Are Bloggers an Endangered Species?
an excellent article early this morning that asked a very good question: Are progressive bloggers a dying breed?
It was a subject on which I'd touched in one or two articles four years ago when Barack Obama first got elected. Unlike other bloggers, I was looking far beyond the next election cycle and offering an educated guess that liberal blogging, once George W. Bush left office, would go into a slow but steady rate of decline. In that respect, old W. was indeed a uniter rather than a divider. He was able to unite progressives of all different styles and voices with his endless malapropisms. With Obama, we have little if any of that.
And, as Peter Daou was quoted as saying in Freedlander's article,
“It has been a very testy relationship,” said Peter Daou, a blogger in the early days of the movement and now a political consultant. “He didn’t reach out. That was complained about in 2008, and during his presidency there has been a very bad relationship. They have been dismissive, and you want to look for a reason why the progressive blogosphere has fractured, that is it.”So there you have it. That's one very good reason for the declining influence of liberal blogs and it's a synecdoche of why the Democratic Party has been in decline since Carter and perhaps even since the assassinations of King and Kennedy: Fractiousness or, as some liberal diehards would term it, the selling out of Blue Dog Democrats to the Dark Side (Zell Miller, Joe Lieberman, Bart Stupak and Jane Harman, to name just a few of the more notorious examples).
Citing my own experiences, I recall getting anywhere from 10,000-33,000 hits on good days with my first and second blogs. Five or six years ago, a link on Buzzflash used to guarantee, at bare minimum, a good four figure day, usually five. Granted, it wasn't always my own content that Buzzflash and its readers were interested in so much as my shameless poaching of NY Times op-ed pieces back when Bill Keller thought the pay-to-read velvet rope was a good idea. But that's not the point.
The point is, getting the big headline at the top of Buzzflash's index page for even 60 minutes guaranteed several hundred hits an hour. These days, I don't even bother submitting to Buzzflash because on the offchance they'll actually link to something of mine, the bump would hardly be noticeable. When you run a C list blog like Pottersville, it's like running a business that depends upon the financial health of your customers- Your traffic depends upon the traffic of the places that link to you.
And in a hit-based, ad-driven revenue model like blogs, the fewer hits you get, the less ad revenue you receive. When I started my first site, Yep, Another Goddamned Blog, nearly eight years ago (Which, in internet time, makes me almost the IF Stone of blogging), a good day was when I got 700 hits. By the time I deleted my second blog, the original Pottersville, I was back down to 700 hits a day and half those people surfed in looking for inappropriate content. I'd come full circle, in other words, and this discouragement is partly what led me to delete it. Even now, despite getting the occasional linkage on Crooks and Liars and almost ceaseless blogwhoring on A list sites, 700 hits a day would be above average for me and that's with Google+ and Twitter belatedly added to the mix.
Freedlander had contacted my old friend Susie Madrak of Suburban Guerilla and what she'd told him could've been written by me:
"The days when people could be very influential in the blogosphere aren’t here anymore." ... Asked if she hopes to keep at it, Madrak said: “Oh Christ, I hope not. I just turned 58. I have been out of work for four years. No one is breaking down the door to give me an offer. Until I have other options I have to keep doing this.”But Freedlander only touches on another reason why B and C list blogs are going out of vogue when he'd written, "Many bloggers with their own sites have been folded into the tent of Daily Kos, which has dozens of contributors and conducts extensive polling and microlevel analysis of local races."
Susie Madrak, it ought to be remembered, is very typical. Someone who'd started an influential B list blog then got absorbed into a much larger place like Crooks and Liars, where she's front-paged virtually every day. In the old days, the major blogs were largely if not entirely maintained by one, sometimes two bloggers. John Aravosis ran AmericaBlog, John Amato Crooks and Liars, Duncan Black Eschaton, etc. But then a curious thing began happening back when Bush was still "President". Many of the A list blogs went all Earth, Wind and Fire and began recruiting some of the cooler kids (never me, God forbid) like Madrak, Emptywheel, TBogg, Driftglass, his wife Bluegal and so forth so that instead of the work being shouldered by one superblogger, it was farmed out to several B listers.
This is certainly beneficial for the Aravosis's, Amatos, Hamshers and Blacks of the blogosphere. It reduced their work load and, with 12 front-pagers instead of just one or two, it ensured their blogs' content would remain fresh, multi-faceted and frequently updated. But that often meant the abandonment of their original B list blogs (Orcinus, run by Evan and Sarah Robinson, hasn't been updated since February or long after the Robinsons themselves got absorbed by C&L, and just a few times since last year). And the constant piling on and scrolling down of still-fresh material means, because people are too lazy to scroll down a couple of inches, an hour-old post that gets topped can expect to get half the traffic it originally had.
The consolidation of smaller blogs and bloggers into larger ones (the best example of this is perhaps Firedoglake, which started out the same time I had) also means fewer individual voices. Just because a blogger is front-paged it doesn't mean s/he is free to write whatever they want. Their posting privileges are predicated on not displeasing the founder of the blog. For instance, when I crosspost on Brilliant at Breakfast, there are several prohibitions by which I have to abide or I'm out.
But the folding of smaller blogs into larger ones also promises a smaller version of the plantation model pioneered by Ariana Huffington. Barring a voluntary, occasional donation through one's Paypal account (such as I get once in a while from B@B), bloggers still work for free.
But there's also a pecking order in blogging as with anything else. Many of the pioneers of political blogging "grew up" and became "legitimate" (some of the more uncharitable of us would say "sold out"). Preferred bloggers on both sides of the tracks, based on initial large hit counts during the Bush years, abandoned their blogs in favor of book deals and TV appearances. Markos Moulitsas, DKos co-founder Jerome Armstrong, Pam Gellar, Glenn Greenwald and a few anointed others have all gotten book deals. Others have had their blogs picked up and folded into more or less "legitimate" journalism (such as Greenwald's Unclaimed Territory getting transformed into a byline on Salon.com).
Mainstream journalism, another dying beast, realized or assumed, along with elected officials who'd begun courting attention from places such as FDL and DKos, that bloggers weren't going away anytime soon. If Crooks and Liars could attract 500,000 people a day in the aftermath of a disaster such as Hurricane Katrina or if Firedoglake could provide excellent coverage of the Valerie Plame outing that could not be ignored, then they were forces to be reckoned with. Journalism grudgingly gave bloggers a chance to run with the big dogs and if you were Markos or Hamsher, life could be very good indeed.
But electronic media exposure didn't exactly catapult blogging to the next level of exposure and awareness and the rise of Barack Obama and his administration's dismissive attitude toward bloggers has set us back to 2002, back when people who were questioning the events of 9/11 were derisively referred to as "truthers" and bloggers were put on the same level as conspiracy theorists with, as Charles Krauthammer infamously said, "Bush Derangement Syndrome."
And, as with the political infrastructure in this country, this election unites racist right wing bloggers who are behind Romney 110% while the progressives are squabbling amongst themselves over whether to support Obama, to do so conditionally or voting Green or Justice Party. But internecine squabbling hasn't resulted in the lower traffic we've seen since Obama's election. And it can't be said that accepting ads and revenue from right wing outfits such as NewsMax, ads that confront one with a disturbing contrast in content when they're found on places such as Eschaton or Firedoglake, will pump up traffic anytime soon. Nowadays, even the major A list blogs have to struggle just to raise enough money to pay for bandwidth that isn't quite so much in demand, anymore. The smaller ones, such as Madrak and myself, have to struggle even harder just to keep body and soul together.
Perhaps progressive blogging will be revived the next time a right winger gets elected president. But it'll be a vastly different, even more technologically-savvy America (Twitter and Facebook are the hares and blogs the tortoises) and I just don't see blogging regaining its relevance and importance of 2001-2008.