There was a piece in the Wall Street Journal recently which claimed that
"In America today, there are almost as many people making their living as bloggers as there are lawyers. Already more Americans are making their primary income from posting their opinions than Americans working as computer programmers or firefighters."
My reaction was similar to that of a lot of bloggers - 'Really? Are you sure?' I left it at that, but of course, some others did a bit of digging. Adam Gurri gives a good summary of the criticism, chief amongst them Clay Shirky who rather takes the piece apart arguing that:
"their key figure -- 2% of bloggers claim it's their primary source of income -- would be well below the margin of error for data collected by a serious polling organization, much less for self-reported data, making that figure useless as an input."
And from this dubious figure they go on to multiply it by the number of bloggers who report it as their primary source of income, but complicate matters by writing
"about people making serious money from "posting their opinions", but later make it clear that many of these bloggers are flacks, paid only to post the opinions of the PR department, not their own."
They then do some dodgy things with averages:
"Average revenue for bloggers in the top 10% of revenue is even lower than the 100K median, and the median income for all bloggers running ad-supported weblogs is (wait for it)...$200. A year."
Shirky is right to take them to task for dodgy methodology, but I think there are some assumptions in his critique too that should be examined. Firstly, he dismisses people who blog as part of their job. But these can still be considered as people who are paid to blog (although the article wasn't really making this point).
It becomes more complicated when we consider that not all bloggers are 'flacks', for example there are a lot of academics (ahem - oh, me?) who blog where the relationship with their paid job is a bit ambiguous. Sometimes it is formally acknowledged with a set number of days allocated for it, but more often it is accepted as something that is done within your work, and outside it. So the number of people who are 'paid' to blog is beyond just those who are independent bloggers.
The article (and hence Shirky's analysis of it) is rather obsessed by the celebrity blogger and mistakenly gives the impression that you, yes YOU, can quit the day job and start blogging for a living tomorrow. That is very rare. Indeed, the celebrity bloggers are, in my experience, often the least interesting. The not very subtle sub-text of most self-employed bloggers is 'Why I'm excellent and you need to hire me'. This quickly becomes tiresome. My preference is for bloggers who do it as an aside to their normal day job.
The point I want to make is that, yes, the original article was dodgy, but even when I take into account Shirky's analysis I was still left with the impression that blogging (including the employed and self-employed bloggers) is creeping up on us as a profession. I would maintain that it's something broader than 'blogging' but also it isn't solely 'communications' in the PR sense either, since I don't want to read a communications officer's interpretation of what Lessig says, I want to read what Lessig says (but comms people you know I love you, and there is a role for this type of activity also).
All this is leading to a claim for legitimacy on my part. If 'blogging' (we'll use that as a shorthand term for now) is becoming a grown-up, robust profession/skill/industry then it makes sense for at least some academics to be doing it. It would be as strange if some academics didn't have expertise in this subject as say, law.
So, you see - it only looked as though I was wasting my time over these past three years.