Just FYI, The reason the age and income stats are often brought up is to educate people so that advertisers stop treat blogs - all blogs, not just the big ones - like lepers. I'm talking about issue groups aligned with the left and about corporations who pay a lot more in other places to get the same kind of eyeballs on their ads.
If we can get more advertising money in, more people can be supported in what they do and stick with it. That benefits everyone. Expect to see more focus on this in the coming months.
The thing is, there are as many answers to that question as there are bloggers.
But we are seeing some more clear differentiation among activist sites, like MyDD and FDL, and other blogs, along a continuum, which are more about blogging per se, by which I mean, publishing content or opinion.
This difference was pretty obvious when progressives of all stripes were dseimpowerd over the last six years tracking the emergence of the netroots, but now that we can begin to play a simultaneous, hopefuly well guided inside/outside game with some allies in congress, the differnce becomes a little more pronounced.
I think all that differentiation and diversity is fine, by the way. There's a continnum. For example, Atrios is more media oriented, as he describes on his site today, but he also raises money for candidates, and he has moved incrementally more toward the activist side with time. Ditto Crooks and Liars, a flagship in our Blue America coalition. Then you have places like TAPPED, which by law and organization cannot endorse candidates or raise funds, but which provide news response. And there's a bajillion people just doing commentary, and some of them only want to to commentary, which is fine.
I actually think the checklist, as written, may have been developed originally for more traditionally housed non-profits and political organization, but I may be wrong. I tried to adapt what I was reading to this new organizing and media environment.
I would appreciate any introductions into these networks you mention, any help in learning who people are, where their sites are, because I'm sure I have not been able to keep up.
You mention something about representation I wanted to follow up on. One of the things that gets lost in many conversations like these is the diversity within traditionally underrepresented communities. We use this heuristic, that we mistake for reality at our peril, that seems to speak of these large comunities as homegenous blocks.
I can apply this to my own experience. I'm Latino, or half Latino: my mother's parents came from Peru and PR, respectively. My father's side is European. I was closer to my mother's side, and still cook my grandparents' recipes. But my Spanish is uneven; I was raised here. I've benefited from some of the best mainstream education money (Stafford loans!) can buy.
That makes me rather different as a Latino from the first generation Mexican American, or from many other Latinos, less light complected than I, who directly experience what my brown skinned grandfather did from the majority culture. So, to what extent do I "represent?" In the end, and as a psychologist, I try to remain true to an understanding of every individual's subjectivity, while keeping in mind the oftentimes common experiences and perspective among members of different identity groups.
I've also had conversation offline with a couple of people of color, to whom I've asked the question: by giving you or one of your constituents a platform through a site like Firedoglake. . . would I be hurting their credibility within their constituent communities as much as helping? Would they have to battle an image as a sellout to a "majority" site and would that create the need for them to picks fights with us that need not occur? This is a real question, and I have had responses telling me this is a potential dynamic to watch out for.
This is why I've been floating this offer around to do what I can to share what I think I know about how to build effective online communities with others, for them to adapt to their own circumstances, because the end goal is not for a site like FDL to represent all people (it can't), but for more powerful voices and communities to emerge, hopefully, able to work together and complement each other.
Nicely done, Jenifer. Reading this with my own home site Firedoglake in mind, here are my perspectives:
Include racial justice issues in your organizational discussions and analysis.
This we do.
Commit to doing serious work against racism as part of your organizing and to forming meaningful, principled alliances with people of color organizations in your communities.
We have the commitment. Now that I'm doing less writing so I can focus more on site and movement development, I'm able to focus on this a bit more. We also look for people of color to add to our site as regular guest writers, but have not succeeded in finding the right people with the time to do what we've needed, and now our stable is pretty full. We had to fill up fast to cover the extra content needs during Jane's (ongoing cancer) treatment coupled with the extra traffic from the Libby Trial.
We can get better at some of this, but it's also a matter of time to do things other than just generate content, which does take a lot of time and preparation. Also, we don't just want to "shop" for color: we want to find the people whose issue approaches compliment our brand approach and style. An ongoing process, but it has been an ongoing priority and subject of discussion.
Make sure that your agenda isn't set before considering the goals and demands of activists of color. Too often, white activists think of the issues that they are working on as "universal" and approach activists of color asking them to join their "big tent". Why aren't white activists holding themselves accountable in the same way and viewing racism as a universal concern?
Our strategic team is mostly caucasian women and a couple of gay men, one of whom is Latino. When I was writing more, I tried to pick up prison reform/felony enfranchisement as one of my beats, but I just could not dig into it with my time constraints and need to earn a living outside of politics.
We can get better at this, and I think we would if we found the right African American person to join the team in a more meaningful way. I bring one Latino POV, but we'd like to expand our perspectives and thinking on behalf of our audience. Again, time and the voluntary nature of our work influences how much we have been able to pursue this with any consistency, not to mention, cancer.
Take steps to create a more tolerant culture within your own organization. Sometimes, white culture is "invisible", meaning that methods of work, choice of music, food, ways of communicating, etc., are thought of as "progressive" ways of doing things, instead of "white progressive" ways of doing things. One way should not be held up as "authentically progressive", especially when that cultural form is typically or historically white.
This seems more targeted to a bricks and mortar organization, though I apply it to us in terms of the pop culture and music stuff we chat and talk about, or that we integrate into our work. Taken collectively, it probably signifies more white and educated than people of color. I remember when I did some YouTube posts that included Tyler Perry and a few readers were like, "who's that?" There was some cultural stretch there, but everyone welcomed it.
Consider the needs of people of different backgrounds than your own. Can people with jobs attend your meetings? What about people with children? What email list or social scene do you have to be a part of, to hear about meetings?
We're okay on this one. The real access barriers here involve digital access and comfort. We do have conference calls, but a number of us are working and one of us is a full time Mom, though with a spouse for support.
Work to build long term, authentic and trusting relationships with organizations led by people of color in your community. As we stated above, white activists are prone to "shopping" for minorities. Too often, when it comes time to host a conference or chose speakers for a rally, white activist organizations are out looking for brown faces, when they haven't supported the daily work of anti-racist organizations all year long.
This is the kind of thing we've been doing more receptively than proactively, again due to time limitations and lack of funding resources to support our organization. We have not held conferences or events, so I apply this as a matter of looking for providers of content.
As we've looked for content providers, we've emphasized good, sharp, concise, witty writing that fits our brand style, with a similar strategic movement and message building point of view, holding those in power accountable.
We have learned it's easier to find people who know how to write in blog style among actual bloggers, and we do include diversity in our invitation considerations. Maybe it's the nature of our core audience, but most of those new content providers have been women and we've done well sustaining that, though we have not been able to identify any more people of color.
The first hoops for a new content provider to get through is the quality of their writing and clarity of thought consistent with our mission, and we do like to elevate voices from within our own community. If any people of color would like to "audition" for when we have needs, I would recommend becoming a regular FDL commenter. That's how I became a part of the site, though not with any intent: it just happened that way. You don't have to leave your own blog to do this: we like to bring in people who have their own blogs, like Phoenix Woman or Eli.
Speak up when people of color in your community are being attacked! Don't wait for the Black Student Union on your campus to write all the letters to the editor of your student newspaper. It is time for white people to police their own communities around these issues -- after all, whose responsibility is it to fight racism in the white community?
We do this. We don't hesitate to pick fights with racists and we have always kept bigoted comments out of our comment section. We have a very well moderated comment community.
Listen harder, and better. Too often, white activists try to be the savior -- instead of the ally. One of the legacies of the early Civil Rights Movement's organizing style, which came from people like Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses of SNCC, was the deeply rooted belief that there is no one who knows more about the experience of oppression than those who are oppressed themselves. Simply put, go to meetings of people of color organizations, find out what they are up to, and help out. Period.
I think we do this well, but now that I can focus more on organizational development, I ca do more. The netroots equivalent of going to meetings is often conference calls, and I do those and would like to be invited to more that include ways to promote diversity. Since I have a full time business that pays the bills, I have a harder time making time to go to face-to-face meetings in places.
Working in an inter-racial coalition can be a difficult and humbling experience, but also a sweet one. The most important things we should take with us on this winding road are a willingness to be vulnerable, to make mistakes and be self critical, and to listen to each other. We have a lot to learn, and we need all the brains and hands we can gather. Within the movement, as in the civil rights movement of the 60's, we need a "division of labor," in which the special responsibilities of various groups are recognized. Andy Goodman was one of the many who acknowledged his own responsibility and sought to accept leadership from African American activists. To broaden and deepen today's movement, we need to learn from that spirit of listening, uniting and acting with courage.
We're always listening and learning to our community members who bring up these issues and even to our past critics, even if we have not always agreed with them. We make adjustments and communicate offline with other activists on how to do all these things better, and by communicate, I don't mean only one way.
On a strategic level, I think the core branding of FDL will probably reflect a pretty close approximation of what it is today. That said, we can add to our perspectives, and we intend to create more ways for people to connect with each other through a social networking infrastructure, empowering more grass roots (our "Roots Project").
I also think we can do more to help other people create their own vibrant online communities by sharing with them lessons we've learned along the way in how it can be done. Jane built a site where the main voices were strong women's voices at a time when there were none among the "big" lefty blogs, and she did it in part using practices Matt Stoller outined in his post yesterday on building online power. But there's more we can add to the conversation about how to be successful, and I think we may do that. . . as long as people don't interpret it as us talking down to anyone or saying, "do it our way." Still, it's a case study and one success model, and as such, sharing it could have some value for others to adapt to their own circumstances.
Thanks for sharing this content, Jenifer. I hope people don't mind my lengthy response, and I welcome feedback. I wanted to use your post as a springboard for reflection on the site and community for which, and to which, I am most responsible.
Speaking only for myself, I also did not know about this initiative, and only now have a hazy understanding of what was done and why.
Why is that?
It's because I have a full time business and only do politics in my spare time, voluntarily (I've already cheated enough on my work today to engage all this stuff, after working all through the weekend).
These days, I'm only writing one or two posts a week, when I'm needed and available, and even beyond that, I'm trying to save more of my discretionary political time to other movement facilitation and infrastructure development activities.
Though my situation is my own, it's not really very unique. Even people who are able to devote and finance their full time energy to politics or blogging miss things. There's a whole lot going on out there. It would be nice if we could keep up with everything, and even nicer if other sites and groups could generate larger and larger audiences so they don't even need people like me or Matt or Atrios or Jane or Christy or whomever.
While I have admitted it would be nice if I were aware of more things (and there are weekly at leats a dozen stories that catch my interest that I never have the time to write about), I have to point out that communication is a two way street. If we're not notified when some interesting organizing is going on, then the organizers have to rely on the chance we might find out on our own. When we don't it seems the fact that we did not may be taken as conscious malice. Why?
The hard part is that sometimes, when we do hear from some quarters, the message is always about how wrong or evil we are regarding [insert issue or subject]. On a purely human, coalition building level, how does that help those who would like to gain some collaboration or cooperation from us in fact to gain that cooperation?
I get that there's a trust gap in some places, and there have been fights. Fights leave scars, and we all have them. But do those fights need to define all that follows in perpetuity, or will potential ambassadors emerge on either or both sides to help create productive alliances and better understanding when such may be possible?
And beyond that, can we come to a better appreciation of where all parties operate within a broad movement ecosystem without assuming bad faith - such as a conscious decision to ignore something - where in fact there is none?
As a strategic and tactical matter, and as an institutional building matter, the approach I'm contemplating would go in a different direction than the one you link to, and that I understand you to be taking in this comment.
Feel free to email me if you like at my firedoglake address.
Obviously, we at FDL believe in creating a platform for strong women's voices. Jane built it and we live it continually. As a site that has accomplished this, I wonder if there might be some case study best practices we could share with others to review and adapt, resulting in assistance for the rise of more diverse voices and communities.
It's weird, and I think it's often a communications/perceptions thing, but in spite of all the criticism, Matt is among the people in the netroots who has done and is doing as much or more than anyone else to expand access, build coalitions and create the instititional supports to promote the empowerment of the traditionally disempowered.
The challenge is that most of that occurs offline, and the nature of this kind of trust building is that such conversations must of necessity remain confidential.
Just think about how candid and open you can be if you think you're talking to a "reporter," someone who will put your conversation up on a web page, rather than talking in confidence with someone with whom you can do the hard work and listening to build mutual understanding.
That's why this stuff happens offline, and why Matt doesn't write about it. Plus, as I know him personally, Matt really isn't interested in tooting his own horn, because he is very much about connecting people who can work together to create collective, progressive power. That means focusing on others, on systems, on promoting networks and strategy.
So, there's this ongoing conundrum: people who want to promote the development of broader coalitions who are not actually building those power coalitions, doing the things Matt describes above, think it's not happening because they're not reading about it. But making that back end work open for public review means sabotaging the process.
The result is that online or public perceptions don't meet reality, and Matt, for example, gets caricatured and pilloried. He fights back on the merits of ideas, and occasionally defends his ideas, as he has every right to do. In fact, he should do this, because this is the kind of forum where people introduce, digests and refine ideas. Sometimes the conversation gets heated, fomenting a cycle where people still misunderstand what Matt's doing and why.
Some of that may be a matter of communications and style, and some of it due to the limits of the medium as a communications tool: all text, no non-verbal context.
But it's also true that there's a lot of lazy criticism of "big bloggers" in general that gets recycled, criticism that makes fundamentally false assertions that don't stand up to what is in fact publicly available for all online to review and digest. For example, popularly read progressives write a lot more about race and inclusion than many people suggest, but as Matt points out, writing is not the same as creating power that changes things.
Now, Matt gets flamed far more than I do, but it would sure wear my patience thin to be targeted like that when many of the assertions made are just false. I've felt like I've been in that position before, and when I've pushed back hard, the process has sometimes been productive and sometimes not. I keep learning more about how to use this medium to promote real understanding, and we all have our own communication styles.
If Matt gets occasionally crusty, I don't blame him, and when he urges action, even if it's a bit bluntly presented, he is trying to get people moving, because time wasted is time lost. He's arguing to try to help.
Whatever the situation and roots of it all, there are fundamental misperceptions about what the progressive blogosphere currently does and why, misperceptions that are larger than Matt, but which include him.
I know as an organizier it always requires ambassadors and boundary spanners between communities to do the work to build the bridges and coalitions between constituencies. I hope more people will take it as a kind of organizing mission to facilitate this, rather than lob incompletely researched criticisms that accomplish nothing productive, and which, cumulatively, degrade understanding such that communities become alienated, rather than aligned. That's a destructive outcome.
I'm not commenting directly on Chris' argument, as I'm not sure I follow it in all its particulars, but I keep coming back to some things from my own activist and organizing experience, and I'd like feedback once I'm done sharing them, if possible.
First, it's a no brainer that site like MyDD or my own home, Firedoglake, can continue to search for talented writers whose voices and activist agendas fit our core site niches, or otherwise educate our audiences about different prespectives.
We try to do this all the time at FDL, and one of the reasons I write there less frequently now than I used to is because I'm allocating more of my time to this kind of back end organizational development for the FDL operation, etc. I see MyDD has actively searched for diversity of voices that fit their niche in electoral politics as well, and has put such people on the front page.
At FDL, relative to MyDD, we are a kind of more diversified activist-cum-media hub, an activist site that does progressive messaging and advocacy, occasionally committing journalism. Contrast that with one of our complimentary twins, TPM, which is more primarily a journalism identified organization that has nevertheless committed activism, such as during the social security fight.
Now, the question becomes, what should FDL be doing more of to promote more empowerment of progressives of color?
There are a few things, but for one thing, when we look for new content providers whose style and interests tend to fit with those our site has developed and propelled, we also actively look for people of color who do our kind snarky but biting activism. We have a niche in propelling strong women's voices, and that provides an important part of our brand, what our readers like, so we want to sustain that as a central part of our branding, even though we have a number of men writing.
We look for ideology in our writers, and writers who really get our style of progressive activism, because we use that to cheer and inspire our readers to elect real progressives. That's what our Blue America candidate list is all about, and the Roots Project. So far, I'm the only latino among our core of writers, and other than some guest appearances by our very good friend Steve Gilliard (currently recovering), we have not had steady African American generated content on the site. That has not stopped us from writing all the time about race, or about having the fight for racial justice race undergird everything else we do.
For example, when we write about, and move opinion and activists to fight against, the war, we are fighting for racial justice. People of color are America's IED fodder, and people of color abroad are the targets of our M-16's and torture cells.
When we write about the USA/DOJ scandal, we are writing about racial justice. The voter suppression racket of the GOP is a racial justice and empowerment issue.
When we write about workers and unions and economics, we are writing about racial justice, because when wealthy elites hijack our government and public subsidies and tax breaks to their own ends, fomenting more and more poverty, this occurs on the backs of people of color most of all.
I could go on and on, but you (I hope) get the point. This is aside from all the posts we do highlighting racism in establishment media or on the right wing, a beat the TRex in particular covers for us pretty regularly.
So, it's a no brainer that we can continue to look for opportunities to find writers of color whose style and ideology fits our brand. I've found a couple of good prospects just in the past week, at least as guest writers to bring into the rotation.
With that, and through linking, we can keep looking for ways to promote such writers as they crop up. By linking, we can send traffic to people whose focus is not always like our but who have their own approach and style that compliments our political philosophy, or which we feel adds to the community conversation. For example, we've been working on some changes to our blogroll and have yet to make them, though we also do a lot of linking through our posts.
I have had a number of conversations with people offline who want to understand how better to build their own audiences online, and I've often thought it might be a good idea to write a post that made some recommendations, things we've learned about how to succeed in this medium, available to all. I have hesitated to do it for a couple of reasons.
First, I don't want to be misunderstood that I'm talking down to people or trying to tell them to do things our way. I would see it as a set of best practices and lessons learned from my/our experience and observations, but I can anticipate, based on past conflicts, that not all would interpret it that way.
Second, I never wanted it to be interpreted as another in the round of the argument where people in established blogs are perceived simply to be saying derisively to others, "stop whining and build your own popular blog."
What do you think: should I write up a kind of lessons learned and best practices post on what I see as success factors for developing an audience?
While the barriers to entry to starting a blog are very low, the barriers are quite high to building a highly trafficked one, and most of them have much more to do with the amount of work and other things it takes to find and exploit a popular niche that draws in people of its own magnetic force, and less to do with just asking for links. It's like building a business: attracting customers is a lot harder than many people think. Most new business startups don't succeed.
On another note, beyond doing all that I've already described, I've been looking for opportunities to meet or talk, even offline, with people who have constituencies, particularly constituencies of color, who would like to learn how best to exploit and generate progressive power through this medium. The hypothetical blog post I mention could help, but only those people in those communities would be able to translate what I might have to offer to their own communities. For example, some may have the added challenge of getting many of their base audience to make online blog reading part of their lives - a harder thing to do when online access is so inequitably distributed in our country. I would like very much to see more highly trafficked, vibrant communities emerge.
Anyway, I guess my specific questions are these:
1. should I create the kind of blog post I've described above, and if I do, will critics who emphasize diversity accept it in the spirit intended?
2. do you think there would be any interest in the kind of personal, offline outreach to help deliver and adapt the kind of knowledge I might have to impart to other communities or constituencies, without people assuming that some light skinned gay latino born in the US is talking down to people or trying to tell them what to do? If so, will you send me people who might be interested? My email is public at firedoglake.com.
Sorry for the long comment. Thanks for your indulgence.
And what if the existing leadership in the netroots found a way to get broad swaths bloggers wide, easy access to Lexis Nexis? (Hint, hint. . . probably not too far off)?
What if they did it because they wanted to empower a broad diversity in the blogosphere, little sites with few resources who could never have that kind of reach on their own?
What if that were only one of a series of initiatives designed to generate resources, power and tools, not just for the highly trafficked blogs, but for the smaller, more tightly niched or local ones?
Or are current netroots leaders considered to be too myopic, indifferent or racist to think this way, nevermind actually do the work to make it possible. . . something many critics perpetually fail to do themselves?
It's also possible that this cultural divide is reiterated inside the campaign. The online outreach people may not have anywhere near the budget or campaign respect in house as the other folks you mention do.
That would not excuse them for possibly dealing with Anthony badly, but it would place some of their actions in greater context. They may have heard his offer, understood it to be way out of line with what they could offer, and may have known they could not get approval from the rest of the campaign to get it. In other words, they may have determined there was really no bargaining zone. Or, they may have communicated up the chain to get more money and some lawyer said "fuck that" and played bigfoot hardball, the establishment way.
Either way, the campaign was at fault, as the story should never have gotten to this point, and they should never have issued a press/blog release that dodged questions and implied Anthony was a greedy actor of bad character. We just don't know where, entirely, in the campaign system the problem lies, and I doubt we ever will, though I would say Rospars has made things worse rather than better, from a communications point of view.
We do know that Anthony alleges he found the campaign contacts he'd made to be controlling and dishonest earlier in his interactions with them, but he's offered no specifics and we can't verify any of that. We also know Anthony states he is trying not to get into that because he's been giving years of his life to this stuff and does not want to hurt Senator Obama.
We were treated to mush testimony on this during the Libby Trial:
Off the record = I can tell you but you can't use it, and you can't use it to go looking for other stuff on this subject. This is just for you to know.
Background 1 = I'm telling you so you know and you can use it for helping you guide questions of others or do some more digging (sometimes called "deep background").
Background 2 = I'm telling you but you may not identify me (sometimes also referred to as "not for attribution"). This sometimes involves negotiation over generic appellations (Judy Miller let Scooter be quoted as a "former congressional staffer" for one part of her notes about Valerie and in other parts as a "senior white house official").
On the record = Here I am, this is my name and this is what I'm saying. Print away.
In this context, by characterizing general conversations on background, attributed to some nebulous sample of Obama staffers, the quote seems to be on reasonable ground, though the ground is firmer if the use of such a definition of "background" was discussed with sources in advance.