Steve Rubel is going on a one-week Blog-Only News Diet. In other words, all the news he gets will be from blogs. At the Blogging Ecosystem workshop at WWW last week, someone asked whether people went to the web before news, and almost everyone raised their hand, and then someone asked whether they relied entirely on the web, and more than half raised their hands. I would be very surprised if this was only blogs, but the idea isn’t that strange.
After all, how many people do you know who simply do not follow the news. They don’t take a newspaper, they listen to music on the radio, and they don’t (even) watch television news. Yet, somehow, they have a basic idea of what is going on. Knowledge of the news — and this means an understanding of why it is important as well as simply “facts” — has always been closely tied to opinion leaders in a community. You formed your opinions by talking to others whom you trust. They help to filter the news, help you to decide what is important, why it is important, and what are trustworthy sources.
For some people these filters are now in the form of blogs. That is interesting, I think, for a lot of reasons. It means that blogs have the potential, in my opinion, to be far more important than traditional mass media. In other words, I think that those who look at the possibility of blogs being “citizens’ journalism” may be aiming too low. This role of opinion leader is an extremely important one, and — while not uniformly the case — it’s often been tied to slow-changing social structures that place certain people in influential positions.
Take another example: Cablenewser, who broke the story on CNN’s web-based video news service. The NYTimes reports this as a kind of “odd” nobody-knows-your-a-dog-on-the-internet type of story, since Stelter (the author of the blog) is an 18-year-old college student. But I think the importance of this is more than just a kind of “ooh, there’s a man bites dog story.” The idea that someone that young could be an opinion leader within a community is surprising. That he could be a “journalist” is maybe not so surprising. I suppose it would be strange these days for someone without a college degree to be starting out as a journalist, but probably not strange enough for the New York Times to run an article on it. What makes this special is that the technology has allowed a kind of subversion in terms of opinion leadership. We’d expect an 18-year-old to be an opinion leader on cutting lawns or new hip-hop albums, but not on the cable news industry.
I suspect, that if Rubel reads the right blogs, he will find himself far better informed then the average American over his week-long diet. But I think what is most telling is what he refuses to give up. He won’t stop reading news about his clients (he is a PR professional). Why is that? Because he is expected to be an opinion leader on that particular topic, and he isn’t — with very good reason — about to give that up.