It is hardly worth mentioning that the death of two bloggers is not very newsworthy. To get an estimate of the number of people blogging, once can turn to Feedburner, which is currently tracking 1.5M blog feeds from 846,000 bloggers. The unfortunate passing of two people out of a population of almost one million would rank the mortality rate for blogging somewhere between watching TV and enjoying a hot bath. (Actually, I'm pretty sure bathing has a much higher mortality rate.)
I am not going to gripe about the Times exploiting the untimely deaths of two bloggers for headline purposes. Instead, I'll gripe about their shoddy reporting on the subject of paid blogging.
The Times reports that the number of bloggers who do so for pay number in the "several thousand and maybe even tens of thousands." I suspect this is hogwash; it may be true that tens of thousands of folks have been paid a handful of dollars as writers or are making a few pennies from Google AdSense ads on their blogs, but if your definition of a paid blogger is someone who is blogging or is attempting to blog as their primary source of living income, I doubt this figure is even north of 1,000.
The vast majority of bloggers do it for personal or professional reasons, and not as a paid career. For example, many ad agencies now have blogs maintained by agency employees, but I know of no agencies that employ people solely dedicated to writing for their blog. (I do know of agencies employing folks to participate in online communities on behalf of clients, but the Times specifically refers to blogging and not other forms of social media.)
The key to estimating the number of paid bloggers is to follow the money: From where would cash come to pay bloggers? No blog charges subscription fees to read content. Some bloggers ask for donations, but I've yet to see any report of significant funds coming from contributors. Blogs can bring the owner other value, such as the ability to sell things to readers, but I'd argue the primary purpose of the blogger is then to support an ecommerce model and not a paid content model.
Advertising would seem to be the only available revenue model to bloggers, but there are few blogs receiving the sort of traffic required to generate anything more than modest advertising income from ad displays or clicks. There certainly are hundreds of blogs that are sufficiently popular, but a figure in the thousands or tens of thousands seems mighty unlikely.
For example, on Technorati, a site that tracks blogs, the 100th most popular blog (based on its number of fans) is Today is That Day, a self-improvement blog. You'd think the 100th most popular blog would be the kind of highly trafficked blog that would generate the income necessary to compensate a professional blogger, but Compete.com indicates the site receives just 16,000 visitors per month, which is very likely nowhere near sufficient to provide a living wage off of ad dollars.
If you care about the very rough math, it would go something like this (with, admittedly, a plethora of guesstimates):
Visitors: 16,000 x
Ad Clickthrough rate: .5 to 2% =
Ad clicks: 80 to 320 x
Pay Per Click: $.5 to $2 =
Monthly Revenue: $40 to $640
I am pretty sure my estimates are generous, but even if not, the chance of a blog with this level of traffic getting more than $1,000 month in ad revenue is very, very slim. And remember, this blog has enough fans to rank it in the top 100!
My point isn't to disparage Today is That Day; it's a fine blog with a well-defined purpose. The real point is to demonstrate how few blogs can generate advertising dollars sufficient to provide a professional income. In fact, if you visit Today is That Day, you'll find that while it is wallpapered with banners and text ads, the primary intent of the blog isn't to sell advertising but to support sales of "Lifestyle Empowerment products" and e-coaching.
The article on NYTimes.com is still worth your time. Some of the anecdotes about professional blogging for Gawker and Gizmodo are interesting, but the article fails to shed much light on the plight of those in the "digital-era sweatshop" (their term, not mine). I've enjoyed many Times articles about technology and marketing, but I'd recommend reading this article with some healthy skepticism.