As soon as I have time I going to post some ideas I’ve had coming out of the discussions in the wake of the Clinton blogger lunch. (My follow-up posts are here and here.) In the meantime, Chris has a post up at MyDD about the potential of local blogging that I think also speaks to some of the frustrations expressed in the last few days. Most of the discussion was, and is, focused on political blogging at the national level. After all, the focus on the top (most highly trafficked) progressive blogs makes national politics the focus, because that’s what most of them write about.
What I get from what Chris writes is that the field is already pretty crowded when it comes to political blogging on the national level. The national blogging scene, according to Chris, may be tapped out.
I point this out because I think that local blogging is the way of the future for the progressive movement. Partially, I write think because I think that the national scene is close to tapped out: we currently reach nearly every progressive political junkie who is also a heavy user of the Internet. While there are some demographic areas where we could make more gains, in general I do not feel that there is much room for national political blogging to grow. We already reach 17% of the Democratic electorate on a fairly regular basis, and how many more progressives are there who follow news closely enough, and who use the Internet frequently enough, to increase on that number? I can’t imagine it is very many.
I think Chris may be right about that (commenters on his post make some interesting counterpoints), and I think that may be what people are bumping up against with some of the issues that have been discussed in the last few days.
It’s not actually a new thing. In their report on the progressive blogosphere, Chris and Matt strongly recommend a focus on building strong progressive local and state blog networks.
While progressives may have a marked advantage in overall blogosphere discourse, it could also be argued that conservatives are taking a decisive lead in the sort of targeted blogging that will provide them with real,tangible benefits in the 2005‐2006 elections and beyond.
…To a certain extent, this is likely the result of several large progressive blogs offering quick and easy ways to take part in large communities, a phenomenon that is not found nearly as often in the conservative online world. Whatever the cause, though, this is a serious problem that progressives must confront. If they do not invest time, energy and resources building a local blog infrastructure superior to that currently possessed by conservatives, the comparative advantage of progressives’ overall traffic lead will be significantly reduced.
One of the things I heard recently was that there aren’t many issue specific blogs among the top progressive blogs, that account for most of the over all traffic in that category. It makes sense, because paring things down to specific issue focuses means narrowing the audience. Some specific issues will have larger audiences than others, and some will bubble up into broader national relevance more often than others, but none will attract an audience equal in size to the audience of blogs covering a broad range of issues on the national level. So, issue specific blogging means lower traffic and lower page views, no matter what. The same can be said of state and local blogging, even more so because the potential audience for state and local issues is by it’s very nature smaller than the national audience.
Unfortunately, I think that’s the biggest barrier to doing what Matt and Chris recommend in their report, and Chris reinforces in his post. It basically means that to some degree political bloggers have to shift their focus away from the top blogs, attaining that status or using it as a yardstick for themselves. That’s difficult, because it means — and this may not be the best metaphor, but stick with me —accepting that the big pond is full up with big fish, and choosing to be a relatively smaller fish in an absolutely smaller pond, and define success in that sphere.
For me, being in D.C. when I started blogging, and still being in very close proximity to D.C. now, made it easier to focus on national politics and blog about it from my own perspective. And then there were the obvious specific issues that were also my primary focus. They still are. Even after moving to Maryland, I’ve started reading a few more state and local blogs, but I haven’t blogged much about state and local issues because there aren’t that many that have interested me much, and the specific issues I write about most of the time cut across local, state, and even national boundaries.
So I’m probably not going to morph into a state/local blogger, but at this point I’m probably categorized as a political blogger primarily focused on gay issues and civil rights issues, but also with a focus on other national issues (like Iraq, Katrina, etc.). It may be that you can’t define or measure success in traffic or link statistics when it comes to the smaller spheres of blogging, but that success is better defined in terms of results related to specific issues and/or stories.
And those results in smaller spheres are rarely due to the efforts of one blogger, but are more likely due to bloggers who are networked to each other whether they know it or not. It’s reflected in my own experience by stuff like Zach’s story or the more recent LIFEbeat campaign. In both cases, a small group of bloggers mostly focused on a specific issue achieved bigger results than probably any of then could have alone. In both they were either loosely connected or their connections evolved out of focus on a particular story.
If more solid networks can be built by and/or for state and local, or blogs focused on specific issues and/or constituencies, it might be the beginning of increasing the effectiveness and reach of those blogs, whether it builds traffic or not (though it could if there’s support for that, which would be necessary for those networks to be effective in the larger progressive political arena).
And that’s what I’ve been thinking about for the last couple of days. More on that in a bit.