The Republic of T.

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Shifting Focus: Big Sphere vs. Small Sphere Blogging

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Clinton Blogger Lunch

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.

Series NavigationMy Apology to Jane Hamsher and FDLOne More Blogging & Diversity Post

10 Comments

  1. 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.

    You know… more and more I have to shake my head that these are the people who have elected themselves leaders of the liberal blogosphere…

    Is he insane?

    I absolutely… or at least mostly (have not read every word) agree on the local blogging… I think people with a strong interest in their local communities should be forming coalitions, forming media watches and so on, and replicating much of the stuff on the national scene. And start building from the school board type level. That’s pretty much a given.

    But as for “the national scene being close to tapped out”… my god. Your “top liberal blogs”… dailykos, FDL, mydd, atrios, americablog and the dkos satellite blogs such as myleftwing and booman tribune and so on, and whoever else I am forgetting – they all share the same reader base. While each blog has its own loyal readers that don’t wander far from home, a goodly number just go from blog to blog to blog in the little inner circle, checking to see what so and so is saying, and what about so and so, what have they written today?

    Occasionally one of them (usually kos) will go on TV and another inrush of people will come to dailykos (or whichever blog got the publicity), where they find the talk of outside blogs – mostly the same ones that are on the little blog rolls and so they start the entire process all over, going from blog to blog to blog, maybe finding a home at one, or maybe just visiting and going back to their home base. I’ve never quite understood the idea behind promoting this sort of circling readership (except maybe to drive up “unique” numbers), but it never occurred to me that they would actually believe those are mostly unique visitors.

    Well, now… who is missing? Well, there are the POC, obviously… many non white folk have departed from the big box political blogs and formed their own sites, or mostly hang out on someone else’s that is not part of the big blog political circle. This does not mean that they are not interested in national politics though… just not in that sort (or in some of the treatment they receive at these blogs when writing about issues important to them).

    An even larger group, though (and of course there is crossover) are people who are more focused on progressive politics and policies, in changing the way things are done in politics, in DC, in how politicians are chosen and so on, in social justice, women’s political issues and all that… the much derided “special interest/single issue groups” – which are not actually single issue at all – who make the political party possible… vitally interested in the national scene, but not particularly interested in Democratic blogs and being ATM machines or in helping to promote right wing Democrats in what they might view as a self defeating political strategy.

    Who else… young people. Most of these blogs do not at all work to bring in youth, either before they can vote in order to build them up politically and give them tools, or when they are in college and stuff. If they show up, fine… and some definitely do, but there are plenty of others out there that, again, may not be attracted to the type of party politics as usual type thing.

    These are all people who are currently online (and, of course, there are other group types as well, am just thinking off the top of my head), but they have yet to be tapped into, for whatever reason.

    I’ll look forward to the rest in your series and I hope you include more words of wisdom from… who was that, Bowers? After the past few days, a laugh is definitely welcome 😉

  2. You know… more and more I have to shake my head that these are the people who have elected themselves leaders of the liberal blogosphere…

    Is he insane?

    Thank you. I think it’s just one more indication of how some of these folks have got the big head from listening to their echo chambers.

  3. Heh… well this one isn’t even the worst of it.. he has a new one up with not only his explanation for the white blogger thing, but his um… solutions. Or something.

    Oh, and somewhere on the page between the two posts, he has one saying something like “if we don’t turn out our base, we will lose”.

    I think the answer to my question is… a resounding, yes. Seriously, my stomach hurts from laughing so hard, lol.

    Oh, by the way, in my first comment I was using “self elected leaders of the liberal blogosphere” sort of snarkily. Little did I know…

  4. Listen, at least Bowers is willing to engage in a dialogue about the issue raised over the weekend. The silence is deafening from much of the A-list.
    We have had too much talking about, and talking at lately.

  5. Gimme time folks. Once I wrap up the day job for the evening, kiss the family and put them to bed, I’m going to try and articulate what I think we can do to help one another.

  6. Lorin… he’s not exactly “engaging in dialogue”. He’s basically saying.. “Listen, we were there, we were all white because we are the leaders and the leaders were all white, and if we’d invited anyone else who was not all white and thus, not a leader, we wouldn’t have been as politically effective. And it’s just too bad that all the leaders are white, and maybe we can change that a little, or maybe not”

    These “leaders of the liberal blogosphere” really, really need political/PR/motivational, something consultants. What a farce this entire episode has been, from beginning to… well, we’re not at the end yet. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next!

    I can’t imagine any politician actually following this entire mess would come out of it with the idea that these “leaders” had a clue what they were doing, lol.

    BUT… they sure can raise money, and that’s all that really matters.

  7. Well, at this point, I’m no longer focusing on what they will or won’t do. My focus at this point is on what we can do, by and for ourselves.

  8. “Listen, we were there, we were all white because we are the leaders and the leaders were all white, and if we’d invited anyone else who was not all white and thus, not a leader, we wouldn’t have been as politically effective. And it’s just too bad that all the leaders are white, and maybe we can change that a little, or maybe not”

    LOL! Girl, you’re killing me! I went over there and used the term, “self-proclaimed” leaders in my post.

  9. Terrance, excellent! Because, (at least it seems to me) what they have come up with is basically, listen we are deservedly the leaders and there really is no more room for more, cuz we have it all sewn up, but we can start an affirmative action program to sort of help all the rest of y’all so called diverse people to maybe become good enough to join us. Jeebus.

    Move the center of power, is my view. Or at least part of it.

    LOL Sonya, good. Not that that will penetrate what seems to be a very real core of self delusion, but… Oh, and super excellent article at culture kitchen, by the way.

    Anyway, I really must stop laughing – I don’t think they could have handled this entire thing worse if they had planned it.

  10. Bowers take is definitely … interesting. And while I see his point (it goes along with the Dems “50 State Strategy”). But it will only work if:

    1. Bloggers are willing to sacrifice a chance at being a “bigshot” to focus on a single/local issue.

    2. The “bigshot” blogs show these smaller ones some love with links;

    3. The national issue blogs do, in reality, cover all the bases.

    The first two are fairly easy to address, but it’s the last one that I think throws a bit of a wrench in the works. Sure, some of the big boys/girls have great takes, but I find the smaller ones have some more unique perspectives.

    And to say that there isn’t room? I don’t buy it. Just look at FDL or the Huffington Post — those two got popular quick simply because of who runs them, not because they provided some amazing insight not found elsewhere. The fact is, others have made the same points but don’t get the love for whatever reason.

    Anyway, I look forward to the rest of your thoughts on this matter. And just let me know what — if anything — my little pissant self can do to help.

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