As with personal computing, the early days of Web publishing belonged to the hobbyists, reveling that it worked at all. But the Web is maturing, the tools are getting easy, as the understanding of the technology has become widespread. Serious professional journalists use the new tools, moonlighting, publishing the news they don't or can't sell to the big publications who employ them.
At the same time, we're returning to what I call amateur journalism, people writing for the public for the love of writing, without any expectation of financial compensation. This process is fed by the changing economics of the publishing industry which is employing fewer reporters, editors and writers. But the Web has taught us to expect more information, not less, and that's the sea-change that the NY Times and other big publications face -- how to remain relevant in the face of a population that can do for themselves what the BigPubs won't.
The pervasive big publishing philosophy of Dumb It Down, forces all stories through too narrow a channel to model the diverse and complex world we live in. When the Times covers my industry it seems they only know three stories -- Microsoft is evil, Java is the future (or open source or whatever the topic du jour is) and Apple is dead. All other stories are cast into one of those three. They're boring the readers into looking for alternatives, and because they are limited in the number of writers they employ, they can't branch out to cover other angles.
There's another fatal flaw in the bigpub approach to journalism, that the reporter doesn't really need to know anything about the topic he or she is covering. If the reader doesn't know the technical details, the writer doesn't need to know either. But when I see the Times cover areas I am expert in, and miss the point completely, I wonder how well they're informing me in areas where I am a neophyte. I'm not from Missouri, I'm from Queens, but I still need to be shown that they are doing their jobs responsibly. I'm not impressed, so I look elsewhere for real news, and soon most other people with minds will too.
My bet with Martin Nisenholtz at the Times says that the tide has turned, and in five years, the publishing world will have changed so thoroughly that informed people will look to amateurs they trust for the information they want.
Readers need a source of information that is unbiased, accurate, and coherent. New organizations like the Times can provide that far more consistently than private parties can. Besides, the weblog phenomenon does not represent anything fundamentally new in the news media: The New York Times has been publishing individual points of view on the OP ED page for 100 years. In any case, nytimes.com and weblogs are not mutually exclusive. We would like to extend our ability to act as a host for all sorts-of opinions, and weblog technology might well be useful in doing so. After all, in countries whose citizens don't enjoy First Amendment protection, weblogs are run by people who'd be considered professional journalists in the US. In its six years online, nytimes.com has been a center of innovation, and it'll continue to be, incorporating weblogs and whatever else will enable our reporters and editors to present authoritative coverage of the most important events of the day, immediately and accurately.