Progressive Blogging 2.0 (or 3.0?)
by Phoenix Woman, Tue May 08, 2007 at 06:08:38 AM EDT
I've been online since 1995. I have my own blog, Mercury Rising, which has been around Blogspot and now WordPress since December of 2004; before that, I'd spent a number of years hanging around Eschaton, DailyKos, Hullabaloo and other first-generation progblogs; before that, I spent a lot of time at Salon's "Table Talk" message boards, from whence a number of progbloggers (TBogg, Atrios (who posted as "Kurt Foster"), etc.) apparently got their start. Recently, I was invited to be a part of Fire Dog Lake's guest crew of posters.
I'm writing this because I wanted to make some (deeply subjective) observations on the pre-progblog era (1995-2001), ProgBlogs 1.0 (2002-2004), ProgBlogs 2.0 (2004-present), and ProgBlogs 3.0 (now?).
The Message Boards Era
In what I like to think of as The Message Boards Era of the 1990s (roughly from 1995 to 2001), the way for politically-minded people to connect was via message boards. The big daddy on the right was and still is FreeRepublic.com; the site I spent the most time on was Salon's "Table Talk", particularly the "White House" folder. People used these sites to argue (though not so much on FreeRepublic, where liberals tend to have their accounts zapped in less time than it will take me to finish this diary, especially if they're winning their arguments), to do research, to mingle, and to generally get better at marshalling and presenting their thoughts. There were and are other progressive sites out there, such as Democratic Underground, but the signal-to-noise ratio on Table Talk was in my opinion the best of them all, especially after TT went to the pay-to-post system in the fall of 2001; that caused all the right-wing sock-puppet artists to leave in a hurry.
Table Talk was where a lot of people learned or relearned the lessons absorbed when putting together a college term paper or even a thesis, the number one lesson being "Don't let your mouth write checks that your ass can't cash." TT posters, and other posters on other boards, almost never say something without backing it up with a link to a substantive source. And it was at Table Talk that I first encountered some of the people who would be a part of the infant ProgBlog movement: Eschaton's Atrios, the late Media Whores Online's Jennifer Kelly, TBogg, and a host of others who saw TT and The Well as the places to go to find thoughtful and educated readers. During this pre-ProgBlog period, the message boards and certain key websites (Joe Conason's New York Observer and Salon columns, MWO, The Daily Howler, The Gilliard News, Bartcop, American Politics Journal, Online Journal and a few other sites) served as sustenance for progs in the political wilderness of the Early Bush Junta.
9/11 seems to have been the spur for both liberal and conservative blogging. The conservatives were out of the starting blocks first, with Instapundit ruling the roost. Then, in 2002, the first progressive blogs started appearing, largely as a reaction to the incredible gaslighting put out by the GOP/Media Complex; their readership started to grow rapidly because they were supplying something for which there was a huge untapped demand in America: A fact-based critique of the corporate media and its ties to the DC political establishment, which was and has been run by Republicans for decades.
As the run-up to the Iraq War continued, the early progblogs were the only place in America where one could find a sustained and honest large-scale national conversation on the war. The comments threads of Eschaton were filled with both pro- and anti-war people wrangling over this and other issues. People of all political persuasions who were suspicious of the media-enabled March to War found themselves seeking out alternatives to the constant rah-rah-ism of the mainstream media; the early adopters of the new progblogs aided the process by going onto message boards and into chat rooms to start threads and drop off links to the new blogs.
Soon, the new progblogs would start to influence the media, and politics. It was Atrios' efforts at Eschaton that revived and kept alive the story of Trent Lott's bizarre remarks on Strom Thurmond's legacy -- remarks that, unlike the comments made a few weeks earlier at the Wellstone memorial by Paul Wellstone's buddy Rick Kahn that were widely attacked by Republicans and their media allies, were a) ignored by the media, and b) genuninely offensive -- and led to Lott's being deposed as Senate Majority Leader in favor of Bill Frist.
Fast-forward three years. The progressive side of the blogosphere is bigger than the conservative side and has been since late 2004. The Iraq War, once the pillar on which the Republicans won the 2004 election, is now the radioactive boat anchor dragging them down. Howard Dean, who in 2003 was one of the few Democrats to oppose the Iraq invasion, was rewarded by the newly-discovered "netroots" and MeetUppers, which in large part was represented by the Democratic Party's old core base, which had been kicked to the curb for the past decade by the Republican-emulating, corporate-cash-seeking DLCers and BlueDoggers. Dean didn't win the nomination, but the effort mounted by the Beltway establishment Democrats to kill his candidacy led to the political demise of Dick Gephardt, the House's strongest Democratic backer of the Iraq war, and the near-marginalization of the pro-war Joe Lieberman, who just four years earlier had been one Supreme Court justice away from Blair House.
Now Howard Dean, the despised "nutroots candidate", is running the Democratic National Committee. He did his best to position the Democrats to take advantage of the growing opposition to the war in Iraq, and finally got the rest of the national party to see things his way in time for the 2006 elections; this brought the Democrats back into control of both houses of Congress for the first time in twelve years, and the Democrats also picked up a number of state houses and Governor's Mansions. Despite intense opposition from entrenched Beltway personnel, his Fifty-State Strategy is bearing fruit, and many of the people who first came to politics because of Dean are now making their way up the Democratic Party ladders; some of them are even winning elections.
The blogs are evolving, too, and the ProgBlogs 2.0 Era is under way.
No longer is it possible, as it was in 2002, for a new blog to come out and look like Eschaton or Hullabaloo and automatically pick up a sizable readership. There are a number of text-only (or mostly text-only) progblogs out there handling the general national beat, and that ground, once parched and dry, is now saturated with bloggy goodness. In order to stand out from the crowd, a new blog must be more than just words on a page and a comments thread.
This is when blogging software starts to get more sophisticated. This is when blogs start caring about site design and aesthetics. This is when blogs using the DailyKos model of readers-as-bloggers move from entities ruled by one person towards being truly democratic sites. This is where we see more non-white-run blogs, joining Steve Gilliard and Oliver Willis and the Wampum Blog. This is when more women-run blogs, joining the trailblazing Digby of Hullabaloo, start setting up shop: Feministe, Fire Dog Lake, Pandagon, Shakespeare's Sister. This is when we start to get some of the most creative minds blogging, people like Driftglass, at whose shrine I worship.
This is when we start seeing Old Media guys like Joe Conason (who being a Salon.com veteran was already comfy with the online world) and James Wolcott and Will Bunch and Eric Black start dipping their toes into the blogging waters -- and liking them. Some Old Media bloggers see blogging as yet another megaphone for them to use; they want it to be top-down and they're not used to having their pronouncements challenged in real time by readers who may know much more than they do. Others, such as the ones I've cited, are taking the best values and traditions of journalism and bringing them to the blogging environment, enriching both worlds. This is where the rich lefties FINALLY realize that they have to get into the game and do what rich righties have done for decades - fund their own media - and in addition to bankrolling Old Media like Air America and Democracy Radio, start funding nationally-focused hybrid blogging/journalism sites like ThinkProgress.org.
This is the time of the flowering of "distributed reporting", where tens of thousands of people, working together, go to work on a story and do it up brown. This is where many of the blogs make the transition from reporting the news to actually breaking it. This is where the first of the locally-focused blogs, with both opinion and journalism, appear.
Now we're into the third era of progressive blogging. The big nationally-focused blogs like Eschaton and DailyKos are still around and still the leaders in terms of clicks, but there's a growing group of blog readers that favor the local blogs, many of which are funded by nationally-operating progressive groups. In my neck of the woods, we have Minnesota Monitor, Minnesota Campaign Report, A Bluestem Prairie, and a host of others I don't even know about because my tunnel vision has until recently had a strictly national focus. These entities are growing just as the old print journalism sources, hobbled by the costs of their physical plants and by corporate owners unsatisfied with 20% profit margins (which would be excellent in most any other industry), are being slowly starved and slashed to death by their corporate owners.
What will ProgBlogs 4.0 look like? I haven't a clue, but I hope it's something along the lines of local blogs like MinMon. Much will depend on the ability of the local and national blogs to develop a revenue stream and to keep costs to within the limits set by that revenue stream. We'll soon find out.