Is the progressive blogosphere dead?

October 24, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

UPDATE (10/29/13): The progressive community is abuzz about a pair of posts from Ian Welsh and Jerome Armstrong about the “Failure of the Netroots.” My view is that Ian and Jerome are reflecting deep, often unspoken dismay among some progressives that the Obama presidency has been a disaster for their cause. Some of the most egregious national security practices and civil liberties violations of the Bush era have been expanded and enhanced under Obama, negating years of tireless, thankless activism by the netroots against the Bush-Cheney agenda.

Following is a post I wrote in response to a 2012 Daily Beast article about the decline of the liberal blogosphere which tracks some of the arguments made by Ian and Jerome. Note my (pre-Snowden) comments about Glenn Greenwald and my prediction that bloggers like Glenn would be among those who “help shape the national debate” in the years to come…

In 2005, I wrote “THE TRIANGLE: Limits of Blog Power,” about the power (and occasional powerlessness) of progressive blogs. Seven years later, the questions remain the same and the Daily Beast’s David Freedlander writes about the perceived decline of the liberal blogosphere, igniting a spirited debate among bloggers.

Jane Hamsher: “Pam has already touched on David Freedlander’s piece about the decline of independent blogs 10 years down the road.  There are many things that are true in his long piece, but he somehow doesn’t manage to ask the rather obvious question — where’s the money? …The reason increasing numbers of blogs can’t keep the lights on is simple –  Google.  As I wrote on Bytegeist recently, news advertising revenues (both online and off) have tanked since 2000, and that money is going straight to Google, who passes pennies on to news outlets for every dollar they receive.”

Susie Madrak: ” As Jane Hamsher points out, we lost revenue over Google ad practices. (Not to mention the Obama campaign’s refusal to buy ads directly from blogs. Guess they showed us, huh?) But I liked Pam Spaulding’s take best. Like me, Pam is just trying to stay afloat with her health problems…”

Pam Spaulding: “It’s not that independent political blogging is toast — after all the longevity of a blog post in the historical record far outweighs a short message on social media. A blog essay has more lasting influence; the problem is independent blogs don’t have sufficient value in today’s commercial space to sustain their existence —  save for the lucky few people who have been able to monetize (or fundraise) for theirs to continue to exist.”

Raven Brooks: “The dynamics of the Netroots may have changed since its beginnings in 2004, but the influence has grown. Freedlander’s premise that people of influence dismiss progressive bloggers is simply not true. Not a day goes by without a staffer, candidate or elected official asking for advice on how to reach bloggers–and get money and support from their readers.”

I spoke to Freedlander for his article and suggested three factors affecting blogosphere influence. The first two are obvious byproducts of the evolution of social media. First, traffic naturally migrates to newer platforms and the plethora of online communication outlets necessarily diminishes traffic to blogs.  Second, the medium has matured and much of the early excitement over bloggers and blogging has waned. The third reason is political: the tenuous relationship between the Obama campaign/administration and a number of prominent progressive blogs has fractured the community.

Still, I believe that progressive bloggers can – and do – play an outsized role in our political dialogue, something I emphasized to Freedlander. In fact, I’ve argued that a handful of them made a significant difference in perceptions of the Obama presidency:

When Robert Gibbs attacked the professional left he didn’t specify anyone by name, but the assumption was that it was cable personalities, disaffected interest groups, bloggers and online commenters. With each passing day, I’m beginning to realize that the crux of the problem for Obama is a handful of prominent progressive bloggers, among them Glenn Greenwald, John Aravosis, Digby, Marcy Wheeler and Jane Hamsher.

Some will dismiss these bloggers as minor players in the wider national discourse, but two things make them a thorn in the administration’s side:

a) they have a disproportionately large influence on the political debate, with numerous readers and followers — among them major media figures

b) they develop the frames and narratives that other progressive Obama critics adopt and disseminate

That was two years ago. Two years from now there will still be progressive bloggers who help shape the national debate.

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