After Chris Allbritton returned to New York from Iraqi Kurdistan, he raised $15,000 and headed back to Iraq in 2003 as the first independent journalist-blogger sponsored by his readers. There he risked life and limb covering the war and its messy aftermath, detailing his experiences on his blog, Back-to-Iraq 3.0.
With 25,000 readers a day checking out his dispatches, Allbritton was able to build on this success by securing a plum assignment as Time magazine’s Baghdad correspondent. As a result, Allbritton has had to change his approach to blogging.
“I’m just very, very careful,” Allbritton said. “I never scoop Time, for instance. And I’ve become much more miserly in parceling out my opinions. I place a whole lot more emphasis on the reporting on the blog, rather than taking a stance. This has alienated a significant number of my readers, who have accused me of selling out, going corporate, whatever. But, I came to Iraq to become a full-time foreign correspondent, so them’s the breaks.”
He also doesn’t post as often on his blog anymore, and says he is thinking of shutting it down.
Allbritton isn’t the only journalist-blogger who serves two competing masters. Om Malik, a senior writer at Business 2.0, pens two online columns a month, as well as contributing features to the magazine, while operating a blog on broadband that attracts 350,000 unique visitors a month. But it’s his day job that pays the bills.
“My first commitment is to my publisher, my magazine,” said Malik, who is also the author of Broadbandits: Inside the $750 Billion Telecom Heist. “Last month I earned $9 in net profit (on my blog). Thank God for Google AdSense — they let me break even now. Last year, I spent a lot of money out-of-pocket, when my bandwidth costs went through the roof.”
For all the press that bloggers have received for revolutionizing journalism by bringing Gutenberg’s printing press to the digital masses, when push comes to shove, journalists who operate personal weblogs face an inherent conflict of interest. In the end, it’s the blogs that usually get short shrift.