More On Diversity: Blogging Is A Niche
by Chris Bowers, Mon May 07, 2007 at 12:12:55 AM EDT
In the comments, the strongest pushback to my piece came from the famous and thoughtful Kid Oakland, who wrote the following:
Of course we want diversity in the blogosphere.I have to seriously ask--why? Since when is blogging such an incredibly important public institution, ala our education system, government or business world, that the entire public needs to be represented in it? I'd like to think blogging is that important, but it just isn't. Blogging is a niche--a subset. Progressive political blogging is a subset of blogging, within a subset of new media, and also within a subset of the progressive movement.
We want the blogs to reflect the party and the nation...not perfectly...but as much as possible.
There is a problem here, from what I can tell, is definitional. My collected writings on the blogosphere are longer than James Joyce's Ulysses (no hyperbole), and there are some terms--like netroots and blogosphere--which are very well defined in my mind but far more nebulous than I often appreciate. Consider the way Kid Oakland is uses the term blog as a synonym for "new media" (emphasis mine):
(But we both know that this flies in the face of what I see here in CA and I'm sure is true in Philadelphia...every last demographic group is clamoring to communicate using new media...the relevant fact is, however, folks just aren't all coming to dkos and MyDD.)Yeah, I know that not everyone using "new media" is coming to Dailykos and MyDD. Thanks for the update. My point is that "new media" is not synonymous with Dailykos and MyDD. The blogosphere is a subset of "new media". The progressive political blogosphere is a subset of the progressive movement. MyDD and Dailykos are two different subsets of the progressive political blogosphere. This is a point that becomes lost as kid oakland's comment continues (emphasis mine):
For me, "Different means of engagement" means that different folks are going to use online resources and tools in different ways, but, we're all online and will be more and more in one way or another. (Texting, Mobile browsing, Ipod downloads etc. etc.)At some point in kid oakland's comment, MyDD and Dailykos become synonymous with all "new media." That is absurd. That is unrealistic. That is a statement that comes without any perspective on how to even make a blog viable. That is even self-defeating. The progressive, political blogosphere is only viable because it serves a specific niche within "new media," not because it is representative of new media in general. MyDD is only viable because it serves a specific niche within the progressive, political blogosphere, not because it caters to the entire progressive, political blogosphere. The progressive, political blogosphere would immediately cease to have any relevancy if it just became "new media" in general, and removed its progressive, political focus. MyDD would cease to have any relevancy in the progressive blogosphere if we removed our focus on election analysis and political infrastructure, and just wrote about everything political and progressive. Our specific focus is what makes us viable and relevant. Remove that focus and that niche, and we cease to serve any function within the broader political movement / ecosystem.
We should not exempt any one group from the obligation to reach out and communicate and learn from what others are doing online and with new media means of communication. We should strive to make what any one of us is doing more relevant and accesible to all of our colleagues and allies.
When it comes to diversity, I believe that large institutions in which the general public has an enormous stake, such as "new media," and "the progressive movement" absolutely have an obligation to be representative of America (or, in the case of the latter, at least of progressives). However, each individual subset of those institutions does not need to be equally diverse. And I could not more strongly disagree with Kid Oakland's statement that this is something we would even want. If every individual subset of the larger institution were equally diverse as the institution as a whole, then all of the niches and different functions that each subset fills would be entirely erased. Delegation and division of labor is essential to maintaining the viability of any large--and extremely diverse--coalition like the progressive movement. You need people devoted to GLBT rights (civil rights groups). And you need people devoted to workplace democracy (unions). And you need people devoted to election analysis (MyDD). What you don't need is for everyone to be devoted to all of these different things simultaneously. If that were the case, then no one would be good at passing hate crime legislation, or securing a living wage for health care workers, or knowing which districts are the most effective for grassroots activists to target. Everyone would suck at all of that, and thus the progressive movement would suck at everything.
We need MyDD to look as much like America about as much as the Human Rights Campaign needs to send out three newsletters a day to its membership with updates on my latest poll analysis. That is to say, neither of those things would help either group usefully fulfill its niche within a larger institution / ecosystem known as the progressive movement. The simple fact is that MyDD is not a large public institution unto itself that is meant to represent America, and that MyDD would cease to be useful if its primary goal was to be representative of America. We serve a niche within a broader movement and a broader institution, just like SEIU does (although SEIU's niche is much larger). As such, diversity within MyDD is not a primary goal--doing a good job at my niche as a means of improving the efficacy of the progressive movement is my primary goal. I absolutely agree that there is an overall obligation for the progressive movement, and the leaders of that movement, to be diverse and representative of progressives. However, it would be absolutely self-defeating if every subset of that larger institution took it upon itself to achieve that goal internally. Further, note that I said the progressive movement as an institution / ecosystem has an obligation to representatives of progressives rather than of America. If the progressive movement were truly representative of America, then it would be chock full of Republicans and conservatives, who still make up a huge minority in this country we call America. The progressive movement specifically excludes conservatives and Republicans, and it would collapse / being utterly ineffective if it did not.
Progressive, political blogging is extremely important to the overall progressive movement for a variety of reasons. My best attempts to explain its importance can be found in the following three articles: The Emergence of the Progressive Blogosphere, The Role of the Netroots in Democratic Victories, and On Preaching to the Choir. However, as important as progressive, political blogging is, it is not the end-all, be-all, of anything except progressive political blogging. As such, striving for any of the following frankly does not seem either moral or useful to me:
- Making certain that individual progressive blogs, such as MyDD and Dailykos, look like America, or even like all progressives.
- Making certain that the progressive, political blogosphere as a whole looks like America, or even all progressives.
- Making certain that all progressive are blogging.
- Making certain that the leaders of the progressive movement, and those people who are understood to be "experts" on the movement, are properly diverse and as representative of progressives as possible.
- Making certain that all groups within the progressive movement--and all American citizens--have equal access to "new media."
- Making certain that all groups within the progressive movement are talking with each other, learning from each other, and working with each other in a productive fashion that simultaneously serves as wide a range of progressive goals as possible.
- Making certain that all groups within the progressive, political blogosphere are talking with each other, learning from each other, and working with each other in a productive fashion that simultaneously serves as wide a range of progressive, political blogosphere goals as possible.
- Making certain that all participants within a given topic area in the progressive, political blogosphere are talking with each other, learning from each other, and working with each other in a productive fashion that allows everyone blogging on that topic area to be as effective as possible.
Does MyDD need to be diverse in that we reach out to all people who are writing on the same topics on which we focus? Absolutely--we need to include a much more diverse set of progressive voices who also focus on our topic areas. Do blogs like MyDD need to do a better job of reaching out to make certain that happens? Almost certainly--and expect more on this over the next two months. Do progressive, political blogs that focus on different topics need to stay in touch with each other, learn from each other, and work with each other when overlap occurs? You bet they do--and no one has done more to make that happen than MyDD's own Matt Stoller (but we can always do more). What we don't need to do is all merge into 3,000 replicas of each other, where we blog on the same topics, and all have equally, virtually perfectly diverse writing staffs. We don't need to look like America. We would suck if we all looked like America, or if we tried to do so. We need to maintain our diversity--which comes from filling different niches and representing different cultural voices--in order to succeed. We need to build on that diversity in order to grow, by bringing cultural voices who may have been unfairly--but not intentionally--marginalized within our niches. And we need communication mechanisms to make sure that the various niches do not become ghettoized and isolated from one another (and thus more ineffective).
A different commenter, mcc, pretty much summed up what I was trying to say in the original post:
[H]is conclusion as I'm understanding it seems to be from the perspective that the progressive political blogosphere isn't so much important as a community as a tool for social change, that it is more important as a part of a wider progressive movement than it is important on its own, and that if this particular splinter of the wider progressive movement is not demographically representative of the whole thing, well, that's how the cards fell.Yes, absolutely. That is precisely what I meant, as long as we are vigilant to make sure that we are not excluding people from within a given "splinter," and that we are working to make sure that all the various splinters within the progressive movement are communicating with each other, learning from each other, and working with each other in order to effectively achieve the broadest progressive outcomes possible. And no, I am not interested in community building for its own sake, just as I am not interested in blogging for its own sake. I am interested in helping the progressive movement. And I don't see how making sure that Dailykos or MyDD--or even the progressive political blogosphere in general--is more representative of America, or even all progressives, is a particularly important or useful means of achieving the goal. And I don't see how making all progressives blog is useful either (although in some cases, it would help). As I said in the original post, I just don't see how there is anything so inherently important about progressive, political blogging, or anything so broadly publicly institutional about progressive, political blogging, to make it so. Blogging is a niche--one of many ways we can bring about our broader goals. It is one a good means to partially achieve those goals--a means that needs to be supported by other progressives--but certainly not the only means, and certainly not the path everyone should follow. I mean, for crying out loud, it is 3:30 in the morning on a Monday, and here I am blogging. Do you think this would work for everyone? I think the answer to that question is obvious. At the same time, do you think that discussion like these are come from blogs are important? Once again, I think the answer to that question is obvious.