Over the holiday weekend news broke that The Wall Street Journal would be shutting down eight blogs dedicated to specific verticals and topics. The newspaper’s editors cited the changing audience and constantly evolving technology that has made the blogs largely redundant.
The key point in the story for me is this: The Twitter accounts created for those verticals will remain, even as the blogs are shattered, though thankfully the blogs will remain up as archives, so all that content isn’t being completely discarded.
Those social media accounts remaining active is the biggest indicator of how the media world has evolved. As with The New York Times and other publications who have condensed their blogs, the focus isn’t on abandoning niche verticals. It’s just that the blogs aren’t always the best way to reach the appropriate and relevant audience in 2017. Running a blog devoted to a specific topic is time-consuming and requires a good deal of commitment. With publishing tools having changed greatly over the last decade, those blogs don’t need to be totally separate from the rest of the site on either the back or front end.
Even more specifically, for the reader, the way to follow niche topics has evolved. In the mid-2000s, when WSJ was launching these blogs, people would subscribe to the RSS feed, other blogs would link to posts as they shared their own perspective on a bit of news and so on. The link economy was thriving, powered by Bloglines, Google Reader, Blogger, WordPress, TypePad and other tools.
Now we’re living in a social media world, the unexpected result of the Web 2.0 revolution that’s less about links and comments and more about RTs, click-throughs, viral sharing on Facebook and other success metrics. Facebook Instant Articles, Flipboard, Medium, Apple News and other tools that take the media consumption out of the hands of the media company that’s produced the content are all angling for domination.
But on social, niches still thrive. You may not want to follow the WSJ’s main account as it’s not relevant or important to you. But the Law Blog’s Twitter is, so you can continue to derive value from it. And the WSJ publishers realize that and will keep it going to share thematically appropriate content to an interested and engaged audience. Social media, not a blog network, is now the most important way for big media to reach people. And that reach often isn’t about scale, it’s about engagement. Email is the same way, as more and more sites offer increasingly thinly-sliced topical newsletters for people to subscribe to.
This is all similar to what I wrote about in 2015 when a string of website closures took a couple great film sites off the internet or at least closed them down. At the time I posited that the Twitter accounts for those sites could remain active, publishing links and commentary that was still in line with the brand identity of those sites and sharing new posts on other sites from its former staff writers and editors. The audience was still there and was obviously interested, so why not find someone willing to keep managing it and keep providing value?
There’s still very much a place for full blogs on niche topics. Blogging allows for all the context that social media doesn’t. But what WSJ – which wasn’t the first major publisher to make this move and certainly won’t be the last – is doing isn’t about devaluing blogs as a format. It’s just an acknowledgment that the same kind of coverage is now possible within the bigger site structure. Also, that the niche audience is receiving their information through different channels and platforms than they were a decade ago. So it’s not about an ending, it’s just about changing to meet the times.