Dvorak Channels Markoff

I always feel slightly stupid when I get sucked into a Dvorak ping pong match. But it's just too much fun: Dvorak is the master of teasing just enough across the line between irascible and just plain wrong to draw a counter-attack.

I always feel slightly stupid when I get sucked into a Dvorak ping pong match. But it's just too much fun: Dvorak is the master of teasing just enough across the line between irascible and just plain wrong to draw a counter-attack. Today's exercise in futility concerns one of his two current favorite targets, blogs. The other, the Mac, failed last week to draw my fire because I had something better to do, i.e. sleep or stare at the wall.

Of course, the "irony" is that it appears on his personal blog, Dvorak Uncensored. The basic point is that NY Times reporter John Markoff doesn't believe in blogs either. Apparently, the two information professionals recently got together and discussed their perspective, Dvorak quoting Markoff as saying that "blogging is essentially the same as 'stamp collecting' for the semi-retired" and that "Markoff believes it has no future since no reporting is done." The emphasis is Dvorak's.

What to make of this Blogian knot? Is John D. reporting this analysis by John M. on a blog to illustrate its lack of authority? Is John M. offering the reported comment as a commentator, an analyst, or perhaps as an industry evangelist? And are both implying that stamp collecting has no future?

No, it turns out the whole post is just an ad for Dvorak's most recent column, this one a well-reasoned analysis of the death of local newspapers at the hands of Craigslist and a glut of untargetted advertising. With a bouquet tossed at the Times and the Journal for offering basic blocking and tackling (reporting) and few classifieds, John D. suggests... well, he doesn't exactly suggest anything other than local papers giving up on being the free local shopper.

Craigslist is also making this suggestion too, but in a more immediate way, by disemboweling that particular model. But as with many disruptive technologies, the end result may be money sucked out of the news industry, never to return again. Is this PC Magazine's fate--to be sucked into oblivion by focused micro-content sites such as Endgadget, whose business model apparently suffers more from sold-out inventory than the overhead of once-authoritative columnists? I doubt that's the conclusion John is reaching for.

Perhaps Dvorak is way ahead of the curve here. After all, he did get me to read his column, and nailed me for three page views to boot--one from the blog, and two on the PC Mag site. Like the master packager he wants the local papers to be, he separates the content from the come-on, upselling his readers (in this case, via a Rojo attention feed that alerts me to potentially-interesting Web 2.0-ish content) from the blog RSS feed into his page view monitization scheme.

Now, I don't subscribe to John D.'s column RSS feed. His blog is another story. Perhaps it's just the incongruity of the effort that draws me toward its feed. But in a world where attention is earned and maintained not by reputation but by respect, those who toy with the conversation are running a fundamental risk. In John Dvorak's case, I enjoy his posturing, knowing its roots in showmanship and a Limbaughian contract with the audience to entertain. In John Markoff's case, his byline is one I seek out, respecting his instinct for what's fit to print and appreciating his well-deserved location at the peak of his profession.

But with the emergence of the blogosphere, the Times and John M.'s reporting have become one, but certainly not the only, authoritative source. Today, I read John, and Steve Lohr, and their counterparts at the Journal and (until recently) the Merc, as a way of understanding the mainstream media take on the story. At the same time, and with equal if not more weight, I read Adam Bosworth, Dan Bricklin, Dave Winer, Dare Obasanjo, Dan Farber, Dan Gillmor, Doc Searls, Jonathan Schwartz, Jon Udell, and many other voices as they rise and fall on my attention feed.

Together, inextricably intertwined, these voices paint a far more compelling, vital picture than was previously available. In aggregate, the result comes closer to the truth, whatever that is. For me, it's that essential resonance that springs from that combination of packaging, reporting, surviving, inventing, and dreaming that marks the way life is, and will be. And in this new landscape, those who demean these new voices, for whatever purpose, serve only to reduce their own effectiveness in serving their audience.

At its core, the argument is whether this is a zero sum game. I think not.