Blogger Archetypes, Too: Strivers, Divers, and Thrivers

A couple of years ago, I offered a set of blogger archetypes. I came up with six based on the motivations of bloggers (singers, ringers, wingers, fingers, stringers, flingers). They didn't catch on very well, perhaps because there wasn't very much holding the set together beyond the rhyme. But I did want to distinguish those bloggers who didn't see themselves as playing any role in the news process and those that didn't take themselves to seriously (the “singers,” with a nod to Walt Whitman) from those that do.

Let's focus on those that do take themselves seriously. Let me offer a different set of archetypes, around an analogy: Minor League Baseball.

Major League Baseball (and professional hockey, as well) sponsors its own minor leagues, where, for the most part, new talent is nurtured. The minors also have some pros who just can't cut it anymore in the majors, but are still trying to make it back, somehow. The Newark Bears, an independent league team not affiliated with MLB, fielded ex-Major League stars Jose Conseco and Rickey Henderson in recent years. (Both players also share the distinction of playing for nine different major league teams in the careers, starting with the Oakland A's.)

Sometimes minor leagues appear a more “authentic” than the majors, which is often plagued by money and steroids and strikes. Furthermore, the minor league attendance of 41 million in 2006 held up to the majors' attendance of 76 million that year. But the fact remains that the minors exist only because of the majors. The minor league season ends quietly by September so the top prospects can get a shot to play in “the bigs”– either in the crucible of pennant fever, or outside of it on non-contenders.

The news-pundit-blogosphere is similar. It claims a degree of authenticity versus the corruptible mainstream media. And it includes practitioners are on their way up, the strivers. But it also includes the folks on their way down, the divers. There are, of course, folks who have found a niche, and and can exist forever as blogs (BoingBoing, Engadget, TechCrunch). Call them the thrivers. But it's the dissonance between the first two categories that is very revealing.

Part of the mark of being a striver is continually improving their work to the norms of journalism. The leading striver on among news-pundit blogs is Josh Marshall and Talking Points Memo. Marshall has made TPM into a journalistic enterprise: as the editor, he sets the stories and pushes his staff on them as any editor would (the recent CJR article The (Josh) Marshall Plan gives insight into the editorial process). Michael Yon, the independent blogger reporting from Iraq, is most certainly a striver as well. The striver is committed to his story — and committed to improving his craft. Often these folks are the quickest to point that that a blog is merely a tool among many, and it just happens to be the tool they use.

The divers, by contrast, are writers who are happy to dispense with persnickety editors. In another generation, they'd be called hacks. (Eons ago in online journalism time, or a mere ten years ago, Slate magazine sponsored the Hackathlon to celebrate the craft). It includes academics who are slumming in the popular press. It includes marketers and activists looking to promote causes. It includes journalists who are writing articles that otherwise wouldn't get published – by a separate, and often more established, publication. There are many places on the Internet to find these hacks, but they're often gathering the Huffington Post. I don't make this charge lightly: read Hosting Puff.)

The eternal problem is that the strivers, the folks trying to do stellar reporting, have to put up with the divers, who don't have as much reason to care.