C. Edwin Baker Needs a Better Editor

Page 109 of Ed Baker’s Media Concentration and Democracy contains the following remarkable assertion (emphasis added):

Fark.com, the most visited blog listed by TTLB [The Truth Laid Bear]on June 7, 2006, with slightly over a million daily visits, was visited about 3,000 times as often as the blog at the bottom of this top 7 percent group, which received 350 daily visit. Moreover, since blogs tracked by TTLB are likely to be much more visited than the average blog, the drop-off rate among the top 7 percent of all blogs would be much, much greater. On a typical day, it is very likely that of the millions of blogs that reportedly exist —- in early 2006 Technorati reported counting over 34 million blogs —- over 99 percent will be lucky to receive one visit.

The logical fallacy is the blithe assumption that it is “likely” that TTLB blogs are much more visited than average blogs. (Evidence offered for this assertion: none.) TTLB is an opt-in system. Are popular or unpopular bloggers more likely to register with it? I dunno, and I doubt that Ed Baker does, either. Nonetheless, he seems to have assumed that the TTLB blogs constitute the very crème de la crème of all blogs, and then extrapolated (using who knows what function) to find that the number of daily readers crosses below 1 before we get out of the top 1 percent. From a use-of-evidence point of view, the “it is very likely” isn’t well-supported.

But that last sentence should never have gotten past the editor for a more fundamental reason: it’s self-evidently implausible. The sentence asserts that 99 percent of blogs have no readers on a given day. If that’s the case, then who, pray tell, would be writing these blogs? The claim that there are over 33 million bloggers who blog only for themselves simply does not accord with any common-sense view of reality. Do you know any bloggers with no readers? If there were 33 million of them, then statistically speaking, you probably would. To write a sentence like that, you either have to not be thinking about what you’re writing, or not really have a clear sense of what a blog is.

As this example suggests, Media Concentration and Democracy is a frustrating book. Ed Baker is a very smart scholar, and I want to be sympathetic to his arguments against concentrated media ownership. (Two words: Silvio Berlusconi.) But the book reads as though he’d put together his argument and was then told by someone that he really ought to say something about the Internet.

Do you know any bloggers with no readers?

I do, actually, and so do you. Ken Shan recently started a weblog, but decided not to publicize it; for instance, I don’t see a link from his main page. He views it as being mostly for himself.

There’s a “smallest uninteresting number” quality to the example. Ken is no longer a blogger with no readers.