregated blog sites become more common may depend on whether deep-pocketed traditional news media giants "buy their way into this business," he adds.
But as blogging, now seven or eight years old, continues to mature, the form in which its content is delivered is going to become less important, he says. "What matters is: 'Is what's written any good?' "