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Outside Voices: Stephen Spruiell Crashes Pajamas' Party

Each week we invite someone from the outside to weigh in with their thoughts about CBS News and the media at large. This week, we asked Stephen Spruiell, author of National Review Online's Media Blog to tell us what's been on his mind. Spruiell just attended the launch of Pajamas Media's Open Source Media project and shares his thoughts on the site and what it means for the evolving media world. As always, the opinions expressed in "Outside Voices" are those of the author, not ours, and we seek a wide variety of voices.

At a certain point in all successful revolutions, the rebels find themselves confronted with the question, "Fine, you win, what now?" Last Wednesday, the bloggers who took down Dan Rather answered by unveiling Open Source Media (OSM), a new network of bloggers that aims to increase its members' revenues and profiles.

There are two sides to the OSM project. One is business-oriented, and the other is culture-oriented. The business-oriented side seeks to attract ad revenue to the blogosphere by selling its members' aggregate readership to advertisers. OSM offers bloggers a contract to become members for a set period of time, and pays them a varying amount depending on how many readers they would be contributing to the overall number. OSM raised $3.5 million in venture capital selling this plan, and venture capitalists usually invest with the expectation of making a profit, so someone must have confidence in this plan. Others have doubts. Ann Althouse is one blogger who has gone on record as skeptical of this idea by comparing it unfavorably to the BlogAds network, which already acts as a broker between advertisers and bloggers. Blogs4God has also expressed skepticism, writing, "I make my day job/living as the product management director for a very successful producer of web-based software systems. This, along with 20+ years experience in IT, including time spent on Wall Street and other financial ventures, I gotta say that I'm not so sure we're not seeing the repeat of a common dot-bom business model."

The culture-oriented side aims to finish what co-founder Charles Johnson and others started when they helped expose the documents at the center of the "60 Minutes II" story about… well, you know the rest. That episode having vaulted blogs into the public discourse, the bloggers behind it now want to provide an alternative to a system they perceive as corrupt and sclerotic.

In its corporate literature, OSM argues that its network of citizen journalists aims to supplement traditional news organizations rather than replace them. But the tone the founders struck in this interview with National Review Online contributor Andrew Leigh is quite different:

"Our intention is to create an aggregation of good blogs, quality-wise, to provide an alternative to the mainstream media," Simon tells NRO.

In the beginning, however, they will be somewhat dependent on that same mainstream media. The site will have links to the top news headlines of the day, as reported by the AP and other establishment news sources.

That doesn't sound very different.
Here's the difference: alongside each news headline, Pajamas Media will link related blog posts that their editors consider to be the most interesting or insightful out there...[snip]

Pajamas Media will also distinguish itself from the mainstream folks, according to Simon, with "a new method of fact-checking."

An internal instant-messaging system will link their correspondents all over the world. If there are any doubts about a report's veracity, they can call on the expertise of their editors instantly.

Ah. So the alternative to the MSM is a Web site that puts blog links next to wire stories, and the revolution in fact-checking is using IM. Sounds like an interesting Web site, but not a revolution. I think OSM shows promise on the business side, and if they can succeed in that regard, more power to them. I like any idea that can help some of these talented bloggers do it professionally. But as far as the culture side of the project is concerned, I don't think OSM is offering anything substantially new here. Blogs have an important role in fact-checking the MSM. Some even offer spectacular original reporting. But they do all this already, even without sophisticated IM systems. I wish the founders of OSM the best of luck, but somebody needs to tell them it's okay to stop fighting. The CBS Public Eye blog itself is evidence that blogs have already won.