Hugh Hewitt, a nationally syndicated radio talk show host and author of the 2004 book If It’s Not Close, They Can’t Cheat: Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends On It, is an expert on the blogosphere. Hewitt spoke with Stan Guthrie about his book new book, Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That’s Changing Your World.
What are your credentials to write about this topic?
I have been running my own blog, HughHewitt.com, since 2001, and I have been a print and broadcast journalist for more than 15 years.
You liken the advent of the blogosphere to the Reformation, when the Catholic Church—like the traditional media today—lost its monopoly on information. Is it really as serious as all that?
“Serious” isn’t a word I would use, but “significant”? Yes. The blogosphere’s arrival isn’t about religion or dogma or faith, but about the toppling of a communications hierarchy just as dominant in its field in the 20th century as Rome was with regards to faith in Europe in the 16th.
Give me some numbers about the explosion of blogging. How many are there, how fast are they growing, and how many people read them?
My book Blog is a history of the blogosphere, combined with an analysis of why it grew so quickly—from two dozen blogs in 1999 to more than 10 million today—as well as some chapters devoted to the future of the blogosphere.
The best scorecard on the number of blogs and their visitorship can be found at the blog of N.Z. Bear. Technorati.com also keeps count of the number of blogs. The Pew Center has recently released some valuable data on blog readership, and I think your readers will want to absorb the entire report.
In the book, you describe how various “blog swarms” helped bring down powerful people such as Trent Lott and Dan Rather. And yet you also seem to say that despite the catastrophic potential of bloggers to wreak similar havoc elsewhere, few organizations are prepared. Why?
Most businesses are run by competent people with little time to stay on top of changes in communication technology. Thus, when those changes arrive at their doors, they are surprised. Recently Pepsico’s president gave a controversial speech at a commencement and the blogosphere took it from zero to 60 M.P.H. in a couple of days. Pepsico is now very well informed about the blogosphere.
What are the penalties for ignoring the blogs?
Primarily bad branding, as with the Pepsico affair, but there are lost opportunity costs as well, when firms involved with marketing lose the chance to communicate with a new generation of opinion makers and influencers.
What industries are particularly at risk?
Media corporations have been hit the hardest, and they will remain the most vulnerable to criticism from bloggers, but every consumer products company needs to be alert, and of course anyone that buys advertising has to recognize that the reach of their print ads is declining as eyes turn from old media to new media, which includes the blogs.
How should organizations prepare?
I discuss this at length in the book, but the key is to identify the best bloggers in the organization and get them to work. Hire them if they aren’t already there.
You also encourage readers to start their own blogs. What kinds of blogs are needed? And given the numbers you cited earlier, don’t we have enough already?
We are nowhere near saturation when a nation of 300 million people only has 10 million blogs. First, there’s a huge amount of talent in this, the most literate society in history. Second, everyone who talks on a regular basis to a circle of friends can deepen and extend that communication via a blog.
What do people need to know to create a first-rate blog and get people to read it?
Read the big ones for a few weeks before beginning, in order to see the patterns that have brought audience and influence.
Which are the best blogs out there?
What’s next for the world of blogging?
Aggregate blogs, where a larger number of very good bloggers combine to up the content without diminishing the quality of the posts. I expect to be named the executive editor of one such aggregate blog soon if I can work out the details, but will keep on at HughHewitt.com at the same time. The aggregates will draw lots of traffic and enhance the influence of the individual bloggers even as they create virtual newspapers.
One final note for your readers: I wouldn’t own a single newspaper stock if my outlook was longer than five years. Their circulation is being hollowed out, and it is only a matter of time until their advertisers figure this out. The future of print publishing is in magazines, not behind-the-news-cycle papers.
An average reader 10 years ago read X percent of the paper—seeing X percent of the ads as a result, while today that same average reader is reading X percent minus Y percent of the paper, and a similarly smaller number of the ads. Time spent with the paper is crashing, and some folks, like me, who still take the paper don’t touch it, getting all our info online. This is what I mean by hollowed out. The advertisers aren’t paying a cheaper rate, but they are getting much less for their money.