Friday, August 3, 2007

Creating our own ladder

This morning I attended a Yearly Kos session entitled "Evolution and Integration of the Blogosphere", a self-congratulatory panel moderated by Chris Bowers (late of MyDD), featuring Tracy Russo (blogger for John Edwards' campaign), Ali Savino (Center for Independent Media), the Big Blue Smurf, Amanda Turkel (ThinkProgress), Amanda Marcotte (Pandagon), and Matt Stoller (late of MyDD).

I can't say I didn't anticipate the self-congratulatory, "holding court" atmosphere of this session, but what struck me was the similarity between the "We're successful because we work really hard and if you work as hard as we do you can be successful too" message that those who were early adopters of the blog format convey and the "I got mine and fuck you" attitude of Republicans. The so-called "top-tier" bloggers have been defensive of late at having been accused of running a closed shop. At this panel, that defensiveness was very much in evidence, enhanced by the "panel on the podium talking to the assembled masses layout of the room. I thought my head would explode when Tracy Russo opined that the reason they have been successful is because they work very hard to get where they are.

When you think about some of those bloggers lurking just below the top tier, people like Driftglass and the Group News Blog folks, the idea that hard work is what makes bloggers successful (and by implication, those who are still trying to achieve traction are slackers) is like saying that Warren Buffett is more successful than the average family living in the projects because he works harder.

Isn't this illusion of meritocracy and this notion that it's ALL about hard work the very thing we knock when Republicans advocate against a social safety net? Don't we rail against Republicans for insisting that the reason you can no longer afford to pay your mortgage isn't because you had to train your H-1B replacement and you are over 50 and can't find another job but because you simply aren't trying hard enough? Isn't a certain degree of collectivism and sharing part of progressive philosophy? So for a progressive blogger to claim "It's all because we work harder than you do" in a room full of bloggers, is breathtaking.

To be fair, later on in the session, lip service was given to the notion of outreach, but it's clear that the belief that because there is no formal central authority who decides who makes it and who doesn't there is no elitism among bloggers is preposterous. Chris Bowers loves to joke about "We all take our orders from Markos", but his voice drips with condescension towards the Great Unwashed Masses as he does so.

The other topic discussed was whether the individual blog has gone the way of the dodo -- another meme that has been given a lot of air of late. I wrote movie reviews online for seven years, and in the heyday of online film criticism, we faced the same issues -- whether an individual reviewer could generate enough content to make a viable site. Online film criticism evolved from many individual sites to group collective sites. Gabriel (ModFab) and I started Mixed Reviews from two individual sites, but later on we added two more critics. Anyone reviewing movies online was sooner or later asked to "gain exposure" by writing for another startup online magazine -- no payment, just "links and exposure." Now, with political blogging, history is repeating itself. Earlier this year, WNBC in New York fed shrimp to a few hundred bloggers offering to provide "links and exposure" in exchange for bloggers providing content to General Electric. Group blogs are running around here recruiting contributors, saying "We need content." Of course they do. Ever-changing content is required to generate the traffic that generates ad revenue. But I think it's dangerous to buy into the meme that it is somehow OK to give away your work in exchange for some vague promise of "links and exposure."

The reason that the Heathers in a high school have power is because those not in that inner circle bestow power upon them by longing to enter the club. The reality is that most of us aren't going to make a living blogging. We will continue to have to work a real job, take care of kids, pay the mortgage on time, and other mundane aspects of life. So we have to decide for whom it is we blog, and why we blog. I blog because for me, writing is like breathing. If I stop doing one, I may stop doing the other. I blog so that people I know who may not read other blogs see the stories they may not find elsewhere. I blog to keep my sanity. I blog because not to do so is unthinkable. I blog because by writing, I come across other writers who visit this blog who blow me away with their talent.

And THAT is what lower-tier bloggers ought to be doing. Forget about the big boys. You're never going to be invited to play golf with the CEO and you're never going to be in their club. Decide why you blog, and help out other bloggers who deserve greater recognition. Blog because you love it. Don't blog for ad revenue, or for recognition by the famous, or because you want your name on the masthead of a group blog. If you want a blog that reflects your own identity, don't let anyone talk you into giving that up so you can be part of a group blog where someone else makes a living.

On Sunday, I'll be inviting five or six people to guestblog for me at Brilliant at Breakfast from August 11-17. Those who aren't selected shouldn't think it's because their work is lacking. I'm just another mid-tier blogger who isn't going to have computer access for a week. Frankly, I'm thrilled that there have been so many people who want to guestblog. Part of my mission is to recognize writers I think are good so that the few hundred people who visit here every day will consider visiting them too. My eyes are always open.

And that's a promise.

(Cross-posted at Brilliant at Breakfast)