Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Aussies Trust Bloggers As Much As Mainstream Media Sites

'Known Brand' Media Losing Value, Authority, Readership

First, a rambling comment :

Long before the first news blogs, and a few years before most of the mainstream media went online, I used to get e-mails from friends in different parts of the world who would write short summaries of interesting news stories from their local city newspapers. Some of those stories would make their way into Australian newspapers a few days, or weeks later, but most did not. I, likewise, used to write a kind of newsletter with stories from Australia to these friends. Our shared circulation list grew into the hundreds, and we all thoroughly enjoyed summarising our local news, or deciphering it. In many ways, these newsletters we used to share were a precursor to news blogs, like 'The Orstrahyun'. What we were doing wasn't particularly innovative. E-mail newsletters were bouncing around university campuses, military bases and science research labs in the late 1970s.

It was remarkable how quickly we grew to trust each other's take on the news, to the point where most of us would read each other's newsletters in preference to what began to flow through the internet when newspapers like the UK Guardian and the New York Times went online in the mid-1990s. I lost most of those 1990s e-mails, but I remember how often my e-mail friends in England or Germany or Spain or Mexico or Russia were right about a slowly emerging news story, days before the mainstream media confirmed what we had been discussing and debating.

I only mention all this in relation to the story below, which highlights the fact that a growing number of Australians are placing more trust in news blogs than the mainstream media. That might not be much of a revelation to the readers here, but it is interesting to note that the distrust of the mainstream media also appears to extend to their websites and their news blogs.

And the mainstream media, which once so utterly dominated how Australians got their news, are getting nervous, because their audiences are not growing exponentially, and because they know they are no longer the only choice for how millions of Australians will get their news.

story continues after...

Go Here To Read Darryl Mason's Online Novel ED DAY

story continues....

Australian news blogs finding audiences in their thousands is a relatively new phenomenon. We were late starters compared to the American, British and Japanese bloggers. The independent news blogs, up until only two years ago, that did pull more than a few hundred readers found a large slice of their readership through link-alliances with American blogs. Crikey was one of the few exceptions to this rule.

This blog pulls anything from 1800 to 5000 individual readers per day, with about 80% of the readers coming from inside Australia. The next biggest regular chunk of readers are Americans, then Brits, then Germans, Canadians and French. A few hundred regular foreign readers, from what I've gleamed from your e-mails, are ex-pats or tourists, looking for a different take on the news from home.

To say that my mind has been blown by the growth of readers in the past 18 months (particularly in the past six months) would be an understatement. This site is now only a few thousand readers away from providing something between a part-time and full-time living. The genorosity of readers saying thanks through the PayPal link (above right) is greatly appreciated, and I probably should have thanked you publicly on this blog much earlier.

As with the e-mail newsletters I mentioned above, much of the growth of readership here apparently comes from readers e-mailing links to stories they've found here to their friends, who then become semi-regular readers themselves.
It's still a strange thing to be sent a link to a story on this blog by someone on the long CC lists my e-mail address has been added to, perhaps not realizing the person they're sending it to is the one who posted it.

There's no reason why news blogs will do anything but grow in readership, and influence, in the coming years. It was only eight or nine months ago that supposedly reputable mainstream
media commentators were spouting that blogs would have little influence on the federal election.
Yeah, they were hoping.

Okay, enough ramble.

The claims that Australians are trusting news blogs, as much as the mainstream media sites, to get their news comes from no less an authority on consumerism than the chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). One Graeme Samuel :

"What is even more worrying for traditional media organisations is that some of their assumptions about users trusting known brands are starting to look a little shaky," Mr Samuel told a Walkley business lunch in Sydney today.

"For a growing base of users, (blogs) are all equally valid sources of news, information, entertainment and gossip, and users are not necessarily discriminating between traditional and new sources."

Mr Samuel said although "old" media companies still dominated many of the most visited sites, they could no longer assume users would always default back to "traditional houses of journalism".

This meant the media had to find new ways of remaining relevant to a fragmented and disloyal audience.

I'd presume most readers of independent news blogs read them for the same reasons I do : they publish stories you don't always find in the mainstream media, they provide mostly fearless and sometimes outrageously entertaining comment, they show there is more than one or three sides to a story, they punch holes in the sacred myths that so much of the mainstream media continually perpetuate and they let readers know that just because the mainstream media claims something is true doesn't necessarily mean that it is.