Amateur blogosphere, RIP

by: Chris Bowers

Thu Jun 03, 2010 at 14:17

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 into the NYT website:

This summerThe New York Times will incorporate the political blog FiveThirtyEight into the political news section of 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):

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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).
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.

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.

Chris Bowers :: Amateur blogosphere, RIP

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So who reads the NYT anymore? (4.00 / 1)
It's the left wing blogosphere now and who isn't glad for it.  

If anyone here .. (4.00 / 1)
is on Digg .. please Digg this:

Thanks!!  ;-)

Avant Garde is Still Alive (4.00 / 7)
I think it is a bit of a contradiction to say "I know there are still 'amateur' independent blogs around" on the one hand and "RIP to the amateur progressive blogosphere" on the other.

The beauty of the internet is that as long as net neutrality is protected, as you often advocate, there should be a space for the avant garde online.  And that space is very exciting still.

Yes, many established, originally amateur blogs, have become more professional, which is excellent and understandable.  Yet new independent and initially amateur blogs or progressive organizing sites are likely on the horizon.  It is great that there are more opportunities now than 7 years ago for these ventures to become full time professional ventures when successful.

I hope Silver (4.00 / 4)
stick to numbers and spares us (and the country) his godawful political analysis.  

This is certainly not true (4.00 / 2)
of the growing blogsphere in economics which is about where political blogs were in 2003.

It is depressing to think that the days of the amateur blogger are over (since I am one).  

I guess I shouldn't say they are "over" (4.00 / 3)
Just that they have been relegated to the sidelines in the 'sphere, after being the main attraction for a while.

Then again, the readerships are what make blogs important as much as anything, and there no professional progressive blog readers. So, amateurs are still central, in way.  

[ Parent ]
I think one of my favorite parts of Crashing The Gate... (4.00 / 1)
... was the part where if someone gets bought out by the mainstream political establishment there's always going to be someone to replace that person from the outside.

I'm tired of hearing this story on Open Left.  I don't believe it and I don't care if you do.  Maybe the "newness" of it has diminished but the greater force of the outsiders crashing the gates of the establishment is still in progress and hopefully continues for many years to come.

[ Parent ]
R.I.P. (0.00 / 0)


they have been relegated to the sidelines in the 'sphere, after being the main attraction for a while.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
What's your blog? (4.00 / 3)
Yeesh, how bout a little self-promotion?

[ Parent ]
We'll Be Watching (4.00 / 2)
Of course now that blogging has become professionalized the readers have to pay even closer attention to you guys than ever so we can catch you when you try to sell us out. :)

Please do! (4.00 / 5)
And, the second we start sucking too hard, for the love of God, please overthrow and replace us  with something better. Seriously.

[ Parent ]
And who would we replace you with? (0.00 / 0)
The amateur bloggers out there.  Amateur blogging is only dead as long as professional blogging serves the public.  The moment the big guys start to fail our needs, there's always that unpaid gal who's more than happy to fill the gap.  

[ Parent ]
We'll always have Media Whores Online... (4.00 / 2)
and Sidney Blumenthal's blog.  What do you call it?  Oh, yeah, "Eschaton".

MWO! (4.00 / 1)
Yes! Now there is an old school blog!

Ah, the good old days. Even though it was a pretty sucky time for me personally and the country politically, with enough distance in time I can even smile about 2002-2003 when I was (usually) unemployed and did nothing but read the early progressive blogosphere.  

[ Parent ]
And Billmon's Whiskey Bar (4.00 / 4)
will be fondly remembered.

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I even read Mickey Kaus pretty regularly before he went to Slate.

[ Parent ]
the ultimate old-school blog for me (4.00 / 3)
will always be Somerby's Daily Howler. I was reading about "the War against Gore" there before I found any other blogs.

Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

[ Parent ]
You didn't hear? (4.00 / 1)
Atrios is going to Newsweek.

[ Parent ]
Ha ha, right after they get sold to NewsMax. (0.00 / 0)
Yeah, sure.

[ Parent ]
Revolution (0.00 / 0)
Blogging will still be at the front lines of the revolution. The posts just won't get filtered on the NY Times:)

What about state and local blogospheres? (4.00 / 3)
Many amateur and semi-professional blogs are still struggling to keep going on the state and local levels.

Ensuring their continued existence should be of primary concern to any organization or individual interested in the success of progressive candidates, campaigns, and policies in the states.  

An excellent point (4.00 / 3)
And one we tried to address through the BlogPac grant program and through the center for Independent Media. Not sure how much we ended up helping, but we tried.

Amateurs still rule at the state and local level, that's for sure.

[ Parent ]
Although (0.00 / 0)
A number of them have agreed to be listed on PostPolitics new blog site- from what I hear, unpaid for the content being posted there. Calitics, Blue Mass Group, a few others.


Me on Facebook
Me on Twitter

[ Parent ]
in Iowa (4.00 / 1)
the Des Moines Register has taken on a few bloggers from the left, right and center. I think the salary paid is pretty token, but there is a bit of professionalization there, for lack of a better word. The Register bloggers can still blog elsewhere but have to come up with some exclusive posts for the DM Register site.

I wasn't interested because they don't allow people to use a blog handle.

Join the Iowa progressive community at Bleeding Heartland.

[ Parent ]
Is this a good thing? (4.00 / 1)
These bloggers won't sell us out to the Corporate Man now that they're getting paid the big bucks, right?

"Sell out" is maybe a bit too harsh, but sure some have changed. (4.00 / 2)
Most prominently Ezra Klein. He's lost his bite, and too many of his posts read as if he doesn't want to ruin his chances for a carreer in corporate media...

[ Parent ]
professionalization and co-optation (4.00 / 2)
Now, the progressive blogosphere is almost entirely professionalized, and inextricably linked to existing media companies and advocacy organizations.

which maybe helps explain the virtual lack of actual progressive (as opposed to neoliberal) advocacy among the politically partisan blogosphere.

professionalization wasn't a good thing when it happened to journalists and journalism. and i'm not so sure it is here either.

Avant-garde, "outsider" developments which prove to have real support are invariably co-opted by any successful, institutional establishment.

that's just not so. it depends on the goals of the individuals involved. are they interested in real change or in creating a place for themselves in within the current power structure?

co-optation is evidence of the answer to that question. but it's not a criticism, unless there is also evidence of hypocrisy. most of us want to find a way to fit in enough to succeed professionally.

and that, i suppose, is why genuine grass roots activism is almost always volunteer based.

Yes. (4.00 / 2)
For "co-opted", read "neutered".  That's not a gag, it's what the word has always meant.  I'm amazed Chris would use it - it's like a cry for help.

More liberal media at The Sideshow

[ Parent ]
And then there's Digby. (4.00 / 4)
. . .  

He's a neoliberal (4.00 / 1)
so he fits  into the mainstream media good.

Seeing a real progressive blogger get a spot in the mainstream media would be a real change.  This story is pretty blah!

My blog  

The blogoshere rewards those... (4.00 / 1)
with a skill differently than those who just have an opinion.  I have a blog about electronic design.  Over 3000 members paying me $5 a month to learn about electronics.  The cool thing is that this is just a hobby.  Don't tell my paying members that it's all over.

Well, this story is about political blogs. (0.00 / 0)
And many successful political bloggers not simply "just have an opinion", but also have investigated the facts they base it on, present them to the readers in a way that seperates the important points from the trivial stuff, and offer fresh ideas. So, yes, it's the additional skills that are rewarded, in the political blogosphere, too.

Btw, I wonder where you find the time to write about electronics, while you're so busy maintaining your 67 properties in Detroit. Or did the major already flatten that neighborhood? I read he's busy downsizing the city...

[ Parent ]
I now have 84 properties in Detroit... (0.00 / 0)
and like I said.  I write about electronics as a hobby.  Real Estate is also a hobby.  My main business is electronic mfg.  

[ Parent ]
Well, that was depressing. (0.00 / 0)
There are plenty of "amateur" bloggers left out there. Some of us even think we're doing a service.  But now that we're officially dead I guess we just hang it up and forget about it?

Wait. . .did I say that?  Naw, must have been that OTHER amateur.  I'll keep on keeping on--I'm too damned old to change my stripes now.  Besides, I have a country to save.

Okay, that was too flip (4.00 / 1)
I've been thinking about this, and frankly, I don't understand this post at all.  What is the point?  What makes us "dead"?  Because some of the "stars" have gone on to paid venues?  Where does that leave the rest of us?  Right where we've always been, that's where.

The Right is a formidable foe and we need our collective voices in order to be heard. Though I have the passion and the desire to make a difference, I have no real power unless I join forces with other like-minded folks.

When I said "I have a country to save", I don't think I'm saying anything that the rest aren't thinking. Aren't we all spending our time trying to save this country?  Can we do it alone?  Obviously not.  But we could do it together if we join forces.  I look at blogrolls on other sites and find insights and information I would never find simply by Googling or waiting for it to come to me.

We're not all going to agree or come at the issues in the same way, but our goal is the same:  Terrible things have been done to this country and now we need to fix them.  The blogosphere is an essential tool and I would hate to think we could be dissuaded that easily from giving it all we've got.  

[ Parent ]
This is wrong, for exactly the reasons you state. (4.00 / 4)
The liberal blogosphere exists precisely because the pros are a part of a single community that is simply out of touch.  Independent, amateur blogging by people who don't hang out with the Villagers or collect a paycheck from big media conglomerates are what has always made the liberal blogosphere, and made it vital.

Guys who work for The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and so on, are not doing the same job because they can't.  All of those organizations are owned and run by people who are at best center-right (but, really, neocons/neoliberals) and not liberal at all.  They'd fire the whole bunch of former independent bloggers if they really told the truth about what the real liberal arguments are.  Or have you forgotten what happened to Froomkin?

Plenty of us have the time to blog - especially all those unemployed or underemployed smart people who never turned their back on good policy in order to fall in love with Obama.  And the farther away we are from the Washington crowd, the more useful we are, because we are just ordinary people, not part of the structure that's killing us.

Really, there's no one at The Washington Post who is serving the purposes of liberal bloggers.  There isn't even anyone at the NYT who has a full liberal analysis - the closest they've got is Krugman, and he's still a free-trader.  And The Atlantic?  No liberal publication hires the kind of people they've got at The Atlantic.  Yglesias is not entirely stupid and he is a talented guy, but seriously, there's a reason he is loved more within the professional press corps than outside of it, and it's sure not his liberalism.  (He supported the invasion of Iraq, remember.)

So yes, there is still a need for liberal blogs, and still an audience for it - and still a cadre of people who have more than enough time and energy to devote to writing them, because the best reporters and analysts out there still can't get paid for what they do.

More liberal media at The Sideshow


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