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.

The ESPN contract gives Silver the power to hire people, to bring in more numbers on a variety of topics and analyze them deeply, and to have that analysis written up under his direction, on his label. Silver himself will become a TV star, appearing on ESPN, on ABC during election seasons, and perhaps on other Disney properties where appropriate.

Silver's success proves something important. Being a talking head isn't that big a skill. Even if you have a face for radio and a voice for print, as I do, as Silver does, you can learn to accept pancake makeup and talk toward a camera in something resembling English.

When I was at Medill it was very easy to tell the TV majors from the magazine majors. The magazine majors dressed like students. The TV majors dressed like they were on TV.

Silver's success blows those categories away. Anyone can be a TV star and, if you want to make a success in journalism, TV is a skill set you have to acquire. And the leaders in this field will no longer be just the "journalists" who take paychecks and climb the corporate ladder. They will be the entrepreneurial bloggers who invent themselves, and in so doing re-invent the trade.

At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and a tech reporter since 1982. His specialty has been getting to the future ahead of the crowd, then leaving before success arrived. That meant covering the Internet in 1985, e-commerce in 1994, the Internet of Things in 2005, open source in 2005 and, since 2010, renewable energy. He has written for every medium from newspapers and magazines to Web sites, from books to blogs. He still seeks tomorrow from his Craftsman home in Atlanta.

More from Opinion

Sears CEO Eddie Lampert Looks Like He Is Sucking Company Dry

Sears CEO Eddie Lampert Looks Like He Is Sucking Company Dry

Nasdaq Exec: Exchange Is 'All-In' on Using Blockchain Technology

Nasdaq Exec: Exchange Is 'All-In' on Using Blockchain Technology

It's Dumb to Think Legalizing Weed Is Still a Political Issue

It's Dumb to Think Legalizing Weed Is Still a Political Issue

AAP Exclusive: Cramer Says The President is No Longer on the Side of the Bulls

AAP Exclusive: Cramer Says The President is No Longer on the Side of the Bulls

Why It Makes Perfect Sense for Netflix and Amazon to Buy Up Movie Theaters

Why It Makes Perfect Sense for Netflix and Amazon to Buy Up Movie Theaters