Monday, June 20, 2005

Author Insight: Hugh Hewitt on the Blogosphere

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,, 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. 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?

The big two in my book are Instapundit and Power Line, and those they link to on a regular basis. There's a more comprehensive list in the book.

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 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.


Blogger kaligula said...

From a technical standpoint, the "blogosphere" is a subset of a more general evolution of an internet-based content publishing and delivery system. What we will see, and what we are already seeing, is a standardized way to publish, deliver, syndicate and consume any content type, including multi-media, from any internet-connected device, including computer, hand-held, mobile phone, TV, digitial camera, MP3 player, etc.

In this sense, then, anyone can not only easily consume content from a variety of internet-connected devices, but has the ability to easily become a content provider themselves, deliverying and syndicating all types of content.

Obviously, as this technology advances, it's not difficult to imagine a new kind of "social software" developing that would radically extend our notions of publishing, consuming, and sharing all forms of content across the network.

In this context, i think Hugh's predictions miss the larger point.
There is no "newspaper stock." News organizations are generally owned by larger media conglomerates with diversified assets across the entire spectrum of media and entertainment.

For example:
ABC News is owned by Disney
CBS News is owned by Viacom
NBC News is owned by GE
Fox News is owned by News Corp.
CNN is owned by AOL-Time Warner
MSNBC is owned by Microsoft and GE

It's not the evolution of internet content publishing, delivery, and consumption which bothers media conglomerates per se, after all, they can use the same technology to establish new revenue streams for content delivery very efficiently.

Rather, what really worries them is that this "social software" has the ability to push their copyrighted content to anyone up and down the network. Not only that, it is the ability for anyone, as a content provider, to seamlessly integrate copyrighted content with their own content to create "hybid content", that could further be modified at will within the "social software" (this last point would apply more to music, videos, and movies).

My prediction is that you are going to see 2 previous acts of congress in the relatively near-term begin to be major issues within the Blogosphere.

1)DMCA Act of 1998 and/or NET Act of 1997

2)Campaign Reform Act of 2002

I think it is inevitable that commercial content providers will eventually use DMCA or the Net Act to go after blogs which reproduce copyrighted content, especially in the case of aggregate blogs. All it takes is potentially one blog with a syndicate feed or a talkback entry that reproduces a copyrighted article, or parts of one, to implicate the whole aggregate blog.

Secondly, i think we will likely see Campaign Finance Reform lawsuits against popular blogs which echo party talking points or explicitly support candidates during campaign seasons, especially during presidential campaigns. I can almost guarantee that any Hugh Hewitt operated blog is going to be sued by the democrats in 2008 because he is on record as saying blogs should be considered as legitimate media, and he is going to support the republican candidate explicitly.

Now, both laws are bad laws, and they need to be supersceded or modified.

7:14 AM  
Blogger Stan Guthrie said...

Thanks for furthering the discussion, K. Let's hope the politicians keep their mitts off the First Amendment.

8:58 AM  
Blogger David said...

Hey Stan - this is David Wayne, don't know if you remember me. I was Columbia with you and used to give you a ride to school. As I remember it, I was always running late so I think you had to find another ride to get to class on time. I was also at UF when you were.
Glad to see you blogging - I'm blogging at the Jollyblogger - if you want to come over sometime.
This was a good interview with Hugh. Alot of us who have been blogging with Hugh are very grateful for all he has done for bloggers and are also a little frustrated with him because he doesn't have an rss feed, permalinks are hard to find and comments are not enabled. So, if you have Hugh's ear, please tell him that all of his progeny would love it if he could spiff things up a bit ;-)
There is one thing I wrote in my own review of Hugh's book that I haven't seen tackled and I am wondering if you are in a position to do some research on it. Hugh talks about how blogs are cutting into the readership/viewership of MSM and I wonder if they are, or will be doing the same with the Christian MSM - i.e. the CT family and other popular mags and Christian radio and other things. I still subscribe to CT (just thought you ought to know that) and a few other mags, but I read far more blogs than other things. I haven't listened to popular Christian radio for quite some time now and get far more info reading blogs than the traditional venues of Christian information. It's not that I'm mad at anyone, my reading has just kind of evolved that direction. So, I'm curious as to whether or not we're at a point where we can measure the impact of blogs on Christian MSM as we do the secular MSM.
Well, I've taken too much of your space, but glad to see you in the blogosphere.

6:21 PM  
Blogger Stan Guthrie said...

Hi, David. Great to hear from you! (I'm still running late most of the time.) I'll check out yout blog; please spread the word on mine. I'll ask Hugh your good question.

Have a great weekend!


12:18 PM  
Blogger kaligula said...

You guys graduated from an elite Ivy League college and look how well you turned out, in terms of being sound Christian Apologists.

Contrastly, I graduated from a private, evangelical Christian University, and look what happened to me!

Pornographical Physics

A backsliding libertarian. Arrrrgghh!!!!

6:22 PM  
Blogger Stan Guthrie said...

Actually, we graduated from the grad school of Columbia (S.C.) Bible College, a fine school, but definitely not Ivy League!

If I read you right, yours is not the first story of someone who attended an evangelical school who emerged without his faith intact. Conversely, I attended a secular school (UF), found a good Christian group on campus (IVCF) and emerged with my faith strengthened.

Go figure.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Denyse O'Leary said...

Hi Stan,

I'm a blogger of only three months experience, who managed to scoop the New York Times, and break two other stories of interest in the intelligent design controversy.

A colleague here in Toronto said of current mainstream media that "they get it late and get it wrong."

For example, in the uproar around the showing of "Privileged Planet" at the Smithsonian, the Times incorrectly reported that the film was "against evolution".

The film actually says nothing about evolution. The Times reporter had not had time to see the film.

As a result, a large number of misled people complained to the Smithsonian about a film that neither they NOR the Times reporter had seen!

Is that a level of service that a person can reasonably be expected to PAY for?

At my blog, I made an exhaustive inventory of the contents of the film. It took me a whole unpaid week, but it was worth it. So now if, for whatever reason, a person cannot see the film, they can certainly know what it is about, and that it is NOT about evolution. (It is about the way that the universe is fine-turned for life and, according to the authors, the Earth is fine-tuned for science discovery.)

I was dismayed by the huge mob who attacked the film without seeing it, because I think that the open society is worth preserving. And that is one of the main points I make at my blog, while covering the intelligent design controversy.

I do not see how the mainstream media will survive the blogosphere, unless they greatly change..


Denyse O'Leary

3:15 PM  
Blogger Stan Guthrie said...


I have great respect for your work and hope readers will visit your site. By the way, I invite new readers to my site to go back in my archives and see the interview I did with you about your fine book, "By Design or by Chance?"


6:41 AM  

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