Pew published a study a while back titled New Media, Old Media on the differences between new/social media and the traditional press. There are a lot of interesting takeaways, among them:
The BBC, CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post accounted for fully 80% of all links [in the blogosphere].
But what about the long tail? What about the internet fragmenting culture? Does this data contradict those claims? Not entirely. The best framework I’m aware of for understanding this phenomenon comes from Matthew Hindman’s 2009 book The Myth of Digital Democracy (read Chapter 1 here).
Hindman, a political scientist at Arizona State University, writes about what he calls the “missing middle” which he describes as follows:
On the one hand, the news market in cyberspace seems even more concentrated on the top ten or twenty outlets than print media is. On the other, the tiniest outlets have indeed earned a substantial portion of the total eyeballs…. It is the middle-class outlets that have seen relative decline in the online world.
The rich get richer; the poor get richer. The middle class gets the squeeze.
The Pew study doesn’t necessarily confirm Hindman’s analysis – he has his own data – and I’m not in any position to judge his methods. The point, however, is that the concentration of sources linked to in the blogosphere does not necessarily contradict claims of fragmentation or the long tail. It merely complicates them.