I think it comes back to the dissolution of the barrier to entry into any particular field or subject matter verticals. Once upon a time you had to pitch editors, send in clips and hop through hoops to get your story out there. Now, anyone can go to a Blogger or WordPress or Tumblr and take the 35 seconds or so it take to set up an account to start publishing.
Does that negate the need for traditional publishers? Not at all. But it adds legions of very smart people with very interesting things to say about all sorts of matters that otherwise would never have been heard.
It also adds legions of very unintelligent people with very uninteresting things to say about all sorts of matters but that’s a different point.
The best bloggers are those that are passionate and deeply knowledgeable about a given, discrete subject. These are people who write about things, investigate things and share there expertise about things.
If you take current events, you’ll find experts in Middle East and North African politics that can help us understand what’s happening in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere right now, experts in nuclear energy and nuclear reactors who can help us understand Japan right now, and the list goes on and on.
Unfortunately, “bloggers” are still stereotyped as the unwashed masses of online media. I think instead they should be thought of as the early warning systems of what’s happening around the world, and this is a system that traditional journalists need to learn to tap into and listen to. I’ve written about that here in reaction to a lecture Rachel Sterne gave on citizen journalism to a class I teach at Columbia:
Bloggers and others who are conversing on social networks about subjects we care about are, after all, nothing more than our communities writ large. It is the role of the journalist to listen to, understand, and learn from the community, and take his or her reporting from there. — Michael
Note: This is an answer to a question from an email interview I gave for an article on Benzinga (registration required). I’ll be posting other answers from the interview in the upcoming days.