Update: There is now a follow-up to this article, providing more context, qualification and clarity. You can here it here.
Today the New York Times announced that it will incorporate fivethirtyeight.com into the NYT website:
This summerThe New York Times will incorporate the political blog FiveThirtyEight into the political news section of NYTimes.com. Blogger, polling expert and founder of FiveThirtyEight Nate Silver will continue to oversee the blog and will also be a regular contributor to The New York Times and to The New York Times Sunday Magazine.
Only five years ago, the progressive political blogosphere was still predominately a gathering place for amateur (that is, unpaid or barely paid) journalists and activists unattached to existing media companies and advocacy organizations. Those days are almost completely over. Now, the progressive blogosphere is almost entirely professionalized, and inextricably linked to existing media companies and advocacy organizations.
This transformation has been brought about by three developments (fellow bloggers, please forgive me in advance if I fail to mention your or your blog as an example):
Add up all three of these paths, not even to mention the emergence of the utterly dominant Huffington Post, and the progressive political blogosphere is now both thoroughly professionalized and integrated into the progressive media an political ecosystem.
- Established media companies and advocacy organizations hiring bloggers to blog, full-time: The Washington Post, New York Times, Politico, Center for American Progress, Salon, CQ, Atlantic, Washington Monthly, the American Independent News Network, and more have all hired hired bloggers to blog, full-time. Many of these bloggers, such as fivethirtyeight, Unclaimed Territory, or the Carpetbagger Report, operated their blogs independently of any established organization, and were key hubs in the "amateur" or "independent" progressive blogosphere. Now, those bloggers do pretty much the same thing they did before, they just (quite understandably) do it for a much better salary from an established organization.
- Previously "amateur" progressive blogs became professional operations: Another trend, less common than the first, has been for blogs like Daily Kos, Fire Dog Lake and Talking Points Memo to transform themselves from hobbies into professional media outlets and / or activist organizations. These blogs have increased their revenue stream to the point where they can hire multiple full-time staff.
- Bloggers translate blogging into consulting and advocacy work: Many bloggers have also found a way to make a living by combining their blogging with blog-friendly advocacy and consulting work. This is actually the path I am currently following, as are, I believe, Oliver Willis, Atrios, Jerome Armstrong, and more. This involves finding part-time or full time work in politics that is conducive to still maintaining a full-time blog (which also generates a part-time income).
That didn't take very long. The progressive blogosphere really first emerged onto the political scene in late 2002 over fights like the run up to Iraq, the 2003 Democratic primaries, and Trent Lott's comments at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party. In less than eight years, it went from a loosely knit, rag-tag network of amateur outsiders into a fixture in the world of professional political advocacy and media.
I want to make it clear that I know there are still "amateur" independent blogs around. Also, I do not begrudge a single person for taking any of these various routes to professionalism. Hell, I have wanted to be a professional blogger since Kos first began selling ads in late 2003. I am simply describing a trend that has, quite obviously, been underway for years now. In fact, my first post ever at Open Left was on this very subject).
It was, really, inevitable. Avant-garde, "outsider" developments which prove to have real support are invariably co-opted by any successful, institutional establishment. At the same time, these avant-garde movements are often willing to be co-opted, since established institutions usually have vastly greater resources than the independent, shoestring distribution networks of the avant-garde. Before I became a blogger, I was an ABD graduate student in English, and I was going to write my dissertation about this phenomenon in 20th century American poetry. I am quite thrilled that instead of writing that dissertation, I was able to participate in a real-life example of it.
Anyway, kudos to Nate Silver, and RIP to the amateur progressive blogosphere. It provided a regular feeling of revolutionary ecstasy while it lasted, but there was no way it could last very long. It was a transitional period into a new media and political paradigm, not a new paradigm unto itself.