I finally took some time to read Peter Daou’s — of Salon.Com’s Daou Report –latest essay on the limitations of political blogging. Given the line of work I’m in, it’s pretty much required reading. It’s also pretty interesting reading, though I have a somewhat different view than the one Daou seems to reach at the end. Maybe that’s because I looking at things from a different position in the world of blogging.
Daou, for the most part, focuses on the major progressive political blogs and bloggers — Kos, Atrios, Digby, Steve Soto and others — and the realm of national politics, in his take on the limitations of political blogging. And with good reason. In terms of getting traction on a particular issue, the high-traffic blogs are the most likely to gain enough traction on an issue to complete what Daou calls “the triagle” that comes together to push issues and stories (like Katrina) into the public consciousness.
Looking at the political landscape, one proposition seems unambiguous: blog power on both the right and left is a function of the relationship of the netroots to the media and the political establishment. Forming a triangle of blogs, media, and the political establishment is an essential step in creating the kind of sea change we’ve seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
My position i somewhat different. In terms of traffic and readership, I’d place my blog somewhere at the base — as opposed to the tip — of what’s called “the long tail.”
It wasn’t until I read this post by Dave Pollard that I understood how the concept of the long tail applied to blogs. Pollard take a look at blog rankings based on inbound links and traffic, and focuses on reader attention (average user session length) to construct a somewhat different chart suggesting that lower-ranked blogs — in terms of sheer numbers of readers and links — actually outpace higher-ranked blogs in term so reader hours/attention.
In other words, lower-ranked blogs may have more dedicated readerships and stronger relationships with their readers. I can’t help wondering if this is what Daou is adressing — consciously or not — when he refers to “netroots.”
Simply put, without the participation of the media and the political establishment, the netroots alone cannot generate the critical mass necessary to alter or create conventional wisdom.
I’m probably wrong in that guess. Daou cites the Bowers/Stoller report on the growth of the progressive blogosphere, but in his assessment of bloggers’ role in Paul Hackett’s congressional race and various issues in which bloggers have been involved, Daou seems to give short shrift to the very blogs Bowers and Stoller suggest are key to the continued success of the progressive blogosphere: state and local blogs that most likely make up the long tail of of the progressive blogosphere, with higher rates of reader attention and dedication.
It’s easy, particularly in Washington, D.C. to focus almost exclusively on national politics and the stories that inform and drive it, but when it comes to politically engaged blogging, it’s worth remembering Tip O’Neal’s famous tip that all politics is local, and maybe even the feminist adage that the personal is political.
In just a couple of years as a blogger, I’ve had a few opportunities to be part of a few events in which bloggers put their collective linkings together to spread a story, raise awareness and achieve results even if the stories never broke through the surface in national news coverage.
When Rashawn Brazell was murdered and dismembered in New York, I joined a small band of New York-based bloggers to bring broader attention to the story, which in turn sparked media attention, kept investigators working on the case, and resulted in the founding of a scholarship fund in Brazell’s name.
When Latoyia Figueroa — a young Philadelphia mother — went missing, I joined Philadelphia-area bloggers in blogging about her case. Eventually, these bloggers brought both Figueroa’s case and the disparity in the degree of attention dedicated to cases like Figueroa’s vs. more publicized cases like Natalie Holloway’s.
And of course, there’s Zach’s story — the 16 year old boy whose parents placed him in a “reparative therapy” facility after he came out to them. When I discovered his blog post about his situation, I blogged it, as did others, and from there it grew into a blogswarm and a protest group that not only drew media attention, but prompted people to take action that may well lead to the closure of the facility.
Each of these stories had a political angle, as well as a personal angle that appeals to me and the other bloggers who picked them up, and in each case the stories were mostly of local interest — and produced local results — because of bloggers networked on a state or local level and/or across personal interests.
But these stories and the bloggers don’t seem to figure into Daou’s considerations about political blogging. That seems kind of backwards to me. The blogs that reside beyond the base of of the long tail are to some degree supported by that tail, through links and postings about the things that the larger blogs take up, and extend the discussion in spaces where there may be less traffic, but more dedicated time. When it comes to political blogging the reality may well be that the tail actually does — to some degree — “wag the dog.”