5. The Wonk Bubble is still pretty small.
The Wonk Bubble might be inflating pretty fast right now, but it’s still tiny in comparison to the news business as a whole, which means it could potentially keep on growing at this pace for quite a while. Wonk projects might cost millions of dollars to launch—but big newsrooms can spend hundreds of millions of dollars per year. And although star wonk-writers are increasingly expensive these days, they’re still much cheaper, in terms of dollars per word or article published, than star reporters who publish much less frequently. They also don’t tend to require things like expensive legal services, or war-zone precautions, or crazy photo budgets.
The wonk niche is getting lots of headlines right now, mainly because so many high-profile pundits are changing employers or starting new projects. But it is still a niche, and a pretty small one at that.
So, what happens now? If I had to guess, I’d say that history is likely to repeat itself—that the Wonk Bubble will play out much like the Blog Bubble. People got very excited about early blogs like Gawker and Talking Points Memo and showered them with praise and media attention. The mainstream media then took note, and it wasn’t long before every legacy media organization had a few blogs of its own. Blogs then continued to evolve, even as mainstream websites increasingly came to the realization that drawing a distinction between blogs and everything else was stupid and counterproductive. Eventually, a bloggy sensibility ended up permeating most of what is written online—and blogs themselves, as a separate and distinct product, largely died.
The same thing is likely to happen with the wonks.