Recently there has been a gloom hanging over the football blogging world; a sense of disillusionment that has left some notable bloggers considering their future in the hobby. The reasons for this are, of course, varied, but there is one that seems to reoccur: money. With recession once again closing in it is natural to think of one’s future and security, however, it is not the bloggers that are moving to secure themselves, but the journalistic world tightening ranks and bloggers are losing out because of it.
First, let me be clear. I do not have an agenda here. I merely want to point out what I think is happening, attempt to predict where the current situation is heading and think of some remedies for it (if they are needed). I realise that I’m only human and therefore may be wrong on some points and do not mind if others hold a different view to my own. I welcome debate that is well reasoned and well mannered and, most importantly, I am not trying to inflame any kind of anger and am not trolling.
Also, I am going look at things from a general perspective. This is both to transcend particular arguments and attempt to get at the heart of the matter, rather than beating around the bush with specific examples. I do realise that specifics are important; however I have tried to avoid them where possible. I believe with a more general outlook it will be possible to have a more reasoned debate, without there being entrenchments on either side.
So, with that cleared up, onto the discussion. In recent years there has been an explosion of internet blogging about football. It is now possible to search almost any football topic and find a blog article on it, or even a blog specialising in it. There are often a number of reasons for a blogger starting off. Some just love writing about their thoughts on the beautiful game, some love the specialised niche they create and some use blogging as work experience to get into paid media.
As the blogosphere has exploded, it has naturally come to the attention of the journalistic world. A great number of football blogs are of a very high quality, with some being comparable with journalist output. With demand for football articles being extremely high it is natural for the general public to find these blogs and read them. Every time a member of the public reads a blog, it is a hit taken away from journalistic outfits. I am not exaggerating here. If someone is already at their computer searching for football content and reads a blog, it is one possible consumer of a newspaper article lost. Of course, said consumer can read both in a short space of time, but it is extremely possible that certain people will come to prefer the blog to the newspaper.
It is at this point that blogs become competition for media firms, whether they intend to or not. This isn’t necessarily a problem however, as the two can coincide as long as the media make enough money from their website to pay their writers. This is probably the ideal situation for the blogging/media communities to be in, and I think for a time it was perhaps like this.
However, with blogs becoming more popular it was natural that the monetisation of them was going to occur. Zonal Marking is perhaps the greatest example of this (and this is no criticism). He started off as a blogger who put google ads on his site. The outstanding popularity of his posts brought him to the attention of media firms who wanted to tap into his popularity. He now gets regular paid work and makes a living out of what started as a hobby.
This is great. I think that Zonal Marking has achieved something outstanding and deserves a great deal of praise for this. We must be careful however, not to call this a ‘rise through the ranks’. There is no transformation from a ‘humble blogger’ to a journalist, because there is no set pattern for how football bloggers go about their blogging. It must not be seen as the end goal to become a paid journalist. Of course a good blog is a nice CV addition, and I am not criticising that, but it is important to remember that it isn’t why everyone spends their free time doing it.
Others have gone down the same route and been paid for their efforts, whilst some have successfully managed to monetise their blogs and be able to make a reasonable amount of money from it. Again, this is fine, however we must consider the position that this puts the powerhouses of the media in.
As little as ten years ago there were around a dozen or so major papers who controlled the whole market. Now however, competition is rampant and will naturally force advertising prices down. This coupled with the recession has led media companies to look at the best ways of pulling in the punters to justify the advertising prices they charge, whilst simultaneously reducing the costs of producing content. This is where the rub starts to occur.
Of course, there is little a single organisation can do about market forces which squeeze their revenue streams, but there is something organisations can do about addressing that squeeze. In certain cases bloggers have been used to plug the gap. If they are not paid a fair freelance wage to fill that gap however, it is completely and utterly unacceptable.
This will be a contentious point, so allow me to explain. It is not acceptable for someone to produce unique content and for that content to be used to generate money without that person receiving compensation for it. To be more precise if they are making money off your article, you should be making money off it too. No ifs, no buts, no maybes.
There are those who write for profit making companies for free (and I have some friends who do so), but they are wrong to do this. Either everyone should make money from the website/newspaper, or no one should. This is not idealistic, it is common courtesy.
I expect a common reply will be: “We can’t afford to pay everyone. It’s unrealistic.” This is begging the question however; it is not right to profit off someone else’s work. If a newspaper or website wants to aspire to the highest journalistic standards then they should pay everyone that produces content for them a fair price for an article.
What, then, of the future of blogging? I imagine that we will continue to go down the same road of blurring the lines between blogger and journalist, the latter benefitting to former’s detriment, whether they care or not. This will leave those who want to occupy a unique, unsullied space uncomfortable and upset with the encroaching hordes of people wanting everything but giving them nothing. O sure, you can say bigger audience, better exposure and more hits all you want, but at the end of the day it isn’t putting food my table, it’s putting it on yours.
This would be a shame and would destroy my faith in the media. At the moment I still enjoy reading both journalism and blogging, even with the lines becoming blurred. I do not however, want to pick up a paper in the future, read an article and think: “That was good, but I wonder if the bloke is actually getting paid...”
Is there hope for blogging? Yes. Of course. I realise after all my doom and gloom it doesn’t seem all that likely, however there are two other alternatives to the lines becoming further blurred that I can see. The first is probably the ideal. The wave of journalistic pressure on blogs will recede and we will once again enter a state of rough equilibrium where bloggers and journalists can respect what each of them does and not get all tangled up with each other. The problem with this is that it would be a cycle; every now and then the pressure would mount before easing off. This may not be a problem in the very long term, but will lead to the kind of disillusioned ‘dropping out’ of the blogosphere that we have been seeing recently.
The other alternative is that bloggers will unite to protect themselves in some way against the media. This would have its good points. In solidarity it would be possible for bloggers to have a greater say in things and have a united voice. However, it is unlikely to be very effective. If it is effective then it might just become a part of the mainstream media with other bloggers on the outside looking in, rather like the situation we currently have.
In short, the football blogging community is at a crossroads. It is difficult to see the road ahead; however one thing is completely certain. If money is being made, every stakeholder is entitled to their share, blogger or not.