Thursday, April 05, 2007

Getting Paid To Blog

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The Nation raises the shame of the leftie blogosphere: We don't support our own in the way that counts the most:

As bloggers become some of the progressive movement's most effective voices, the left still has not figured out how to provide them with the resources they need to keep going. Although philanthropists like George Soros have shown that they aren't scared of the Internet--Soros gave $5 million to MoveOn in 2004-- bloggers still are not on the radar of most grant-making foundations. "Bloggers are nobodies in the political funding world," says Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos. Although some blogs are making money through blog ads (Daily Kos charges $9,000 per week for a premium spread; over at TPM, advertisers pay up to $10,000 for a spot on its premium sidebar), blogging remains a labor of love for the vast majority of online reporters and pundits. And that's a real problem. "When blogs understand the power that they have--when they all start talking about the same story, they can break through into mainstream media news," observes Joel Silberman, a communications consultant who has trained bloggers for network television appearances. "But how do we fund these people? This is the big overwhelming question."

Peer-produced media like blogs and Wikipedia have become the cornerstones of new creative projects that largely depend on the coordinated work of volunteers. But can they thrive without financial backing? Moulitsas says no. "There has to be a financial incentive to stick with blogging," he says. "There will be a subset of blogs that will be OK on their own, but there is a larger group of bloggers who need to be taken care of. There are bloggers like Digby who should not have to work a day job given what they bring to the progressive movement."

It's the same old story: progressives tend not to put their money where their mouth is. "On the left, there's a tendency to think that political operations should work for free," says Chris Bowers, a blogger for MyDD. Susan Gardner, a fellow at Daily Kos who once observed that money is to liberals what sex is to conservatives, says that not paying bloggers devalues their effort. "The left looks at money as so suspect that it expects a lot of volunteer labor. That's dishonoring the work." The left's attitude towards money is, of course, in direct contrast with the right, which has systematically poured money into conservative media and think tanks for decades.

Unfortunately, this article is a near-perfect illustration of the problem. Becca Golubock Watson writes about the difficulty experienced by progressive bloggers who do not have the financial resources available to a relatively small number of famous and successful bloggers on the left, and who does she quote or mention to make her case? Josh Marshall, Marcy Wheeler, Markos Moulitsas, Chris Bowers. These are the stars of the blog world; the blogs they write for or own -- Talking Points Memo and TPMuckraker, Firedoglake, Daily Kos, My DD, are at the top of the liberal blogosphere's A list.

With a minimal amount of effort, Watson could have found hundreds of blogs with only moderate or even little to no name recognition that are original, engaging, well-written, and deserving of a wider audience. Why didn't she talk to the people who run these blogs? We are the ones who know what it's like to be so in love with blogging that we would blog every waking hour if we could only afford to stay home and do that. We are the ones who have tried every marketing strategy from Google Adsense to affiliate programs to tip jars. We are the ones who leave comments on blogs we enjoy reading because we've heard it's a good way to get noticed; who beg for reciprocal blogrolling. We work hard to polish and improve our writing, to write elegantly, concisely, engagingly -- because we've been told and anyway we know for ourselves that top-notch writing is the best marketing tool there is.

The problem is, there are thousands of political blogs out there, and an astounding percentage of them are really, really good. Most will never get the kind of recognition that leads to $10,000 ads and the chance to quit your day job and blog full-time. And yes, one of those bloggers is me.

Toward the end of the Nation piece, there is this sentence:

Moulitsas, Bowers, and many other bloggers express hope that foundations and progressive think tanks will begin funding fellowships to provide what Bowers calls "a room of one's own for bloggers."

I think that's a great idea, but we have to do more than "hope" that it will happen. We need to strongly urge and encourage organizations in a position to fund bloggers to get off their duffs and do so. There needs to be an ongoing conversation at all levels of the blogosphere and between all levels. We need more cross-pollination. We cannot be having Atrios and Kos and Josh Marshall and other A-listers talking only to each other and to reporters about how bloggers who are not financially self-supporting should get the financial support they need. Perhaps some of those influential bloggers who are always being quoted in the mainstream media should set up mentoring programs for less well known and unknown bloggers. Perhaps they should offer their own blogs as a forum for guest bloggers who are astute, talented writers but for whatever reason are Flippery Fish and not Higher Beings or Mortal Humans or even Playful Primates. Once a week, invite a post on an issue of the day from a blogger no one's ever heard of. Make it a habit to go through blogs from 500 or 1000 in the TTLB Ecosystem on down, find one you like, ask them to write something on Eschaton or Firedoglake. Talk to some of those foundations and think tanks and suggest that they give bloggers that "room of their own."

This is what the right-wing blogs do all the time. Do you think Jihad Watch and LaShawn Barber's Corner and BLACKFIVE and Mudville Gazette and Wizbang got to be in the top 25 at TTLB only (or even mostly) because of their writing or their core fan base? Not at all! They zoomed to the top because bloggers like Michelle Malkin, Powerline, and Hugh Hewitt talked them up, linked to them, befriended them. It does not make me happy to know that people whose worldview is so narrow, intolerant, exclusive, and hateful are so much better at supporting their ideological soulmates than we on the left, whose values run to diversity, inclusiveness, a place at the table for everyone, human needs before defense contractors' wish lists.

We need to change that. Starting yesterday.

Cross-posted at Shakesville.


Chief said...

What about a want ad in a major daily, preferably a liberal leaning one. Something like:

“Wanted: Liberal think tank to fund successful, progressive blog. References on request to serious responders”

Chief said...

Actually, put a link to your blog in the 'want ad' I suggested earlier.

Let 'em see what their gettin'.