Is PaidContent really a “blog” at all?

In a piece posted at the New York Times’ Bits blog, Saul Hansell pits Mike Arrington’s “vision of blogging’s future” against that of PaidContent founder Rafat Ali. One is personal and filled with lots of emotion (guess which one) and the other is more analytical and has more traditional journalistic integrity, at least according to PaidContent’s new CEO. Rafat quite freely admits that his model has very little to do with the rough-and-tumble of the blogosphere and more to do with the large trade publishers like Reed Elsevier and Informa, which cover industries like a blanket but don’t get into pissing matches about personalities.

I have nothing but respect for what Rafat and his team have built. He and Staci and the rest have doggedly pursued their model, and they have covered the media business within an inch of its life, and they should be congratulated for that. I think Rafat is totally right when he says he is going after the big trade publishers, and I have no doubt that one or the other of them will eventually come to their senses and just buy the operation outright, or Rafat might just buy them.

But I also find that PaidContent.org isn’t that… well, interesting. If I were a mid-level media executive, trying to figure out where the next layoffs were coming from, or who was rising up the ranks of whichever entity, then I might read it for information purposes. But it doesn’t have much in the way of colour to it — and to be fair, Rafat has never made any secret of the fact that colour isn’t what he’s after. I also notice that while PaidContent is set up like a blog, with comments and everything, there aren’t a whole lot of comments on the stories I read.

To me, however, part of the power that blogs have is that they are personal and direct, that they give you a connection of some kind to a person (or people, in the case of a blog like Gawker), and that they have a voice that either interests or amuses or enrages you. PaidContent doesn’t have that for me — it is pure information. That’s why it commands triple-digit CPM rates for its ads, no doubt. But while I wish Rafat and the rest of the team all the best, and I think they are doing a heck of a job, I hope that not all blogs are going to become just trade press in another form.

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