Ken Layne and Mac Diva both have posts on the tension between a journalistic career and a bloggerly avocation. Unlike Layne, I am not convinced that this is a particularly bad thing. First, for better or worse, it’s not altogether irrational for organizations like CNN or Time or what have you to be concerned about this sort of thing. If some enterprising Democrat wants to doom the GOP, I can think of few strategies quite as effective as setting the likes of Trent Lott and Rick Santorum up with blogs, where every late night bigoted thought is broadcast around the world. However many disclaimers are posted, high profile journalists who have a longstanding relationship with a publication tend to be associated with it, and what they say reflects (for good or ill) on the publication. By raising someone’s public profile, an organization gains a useful “brand,” but also exposes itself to problems. For the same reason that a national firm has an interest in preserving its reputation via quality control at franchises bearing its logo, content providers are understandably anxious that their prime brands don’t shoot their mouths off in ways that degrade the institutional reputation. Of course, trying to muzzle a journalist can generate flak too, but at least these news organizations seem to think that’s a risk worth taking.
But that’s just why this makes sense from the perspectives of these organizations. It may have an ancillary benefit for those of us who see blogs as a useful alternative to Big News. As NYU media theorist Clay Shirky has written, weblog “market share” follows, not a “bell curve” distribution, but instead a “power law” distribution. That is, a small “a-list” of blogs (think Instapundit or Atrios) command the vast majority of eyeball-minutes, with the overwhelming bulk of the blogosphere on a much lower plateau. If people with big media name recognition regularly keep weblogs in addition to their professional journalism, there’s a very real possibility of weblog lock-in on those big names, such that the potentially vibrant alternative the blogosphere could provide becomes just a reflection on the networks and major news organs. So some barriers between professional journalism and amateur blogging may not be such a bad thing after all. Think of it as seperation of blog and (fourth) estate.