by Matt Stoller, Mon May 07, 2007 at 08:17:29 AM EDT
I'm going to follow on Chris's posts on diversity by explaining why I blog. I have a certain set of values, and I want to see the political system adopt those values, including transparency, honesty, and civic democracy. My hypothesis is that these values are shared by a wide group, and that organizing through the blogs is one route to pressuring for social change. In other words, blogging is just a means to power for a progressive movement that I want to see succeed.
And surprisingly, it's not actually easy to have an impact on the political system. As weird as it sounds , a link from Atrios or Firedoglake, or a mention in the New York Times, does not change the political system. It is in fact a lot of work to get a change to happen. For instance, I've written between 125-175 posts on net neutrality, each of which required a combination of one or more of the following: original research, coordination through conference calls, meetings on the hill, extensive reading of alternative points of view. Each one required a new angle and a new way of explaining policy and politics. And even with all this work, I was only one small part of a large coalition, and we haven't yet won. This is not counting the large number of issues I've blogged on that have had little to no impact, all of which can be seen as loss-leading investment where we are prodding for vulnerabilities in the business coalitions of the right.
All of this is to say that change is not easy, and you have to go looking for it if you want it. You have to do a lot of work to make it happen. Much of the handwringing about the progressive political blogosphere seems to come from an unwillingness to either do the work to make change happen or an ignorance that change and building power is really really hard.
Now, there are many ways to have an impact using the medium of blogging. Here are some strategies that by themselves don't work.
1) Getting a link from big bloggers: This is neat, since there's lots of traffic and the validation is cool. But magically, change doesn't just happen with a link.
2) Whining about linking: Since getting a link doesn't actually create change, whining about getting a link doesn't create change.
3) Complaining about how nobody cares about your pet issue: This is often a subset of whining about linking. Here's the real truth. It's not that nobody cares about your pet issue, it's that it's not a priority for most people. That's why it's your pet issue. You have to explain why your pet issue is worth prioritizing and how by doing so others can have an impact. Until you do, it remains your problem. Don't take it personally if people don't share your priorities. Instead, convince and lead the way.
4) Erecting mythical barriers to entry: I hear a lot of complaining about large blogs keeping out other voices. That's a self-destructive attitude. If you really think there's an underserved niche, that's an opportunity and not a barrier. In 2002, the blogosphere was dominated by Instapundit and a 'civil' crew of bipartisan bloggers all of whom were 'serious' and pro-war. Rather than whining, Atrios saw a niche and created a compelling blog.
The big difference between the blogs and the media is that you don't have to go through a cable booker to get onto the internet. To get a big blog, you have to create compelling content and market it. No one is stopping you but you. And if you are reading this then arguments about class and access to the internet are not applicable to you. If you are part of an underserved niche, great, that means there's a market opportunity. Seize it.
So those are some tactics that don't work. Here are some tactics that can help build power.
1) Raise money for candidates: You don't have to raise a lot to be meaningful. Even a few thousand dollars from a few hundred people matters if it's early enough. Saveinternetradio can clearly raise that, but there isn't, which means there's an opportunity to build power. Actblue is open to all, there's no physical gatekeeping anymore. And if you can't raise any money at all, my guess is that you're just not trying. Asking for money isn't easy, but again, neither is creating change or building power. If you don't want to do it, then don't whine about people who are willing to do it using the power they create for stuff they care about.
2) Originate compelling information: News shapes pubic opinion. If you can originate compelling information or analyze news in an interesting and unique way, you can shape public opinion.
3) Bother/persuade the right people: There's a small group of people who make policy in politics. If you can annoy them by reaching them with effective arguments, you can shape their thinking. This is true for corporate policy as well, or any policy world; small networks that are penetrable by blogs exist.
4) Create useful policy ideas: If you create interesting policy ideas and push them repeatedly and consistently, you will succeed. This is a lot of work, since it means you have to take in a lot of feedback and aggressive push your ideas, maybe for years. But America is big, and so small changes in policy have huges consequences. That means it's a lot of work to make these changes, but the payoff can be large.
5) Watchdog an institution: A blog that focuses on an institution, like the CBC, the Human Rights Campaign, a caucus, a candidate, or a journalism, can be very influential if you are making good arguments. You can only be ignored for so long if your case is good.
These tactics should probably be used interchangeably for maximum success. And in a lot of ways, though it's harder to create a new blog brand these days, it's actually easier to have an impact on the political system. Politicians read Dailykos these days, they read the diaries, which means you have an audience of influential people built-in if you can say something compelling. A few years ago, influential people did not read blogs or user-generated content, but those obstacles have been cleared. Now politicians are online, doing video, reading and writing on blogs, and just generally interacting with citizens. They are trying to figure this stuff out. Of course, though there is leverage on the internets, this isn't the only place there is leverage so by no means is blogging the only way to create power.
There are big opportunities here. Seize them. No one is stopping you but you.