A Farewell To Pajamas
Topic: Progressive Op-Ed Program
The days of the pajama-wearing blogger hitting the big-time are over. Established news and political organizations are proving adept at co-opting the blogosphere.
This week, the social media tracking website Technorati released new rankings of the top 50 political blogs generating the most buzz and discussion online. Commenting on the new additions to the rankings, social media analysis website Tech President wrote “The first six additions to the list--The Plum Line, Glenn Thrush, etc.--are all backed by major media outlets.”
Rather than bathrobe-clad soloists, most of the top 25 political blogs in the United States are now produced by long-established media organizations like CNN and The New York Times, backed by investment-funded operations like Salon and The Huffington Post, or supported by well-endowed non-profits like the Center for American Progress and Media Matters for America. The outside and inside of the political media world are merging.
Before long, the few remaining independent political blogs will themselves be transformed into professional operations, become purchased by professional operations, or see themselves replaced by professional operations. Edgy, independent commentary on news reported by other outlets simply doesn’t cut it anymore.
Either you start gathering news on your own (like Talking Points Memo), specialize in polling and elections (like fivethirtyeight.com), serve as a major platform for discussion (like Daily Kos), become a full-fledged activist organization in your own right (like Fire Dog Lake), or sell your services to a news outlet with real financial backing (and most of them are looking to buy), or you simply won’t be publishing information with enough distinct value to make it on your own.
Larger news organizations are able to charge 35-50 times as much for online advertising as smaller, independent websites. With their extra revenue, those organizations can make their websites load faster, look better, and have more features than yours. They can outbid you for talent by offering health insurance, weekends, and vacations. They can get booked on cable news channels, and get political staffers to return their calls. And if all else fails, they can just buy you.
Why did we ever think it would be any different? How were random individuals working on a part-time, volunteer basis ever supposed to supplant the established news media? Sure, they made a real dent, but even before the dent hardened into place many news outlets starting co-opting some of the successful tactics that were originally used to hurt them. Now they too have partisan bloggers with loose editorial leashes, frequently updated content produced just for political junkies, links to outside websites, and thriving comment sections.
In some ways, this is a positive. Established media is now a lot more interactive. It does a better job of serving the needs of political junkies. It is actually more informative of the overall political process. Now that a professional progressive media spectrum has arisen, it also represents a wider range of perspectives than it did only two or three years ago.
However, looking back on my five and a half years as an independent political blogger who managed to turn a hobby into a career, it makes me deeply sad to see so many hang up their pajamas. No matter what has been gained, we have lost a world of more idiosyncratic voices. There is less emotion, less honesty, less populism than the older blogosphere. There are fewer rants, fewer breakthrough moments. Less ignorance, less hatred--and, most importantly, less fear--is sent our way by a clueless political and media establishment that simply didn’t know what to do with us.
I used to love the thrill that came from shaking the throne of power. Now I mainly worry about doing more original reporting, re-designing my website, and developing a more systematic election forecasting system for 2010. Basically, I worry about turning my website into a more professional operation.
As necessary as I know this process is, it also feels against the original spirit of our endeavors. All of it makes me wonder if it has come to the point where we need a new generation of pajama wearing bloggers to replace the current wave of nouveau political and media professionals.
This article was produced as part of Commonweal Institute's Progressive Op-Ed Program