by Kevin Burton
One of the cool things I got from Word Press when I signed up for this website was my very first barrel of ink.
That is figurative of course, a reference to that great old journalism quote “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” The quote is attributed to various writers, with the wording perhaps a little different in each case.
The idea is, when the other guy has a newspaper in mass circulation, make nice. He’s going to win in the court of public opinion. It was absolutely true in the past.
The great daily newspapers I have enjoyed the most are, The Dayton Daily News and The Wichita Eagle. Magazines such as Newsweek and Sports Illustrated always had brilliant writers who helped shape my early writing style. They had tremendous local and national influence.
Don’t believe me? Did The Washington Post not bring down a president?
But that was 45 years ago. Newspapers and national magazines are far from extinct, but also far from essential in today’s media glut.
Forty-four percent of Americans get their news from television as opposed to just seven percent from print sources, according to 2018 poling conducted by the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan “fact tank” that measures social issues, public opinion and demographics.
As a blogger, I am a self-appointed news columnist. I write, therefore I am.
Mass circulation, not so much.
Until Page 7 has a lot more readers, I won’t be making much of a splash with my barrel of ink. It may take my whole life to use that one barrel. Maybe I should buy ink by the coffee can?
We’ve gone from a world where the exclusive few had the only voice to one where everybody has a voice. In the exchange, will it be any easier for the likes of you and me to be heard?
For some insight on this, check out Chris Anderson’s book The Long Tail. In a day where musicians, authors and other artists can easily self-publish, they don’t need approval from a big publishing house to have their say. For the little guys, the market will almost certainly start small and may stay there. But there will be a market.
If Miranda Lambert has sold 7,000,000 albums, maybe you can’t compete with that. But the band you started with two cousins and two college friends is still free to make and sell music, even if RCA records has never heard of you.
If you stall out at 90 records sold, you still exist. You are part of the “long tail” of artists with lesser sales. Limited influence, but influence nonetheless.
Peter Lewis, Meranda Adams and other bloggers have sought to update the “ink by the barrel” quote to reflect the influence-maker landscape of today.
Forget the ink-stained wretches, should we not rather be fearing people who have more than 500,000 Twitter followers, bloggers with more than a million unique visitors, people who have bandwidth by the gigabyte?
Good points all. The saying does need a 21st-century tweak.
But then there is little old me and little old you on the Long Tail. If you’re reading this and you don’t have a blog, you can change that in an hour. You don’t need a degree, don’t need a sponsor.
The Pew poll said 34 percent of people get their news online. Small bloggers are but a tiny percent of that. But bloggers have the flexibility to react to events quickly. Bloggers can raise and pursue questions that are ignored by larger outlets with time and space limitations.
That makes life on the Long Tail a barrel of fun.