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Entrepreneurial Bloggers Re-Inventing Journalism

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The difference between a journalist and a blogger is a paycheck.

The New York Times (NYT) gave blogger Nate Silver a fat paycheck, and in return expected him to act as a journalist.

Paychecks define journalists, as I was taught at Northwestern's Medill School half-a-lifetime ago. "A journalist is someone who works for someone who buys ink by the barrel," the adage went. A journalist is someone who works for someone.

But Nate Silver wasn't a journalist. He was, and is, a blogger.

Bloggers are free agents. Some of us are amateurs or, if we write for publications (like this one) we're treated as independent contractors. Others become entrepreneurs in their own right, like Om Malik of Gigaom and Joshua Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo.

What we have in common is that we're driven by passion, by our own agendas, by what we have chosen to write about. We don't fit anyone else's mold, it's not why we got into this. Like Popeye, we are what we are.

Silver's dream was to be a publisher, with enough capital to spread his kind of analytics into every corner of the newsroom -- sports, politics, entertainment, business. That's what Disney's (DIS) ESPN unit is giving him.

Once ESPN came calling The Times never had a chance. They never knew what hit them.

Bloggers are routinely dismissed by journalists, and by journalism companies, as pajama-wearing Tweeters who don't do the hard work. The hard work of sitting in a stuffy room and repeating the lies spokesmen tell you? The hard work of fighting every day within a rigid hierarchy, of office politics?

Thanks, but no thanks.

The deal Silver got from ESPN is different from what every journalist I know has gotten. It's the standard rich and famous contract signed by entertainers, by TV talent, by anchors.

But Silver isn't, by nature, a TV star. He is a numbers guy, a statistician, a geek. He applied his discipline, first to baseball, then to politics, and others made him a star because his numbers worked. Numbers do that.

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