Amateur Blogosphere, RIP: follow-up

by: Chris Bowers

Fri Jun 04, 2010 at 17:24

An article I wrote yesterday, Amateur Blogosphere, RIP, has generated a lot of discussion (apparently, a decent amount at Personal Democracy Forum, too).  Even though it is a subject on which I have spent a great deal of thought, the article was written in haste, and so it did not convey the full context of my thoughts.  As such,  this afternoon I think it it important to provide some clarification.

My basic premise is that the progressive political blogosphere--and I am NOT speaking about other blogospheres, since I do not know much about them--is now almost entirely dominated by political and media professionals. But there is more to it then that:

  1. Vast majority of bloggers still unpaid: First, let me clarify that the vast majority of progressive political bloggers are still unpaid hobbyists who blog as a labor of love.  Like, over 99% still fall into that category.

  2. Professionals dominate market share:  What has changed since the formative days of the progressive political blogosphere in 2003 (and earlier), is that 95% or more of the audience share goes to three or four dozen bloggers who are now full-time media and / or political professionals. Over 95% of the audience of progressive political blogging goes to a small number of blogs anyway, and those blogs are now almost entirely run by people who take blogging and / or politics as their primary source of income.

  3. The trend is very recent: Seven years ago, there were no professional, progressive political bloggers.  That began to change when media outlets like the Washington Monthly hired Kevin Drum, when advertising services like Blogads became available, and when political campaigns decided it was time to start spending money to invest in the Internet. Those developments, all of which occurred in 2003, opened up the three paths to professionalization: 1) get hired full-time by a media outlet or non-profit, 2) make enough income to live off your own blog, or 3) parlay your blogging into political consulting work.

  4. The trend is irreversible:  We will never return to the days (some may say glory days) when the progressive political blogopshere is dominated by unpaid hobbyists.  This is because it is virtually impossible for a hobbyist to compete with professionals who are actually paid to spend all day blogging.  No one has enough free time to blog as much as Matthew Yglesias, David Dayen, or the front page of Daily Kos.

  5. New voices will still emerge, but only within the professionalized context: Undoubtedly, new voices will still emerge from the hobbyist world.  However, when they do those bloggers will emerge within established, professionalized blogs in order too attract an audience in the first place (hell, this was already the case by 2006, as I discussed in my first ever  article on Open Left), Further, these new voices will have to become professionals themselves in order to sustain their efforts over the long-term.
I hope that helps provide more solidity and clarity to my thesis. I stand by it, but I think it makes a lot more sense with this added context.
Chris Bowers :: Amateur Blogosphere, RIP: follow-up

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And probably needless to say (4.00 / 3)
the ones who sign on with established media outlets or orgs -- Ezra Klein, Ygelesias, Drum, Silver, Greg Sargetn -- are moderate, establishment-pleasing progressives. Washpo won't be hiring Chris Floyd any time soon. I suppose Greenwald is an exception but Salon itself is liberal pub, not a mainstream one.

It's not as if the netroots is a stepping stone for lefties to get into the MSM.

To The Contrary (0.00 / 0)
WaPo dumped Froomkin, remember?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
WaPo Seems Intent On Suicide (But Must Appeal to DC) (0.00 / 0)
For some reason, I read Froomkin less since he moved to HuffPo, but I hardly read WaPo at all anymore.

Advice to those making a living blogging:

Bash those in power.


Because bashing people out of power will not move you up the power food chain.

[ Parent ]
Here's a question (0.00 / 0)
Other than Nate Silver, what new "major" bloggers have emerged since 2007?  I always fear that there are great new voices out there that I don't know about because no one's linking to them.

actually (4.00 / 2)
I blogged close to as much when I had a full-time job.  Because I was really really good at wasting time on non-employment pursuits. :)

There are a couple professions that have enough leisure time built in to blog.  I'm thinking particularly of professors, which is kind of an adjunct of the blogosphere; professionals, but not media professionals.  This is the exception rather than the rule, however, and in general I think your thesis is correct.

Insert shameless blog promotion here.

I know it's none of my business (4.00 / 1)
but I'd love to have a look under the hood as to how FDL manages to pay someone to do the work you do. There's no way donations or ad revenue could cover it, let alone you and a dozen other people. I thought maybe you were a trust fund baby or something, but I guess not.

[ Parent ]
Funny (0.00 / 0)

There are a couple professions that have enough leisure time built in to blog.  I'm thinking particularly of professors,

Yes Virginia, when professors are not standing up in class reading out their slides, they are in their office wasting time on the blogs.

And they are all Communists.

[ Parent ]
Not all, but some (0.00 / 0)
I've know professors (tenured, upper ranks, low level school) who managed to make their jobs pretty cushy, at the expense of tempt, adjuncts, students and lower ranking faculty.

[ Parent ]
I'm surprised (0.00 / 0)
This would be controversial at all.  You have to stretch to describe the netroots as anything but professionalized and the trend has been pretty evident for quite some time.

An interesting question would be:  Will the number of major bloggers increase, decrease or stay steady over time in connection with the size of the netroots audience?  If 1,000,000 more people decide to be regular liberal blog readers, would that create a couple new voices, or just add a few percent to the existing players' traffic?

I suspect the latter but would hope for the former.

Overall this is a provocative idea (0.00 / 0)
that is most likely wrong. On the one hand there will always be people like Digby who can have a huge indirect impact based on sheer talent despite having very little money and relatively little traffic. On the other hand I've noticed that blogs can become dinosaurs very quickly (I'm looking at you, dKos)--that is they become so big and unwieldy that they start losing audience to smaller more specialized blogs. This is not something I dreamed up: Google the traffic numbers for Kos versus a newer blog, say Mediaite. If Mediaite delivers the quality they could easily become Kos in 10 years, and so on and so on.

Generally right (4.00 / 1)
But the free time argument isn't good. Not all bigtime pro bloggers are prolific, and some amateurs (retirees, part-time workers, spouses, the independently wealthy) can crank out tons of stuff.

There are formal networking reasons why a few sites will have exponentially more viewers, with the next layer having exponentially more viewers than the third layer, etc. And it reinforces, so success breeds more success.

The top amateurs can hope to be hired as pros, or they can form niches for themselves, working on a specific topic or with a specific region or a specific faction. But that's about it.

Who is the most recent new successful blogger come up from the ranks? I have no idea at all, just asking.  

I don't think that Nate Silver counts (4.00 / 1)
He's a brilliant pollster and statistician who has chosen to publish on the internet. As I understand he's accredited (PhD) too. He'd be a professional one way or another.  

[ Parent ]
Nate Silver doesn't have a PhD (4.00 / 1)
He has only a BA (in economics). His "acreditation" comes from his own talent and effort.

[ Parent ]
I thought a bit about your (0.00 / 0)
post. I guess I have three reactions:

1.  It suggests the rise of a Versailles of bloggers.  This has been going on for a while, and I actually find less diversity of views in the liberal blogsphere now than 4 or 5 years ago. As a result, it is getting sloppy on occasion.

Example: I saw three fp posts (one here sad to say) about the Massachusetts Senate Race bemoaning the decline in youth turnout.  In fact, however, there was virtually no decline in turnout (17% in '08, 15% in the Senate race).  But that fact got in the way of the point that the posters wanted to write, and they didn't bother to look at the data.  They just assumed it to be the case.

And in so doing acted just like professional journalists.

What I find most disturbing is the implicit rejection that they are ways to collaborate. Yet without that collaboration, blogsphere will become little different from the mainstream press.

Versailles fell.  A new Versailles gets built, and usually after some time starts acting like the old one.

2.  There is a huge, gaping hole in liberal blogsphere: its inability to understand political economy.  The number one issue in the World today is globalization. You can go months without seeing the word on most of the liberal blogs.  
The inability to develop any sort of narrative about this issue suggests to me that blogs will rise based on their ability to discuss the issue.  

The new blogsphere really took off when it filled a need - opposing the Iraq War - that wasn't being filled by politicians or the press. The same is true for political economy, and to date the existing sites haven't filled the gap.

3.  I don't have a problem with people getting paid.  One of the fundamental challenges for an amateur blogger is finding the time to research something in depth, and for many that is hard.  However, there more than a few people whose professional careers (I am one) make it impossible for us to be paid without creating conflicts.

Example: When I research polling history, I sometimes have to resort to looking at old newspapers via microfiche - and that takes time.  I also have had to buy access to polling archives - which costs money.  I am currently researching the relationship of Senator approval ratings to their final vote.  I am going back to 1980 - which has taken an enormous amount of time.  I hope to be finished by September - but I first thought about this in early '09. I may never finish it.

This problem has increased with Obama's election.  As the focus has moved from politics to policy, blogsphere has at times struggled to remain relevant.  Policy is far more complicated than politics, and there is threshold you have to cross before you are taken seriously.  I think in many ways, blogsphere isn't professional ENOUGH, because we don't have the resources to respond quickly when needed.  I think, for example, we struggled to keep up with changes in the Stimulus Package.

The simple truth is that maybe we don't have a role in the future beyond reading blogs. The comments at DKOS are less and less relevant to what is written on the front page, something that is true across many blogs.  Between and third to a half of the diaries I write at DKOS make the reclist.  I had one that made the top of the list over the winter: it got about 4,000 views.  

But that is a tiny fraction of the views that the main page gets.  I doubt 10% of the people who go to a blog ever open up the comments.  In many ways the idea that something important EVER happens in the comments at major blogs is no different than thinking that comments at the New York Times change their reporting.

All of this makes the comment wars comical in a way.  And it makes answering the question of why post at all harder and harder to answer.


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