Today was going to be a day of triumphalism in the new media world, a day where I would celebrate the growing ranks of blog creators (a.k.a. bloggers) and blog readers in the U.S., while also noting the growing number of people downloading podcasts. I would combine the happy results from a Pew Internet survey on blogging with the great news (PDF file) from Nielsen//Netratings that podcasting was gaining a foothold.
Instead, I sit here deflated, because the ignorance of new media extends to the very people who should understand it most — the old media. On the front page of my hometown San Francisco Chronicle newspaper this morning, I was confronted with this lead paragraph in a story by Joe Garofoli on the Pew study:
A popular notion about bloggers is that they’re pajama-wearing partisan ranters living in Mommy’s basement. There they while away their underemployed time obsessing about the latest Connecticut Senate race poll, while fancying themselves a new type of journalist, independent of government’s influence and free to make up facts.
Whose popular notion was that? If anything, this comes from the 2004-circa notion that political bloggers were gaining currency due to their press credentials at the political conventions and boom in mainstream press coverage. That notion came squarely from the mainstream media itself, which loved the story of the political maverick blogging in pajamas and changing the world.
Everyone else who “gets it” knows that blogs are about a lot more than just politics — covering every topic under the sun — and are written by a wide swath of the population. The booming blogger populations are in places like LiveJournal and MySpace, where personal experiences and life stories are told to small groups of friends and like-minded folks online.
And that’s just what Pew found. The research group let people self-identify themselves as bloggers, and 13% said they used LiveJournal and 9% MySpace — which were higher percentages than those who used more traditional blog software such as TypePad, Movable Type and Blogger.
Continuing with the Chronicle story:
The reality of the blogosphere is a lot less partisan, a lot more diverse and nearly half female, according to a new study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
Stop the presses! The crazy nutty out-there truth about bloggers is that they’re just people who like expressing themselves, write about subjects they know about, and don’t really consider themselves journalists. Wow. Say it ain’t so, Joe.
The real excitement comes in the raw numbers of bloggers and blog readers culled from the Pew report. Out of the 147 million Americans who use the Internet, 57 million (or 39% of those) read blogs and 12 million (or 8% of Net users) write blogs. Those are solid numbers, despite the fact that nearly half of self-identified bloggers in the survey say they post to their blog “every few weeks” or less.
Podcasters vs. Podcast Listeners
Meanwhile the Internet measurement firm Nielsen//Netratings (“a global leader in Internet media and market research”) had a report on the audience for podcasts. The firm found that 6.6% (or 9.2 million) of the people online in the U.S. recently downloaded an audio podcast, and 4% (or 5.6 million) of web users recently downloaded a video podcast.
Good enough. But as I read through the Nielsen press release (PDF file), things started getting murky when the topic of demographics came up for podcast listeners or viewers:
As is often typical with new technologies, young people are more likely than their older counterparts to engage in audio or video podcasting. Web users between the ages 18 and 24 are nearly twice as likely as the average Web user to download audio podcasts, followed by users in the 25-34 and 35-44 age groups, who were also more likely than the average Web user to do audio podcasting. Video podcasters trended a little older, with 25-34 year olds indexing the highest. Web users above the age of 45 were less likely than average to engage in podcasting of either sort.
In the middle of this paragraph, we are confronted with the term video podcaster, which would appear to mean a person who watches video podcasts. The release goes on to show charts of “audio and video podcasters” with the assumption that “podcasters” are people who are listening or watching them.
In reality, a podcaster is the person who actually produces the podcast — not the one who listens. How half a press release from such a noted and respected firm, Nielsen, was produced and released to the public with this misapprehension about podcasting itself shows just how far we still have to go in educating people on new media issues and terms.
It’s true that my parents still rely on reports like this stereotypical one by “CBS This Morning” to understand bloggers — even if it’s by noted technology journalist David Pogue camping it up in his pajamas! Perhaps it’s a better story, more sexy and silly, when you start in your pajamas, and start with the cliches.
My hope is that we can all end up in a better place, where more of us can really understand the whole point of the Pew study (and the Nielsen one, by extension): That bloggers and podcasters and blog readers and podcast listeners and viewers are all becoming a lot more like the rest of the Internet population — and the general population at large. These new media pursuits are becoming a more mainstream pursuit, and that, more than anything, should be sensational enough for media pundits to consider and comprehend.