Happy birthday, Netroots! According to the Daily Beast, you're ten years old and on the other side of full vibrance.
Our own Susie Madrak was quoted in their article as one of the original denizens of the political netroots:
Madrak’s example is typical. She blogs, she says, more than ever, up to 20 times per day. But traffic is a third of what it was at its peak, and instead of being able to make a living through ad dollars, she is forced to seek donations intermittently on her site.
“The days when people could be very influential in the blogosphere aren’t here anymore,” she said.
There are other quotes, but I invite you to read the entire article.There are some things right about that article and there are some things very, very wrong, in my opinion. The underlying premise seems to be that the netroots fractured in 2007-2008, as Democrats split into the Hillary/Obama/Edwards camps, and while anger at each other simmered under the surface, it was directed toward Obama:
“I supported John Edwards,” Madrak said. “And the Obama people were very vehement about what they thought about it. And they up and left the site if they thought you were being irrational about Obama. I still don’t know where they went. They just up and disappeared.”
Although the Obama campaign raised a record amount of money online, they never quite made common cause with online activists.
“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.”
There's certainly some truth to that, though I would also point out that Susie blogs here as do I, and I'm one of the Obama supporters who disappeared from pro-Hillary and pro-Edwards blogs around March, 2008, but not because I didn't like them or respect their points of view. I simply did what most people do: I found an affinity group that included people who were supporting Barack Obama, and for me, that affinity group could be found on Obama's website and Twitter.
It's oversimplifying to credit the 2008 primary season with some great divide in the progressive blogosphere. It suggests people can't move past differences of opinion and see a bigger picture. Really, there are other reasons that have nothing to do with the 2008 primaries. It is also true that the health care debate caused a divide between those who were all in for the public option and those who were all in for the elimination of pre-existing conditions exclusions, public option or not. But that rift is healing, too. Whether it heals because the alternative is the next best thing to the ninth circle of hell or because one actually supports the president, it's healing over time. Obamacare isn't a pejorative term anymore.
Let's be clear here: The progressive blogosphere could use some shoring up, but it's hardly dying. Go read Markos' post to see the numbers and what we've accomplished together over the years. It's also fairly obvious the author framed this story to concern troll his hypothesis that bloggers just ain't what they were in the good old days. He interviewed John Amato and used none of his interview, probably because what John said didn't fit the narrative.
Still, there are issues that plague our progressive corner of the world, particularly in the Land of Independent Bloggers.
Politics can be hazardous to your health.
Pam Spaulding touches on one of the biggest reasons: Money and health issues.
And what about the rest of us? I’ve been at this since 2004, and for me blogging has never paid enough to quit my demanding day job (PHB generates much less revenue since the move to FDL due to many reasons, including how the ad market [dys]functions). The fact is that long-form writing takes time and energy that my health currently doesn’t agree with a lot of the time.
Pam is fortunate to have that demanding day job. Susie and I both know the stress of not having one and dealing with health issues, too. The popular impression of political bloggers is one where we're spread out with the laptop in our pajamas picking and choosing the story of the day.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. This is a stressful gig. Rewarding as hell, but stressful. My own struggle has been to manage stress in a way that doesn't cause physical damage, but in the past two weeks, my back has been screaming at me that the election had better be over pretty soon or it will rebel. It's already making ugly noises. Blogger's sciatica may not yet be in the doctor's manual of known ailments, but I'm here to tell you it absolutely exists.
So does carpal tunnel syndrome. Just ask Susie about that.
Please understand that I'm not your mother complaining about all her aches and pains to lay guilt on, but anyone who thinks feeding the content beast on a daily basis is a piece of cake doesn't actually do it. Or have to soak in the idiocy of network pundits on Fox or right-wing lunatics online, which could lead to really bad habits, like smoking and drinking.
Google Ads ate the blogosphere
No joke. They really have. Those ads for Mitt Romney you see when you visit C&L? Yeah, those are Google ads. I hear occasionally from readers who think those Google ads are offensive. Guess what? We do too, but we can't get actual ad buys on the site, because of political consultants who step in between the netroots and our revenue stream.
It used to be that progressive groups, presidential and congressional campaigns, think tanks and the like would buy first party ads on all of our sites. That funding stream is crucial to our survival, but in the last two years many have switched their buys, including prominent groups that claim to support progressive media. It's frustrating on many levels, but the simplest reason they should buy first party ads again is because we are the only sites that carry a distinct progressive message. Also, we reach vast audiences on a daily basis that these groups need to support them in these troubled times. We often promote progressive causes of these groups when possible, but nowadays it's not reciprocated. I hope that changes.
"Social media consultants" have definitely infiltrated politics and guide their clients toward ad buys that line their own pockets. When a campaign hires a consultant, that consultant handles their ad buys on Facebook and Twitter and blogs at a premium, which pays the consultant.
And then there's Google itself. As another Daily Beast article points out, Google is sucking up advertising cash across all businesses and suffocating them in the process.
Where has that $40 billion gone? Here’s a suggestion: last year Google generated $37.9 billion in revenue, 96 percent of which came from advertising. The bulk of these ad dollars come from traditional finance, retail, travel, and education companies that—presumably—would have otherwise advertised in the dead-tree press. So far, so good for Google: if it can deliver advertising more efficiently and more directly to the consumer, it deserves to win this race.
I don't necessarily agree with the author's conclusion, but I do think if you added political advertising in there you'd get an idea of how Google has overtaken online advertising and in the process, choked the revenues away from independent blogs like this one.
Unlike Susie and others, my entrance to the blogosphere was not via politics. I had my little personal blog which I used as an incubator for other projects and a learning space for HTML, CSS, and other techie things while employed by a large website where I built a blog network of health professionals. When I left in 2008, the network was thriving and driving traffic into the site for more information.
In 2006, I was so frustrated with politics and particularly foreign policy that I started blogging about it on my personal site. The 2008 election was the most engaged I had ever been in electoral politics. Up to that point, my career had put my focus on policy, particularly retirement and health policy. So I stepped up the blogging, and then the economy went to hell, health care reform was being debated, and I had a decent Twitter following which gave me an audience to share the actual facts about Obamacare instead of the lies being spewed by the right wing.
I could go on, but my point here is that I had some strengths to bring to the netroots table both in community building and in content creation, and thanks to NicoleBelle and John Amato, I found a home here where those could be used to get the message to a wider audience.
Over the span of those years, I've noticed a trend, though. Independent bloggers are being consumed by larger media outlets. Joy Ann Reid and Ezra Klein at MSNBC and the Washington Post are examples. There are many others, because these corporate media outlets recognize the value of strong online voices and have chosen to promote them. That's great. I applaud them for it, but those are two voices that aren't independent anymore.
In 2008, the Huffington Post featured independent bloggers who could at least find an amplifier for their voice, if not a paycheck. Now they're owned by AOL. The Daily Beast is owned by Newsweek. Gawker gets huge traffic from their AOL traffic, and despite discovering stories from here and elsewhere, doesn't have a great record of linking back. Greg Sargent is now a Washington Post blogger, too. Again, that's great for them, but these are narrow spaces and not everyone will fit into them.
C&L has always been my go-to for the best video clips, but more and more sites are crowding that space over time now, too. From ThinkProgress to Mediaite, our success with video clips showed them how to succeed.
This is the nature of the market. The more crowded the space, the fiercer the competition. I think it makes us all sharper and more tuned in to what's important in many ways, but take note: serving video is expensive and we have one of the most complete collections of video relating to politics on the web. We're proud of that distinction. We have media outlets who come to us to find archive video!
Those are challenges. All of them. Yet, we will survive. (Do you hear Gloria Gaynor yet?)
Community will prevail
One of the areas where I most disagree with the Daily Beast article is on the question of community. The author says that those with robust Twitter and Facebook followings win. There' s no question that Twitter and Facebook and even Google+ are part of our larger community. None whatsoever. But they are not the whole community. You, our regular visitors and subscribers come here because you like our voice, what we're saying, or how we're saying it.
That is the essence of community. We know you can find news all over the Internet and even in your own inboxes, where all of us are probably sick of the political asks and ZOMGs sitting there waiting for us to click and hopefully click through. It's community where the value is, and it's community that brings people back, and it's community that mourns when one of our own passes away or suffers from health problems.
Online community is the center of why places like this exist. Are the netroots dead? Most certainly not. Are we gasping for air? You betcha. But we're gasping because corporate forces have their hands around our virtual necks. Gotta pay the bandwidth bills and the hosting charges, keep the traffic up and still deliver. In the end, the reason we do this is to deliver, not for Google or campaigns, but for the community.
Community is why the netroots will not die, why we will survive Google's squeeze, and why we do this. In the end, it's a labor of love that pays off in a robust, thriving, engaged online community of people who take our influence with them to work, to family and to friends and spread those messages far and wide.
That's a major part of what Freedlander got wrong in his article, and we're going to prove him wrong over time.
And yes, this is where I point you to the end of things, where the Donate button is. Because we're all in this together.