As a journalist, I routinely hear complaints that the news industry is dominated by a few giant multinationals that determine the boundaries of public discourse. I also hear that the news industry is dying, as bloggers now do for free what the media used to do for money.
My personal position is that we’ve always had consolidation in the industry — as long as publishers existed, they’ve been growing bigger and merging with other publishers.
But we’ve always had competition. First the tabloids and the “yellow press,” mimeographed newsletters, radio and television, alternative newsweeklies, and now the Internet.
New companies will always spring up. Some will fail or be swallowed up. Others will remain small, serving a particular niche audience. Some will rise above their humble beginnings and join the ranks of media conglomerates.
I am enjoying watching the rise of the online news alternatives — the bulletin boards and forums that aggregate user-generated materials, the blogs and personal newsletters, the podcasts and videocasts.
One of my favorites is Fons Tuinstra’s China Herald. Disclosure: Fons is an old friend, and a member of my board of directors.
I subscribe to his blog on RSS (using Bloglines). One of the great things about reading his blog, and blogs like his, is that I don’t just find out what he’s thinking about on a particular day, but also what he’s reading.
Bloggers like to read other bloggers, and they link to them on their sites.
This week, for example, Fons linked to China Rises, a blog by Tim Johnson, the Beijing bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.
Tim has been collecting photos of overburdened trucks and bicycles. It’s a lovely introduction to the perils of transportation and logistics management in China.
In a recent blog post, Tim talks about having some furniture reupholstered — and seeing a sofa, several chests of drawers and two huge bookcases loaded on the back of a tricycle.
My other favorite blogs include All Roads Lead to China and the China Law Blog.
At the beginning, one of the main topics of conversation of bloggers was blogging. They wrote about their software problems, about how they agonized over which font to choose, and other administrative and technical details.
Interesting comments often got lost among the minutia.
Today, however, blogging software has become reasonably easy to use and standardized, and bloggers turn more of their attention to their topics of interest — rather than to their blogging process.
Sure, some blogs never catch on. Their writers either give up or keep the blog as a hobby, with a small group of diehard readers.
Other blogs catch on, get organized, get professional, get discliplined, and get focused. With readers come advertising dollars, and the bloggers can even hire staff and turn into what is starting to look like real news operations.
This has happened at Gawker Media in the U.S., for example.
English-language blogs don’t do as well in China simply because the audience is smaller — there are fewer Americans in China than, say, Americans in America. But blogs like The Shanghaiist, with its stable of regular contributors, looks like it might be getting there.
Do you have a blog about business in China? Email me, and I’ll add it to my personal blog list — and we might review it here on this site as well.