Honestly, after reading the latest FDL post — and comments — aimed at Liza, I'm begnining to think that some of these folks aren't people I want sit at a table with anyway. There's nothing more offensive than being told to remember your place, as zuzu aptly puts it. And we're supposed to be on the same team? Well, I've got a lot more to think about now. If nothing else, though, I'm glad I saw that FDL post. Experience has taught me to value and pay close attention to those moments when the mask slips and people (as Oprah one put it) show you who they really are.
Bottom line on all of this, given that folks were gonna blog about this meeting and folks were gonna read about it, some prior knowledge about who was invited but unable to attend would probably have saved everyone a lot of bandwith. There wasn't any intent or conscious effort to exclude bloggers of color, but neither was there any conscious recognition of how things would look and how they'd be interpreted in the absence of any context. Still, I'm glad I posted what I did because it was the catalyst for a much needed discussion. And because, as the FDL post I mentioned shows, it makes clear some things that weren't before.
Beyond all that, I want to chime in on a few other things.
Yes, there's definitely been a shift in power, in the blogosphere, particularly in terms of access to policymakers. From the 10,000 foot view, though, there hasn't been a shift in the general rules of the political game, as far as the relationship between access and influence; except that where bloggers are concerned it's the influence — in terms of the size of their audiences — that leads to access, rather than the other way around. Near as I can tell, those aren't rules that any of us made. It's just the nature of the beast.
Someone who linked to my post had a rather illuminating take on this as relates to electoral politics, etc.
"1) politicians care first and most about money and 2) high traffic bloggers with a track record of raising money are the logical choice for politicians to meet with …"
That's about as plain as it gets when it comes to bloggers and politicians. If you can't (a) bring them and/or their message to a wide audience and/or (b) help them raise lots of money, they don't necessarily have much of a reason to talk to you. So, ain't nobody running for any office higher than dogcatcher gonna go out of their way to talk to me as a blogger. Not because I don't have anything relevant to say, but because in a game where it's all about numbers — in terms of audience and/or money — there's not enough ROI to make it worthwhile.
But that's exactly why diversity matters. It matters who's at the table, because identity and experience inform perspective. Just as having a significant number of women at the table probalby changed the context and content of the discussion from what it would have been otherwise, so greater diversty at the table changes the discussion, by expanding the context through the wide and
varied experiences of the people at the table. It can't help but do so.
The less diverse the participants, the narrower the context of the
discussion will be, as well as the possibile solutions discussed.
Like it or not, power is now a factor in blogging — perhaps moreso in political blogging than in other spheres — and blogging is a power system. As such, it runs by simple rules.
In systems where many people are free to choose between many options, a small subset of the whole will get a disproportionate amount of traffic (or attention, or income), even if no members of the system actively work towards such an outcome. This has nothing to do with moral weakness, selling out, or any other psychological explanation. The very act of choosing, spread widely enough and freely enough, creates a power law distribution.
It needs to be extended, however, to include that failure to join that small subset doesn't necessarily have anything to do with moral weakness, lack of effort, or even the quality of those who remain outside the subset. The article goes on to explain how that subset gets reinforce when more people start reading blogs and naturally start with the ones that are most often recommended, etc. In other words, people tend to follow the herd.
I've said this before, but I find myself in a unique position in that I'm pretty well planted somewhere around the base of the long tail of blogging. Not at the bottom and not at the top, but close enough that I catch wind of what's happening at both ends. Given the kind of blogging I do, and what I tend to write about, that's probably where I'll stay, as I don't draw major traffic consistently enough to land on any top 100 list. I'm in a niche within a niche, and that's fine. But also on the radar of some other bloggers further up the curve than me — like Pam, Liz, and Michael at PageOneQ — and sometimes when my usual topics dovetail with what everyone else is talking about, they notice and send traffic my way. So, in a sense I have a foot in both worlds.
That brings me to my other point. There's another shift or change or reality check about the blogosphere that we might as well face. Some of us have known it for a while now. Some of us deny that it's a reality at all. But like it or not, the blogosphere — even the progressive blogosphere — has gatekeepers, whether they know that's what they are or not, whether any of us likes it or not.
Recognizing that reality presents an opportunity to challenge the usual rules of the game — or "power law," as Clay Shirky (author of the article linked above) likes to call it. Ignoring or denying those realities has consequences too. Little has been more frustrating than the insistence by some bloggers that the power system doesn't exist. I've read the "I am not a gatekeeper" posts. I've seen post after posts from some top progressive bloggers about who they're not going to link to and why, and they all appear to be based upon the same assumption; one that's most recently been repeated, and laid bare in its ugliest expression yet, in the FDL post I referenced earlier: anything that doesn't filter up to their level probably isn't any good and isn't worth reading, because if it were they or one of the bloggers they regularly read (and they generally all read and link to each other, regardless) would have seen it and linked it.
But, I read pretty far and wide in the progressive blogosphere. I read over 200 news and blog feeds per day. Of course some of that overlaps with my work. I know there's stuff out there among the millions of blogs that exist and the tens of thousands more that are created every day that is worth reading because it's well-written, relevant, and offers a perspective that's unlikely to be found further up the food chain. I link to as much of it as I can in hopes of bringing it to somewhat wider attention. But that's relative to and limited by my spot on the food chain.
The truth is there are different paths into the blogoshpere; a wide and well-travelled path that leads to the most popular blogs, and narrower paths that are less travelled but lead to some places worth going. Down the latter path is stuff that most people aren't going to find unless someone leads them there.
The problem stems from a couple of things that Clay Shirky points out in his article. On the one hand, there's the plight of the blog reader, faced with an ever growing number of blogs.
But people's choices do affect one another. If we assume that any blog chosen by one user is more likely, by even a fractional amount, to be chosen by another user, the system changes dramatically. Alice, the first user, chooses her blogs unaffected by anyone else, but Bob has a slightly higher chance of liking Alice's blogs than the others. When Bob is done, any blog that both he and Alice like has a higher chance of being picked by Carmen, and so on, with a small number of blogs becoming increasingly likely to be chosen in the future because they were chosen in the past.
On the other, there's the plight of the increasingly popular blogger.
At the head will be webloggers who join the mainstream media (a phrase which seems to mean "media we've gotten used to.") The transformation here is simple – as a blogger's audience grows large, more people read her work than she can possibly read, she can't link to everyone who wants her attention, and she can't answer all her incoming mail or follow up to the comments on her site. The result of these pressures is that she becomes a broadcast outlet, distributing material without participating in conversations about it.
But I'd add another facet to the scenario for Shirky's harried theoretical A-list blogger; perhaps as a result of those pressures, she largely restricts her reading and linking to those blogs in her neighborhood of the blogosphere and/or the power curve.
And an there's an extension of both in Jason Kottke's post, which linked to Shirky's article.
More specifically, the time that people have for visiting sites and linking to sites is limited. Mary only has so much time for visiting weblogs; if she goes to BoingBoing, she doesn't have time for MetaFilter. Some visitors are linkers and they link what they visit. Similarly, linkers have only so much time for linking. Sam can link to 20 sites about airplanes, but he can't link to 5000. The scarcity of people's time results in the distribution of links that can be described using power laws.
Thus the resulting rule is pretty well stated in this comment on MyDD.
Power reproduces itself. For it to be different, there needs to be an effort to make it so.
Which is basically what I said a long time ago.
It’s inevitable. That is, unless you make a conscious effort to do otherwise.
If nothing else, I hope this conversation is the beginning of that effort.
What that looks like, I don't know. Even Shirky notes audience size and traffic can't be the only metrics for success, but along with everyone else he falls short on just what those metrics are or should be. If I'm reading him right, I'd be better off blogging about what I had for dinner than about the stuff I do blog about. At least there's a metric of success for that if people I know and care about read it. But I think I fall more into the category of what he describes as "Blogging Classic" blogs, and for which even he can't offer a metric of success.
And maybe there just isn't one. Or at least not one that will get the 2nd or 3rd tier political blogger the ear of or even the time of day from policy makers. Maybe that's why bringing up all of the above usually get a frustrated response amounting to "well what do you want/expect people to do?" Maybe, as both the New York Times and the progressive blog report published by two of the top progressive bloggers notes, there are haves and have-nots in the blogosphere.
The problem, and perhaps it's more a human problem than a blogging problem, is that we can't seem to escape the assumption that anyone who's read their Lakoff knows well but thinks is only applied by the other side: He who has the most is the best. It follows, then, that who has less is less than, or at least less important than he who has the most. After all, if it were not so, he'd have more. Right?