Saturday, March 12, 2005

Blogs and "Connections"

Garance Franke-Ruta's recent American Prospect article on key differences between Left and Right bloggers has created an interesting and useful debate. But I suspect she may be spurring a different, but equally useful, debate in a new post on Tapped that challenges the idea that bloggers are mainly "citizen-journalists" who represent an entirely new phenomenon in political commentary.

Franke-Ruta goes through a whole list of leading Left and Center-Left blogs, including this one, and notes the various credentials--in terms of background, experience, institutional ties, and even social connections--their authors bring to the keyboard. Her post will probably set off a backlash among bloggers who (a) fear the blogosphere is being taken over by Washington and/or Establishment Types, and (b) really freak out at the idea that Washington and/or Establishment Types are eating, boozing, and shmoozing together in order to promote each other at the expense of their less-connected peers.

I did a long post last fall providing my own, tentative take on the relationship between blogs and other forms of political expression, and concluded that the whole phenomenon represents the confluence of a new technology with a classic market failure in political journalism and advocacy.

Alternatives to market failures create all sorts of new outlets for creativity and expanded involvement, and that's been the case with blogs. But alternatives to market failures also produce a market response, and that's why so many Washington political institutions have started up or blessed blogs.

So: does that mean the Establishment is neutering the blogosphere? No, for two major reasons.

First, the Establishment response to the growing influence of online competition has loosened up the Establishment itself in significant ways. Kos is now a player in Democratic campaign planning. Nobody involved in Democratic strategy on the Social Security issue can ignore Josh Marshall. And institutional blogging is changing institutions. The stable of young bloggers at the Prospect is changing that staid journal's image and emphasis significantly. I can tell you a lot of people seem to be taking a new look at the DLC thanks to this blog and The Moose. The Center for American Progress and the New America Foundation are now sponsoring blogs, along with most political magazines. Co-optation of market-share-threatening trends is generally a two-way street. So the invasion of the blogosphere by the Establishment is a tribute to the medium's influence.

But secondly, whatever advantages Establishment bloggers have, everybody else remains just a click or a google-search away, and the quality and value-added of non-Establishment blogs continue to bubble up. I'm forever discovering that some blog I read now and then is being written by somebody living in America rather than Washington--someone with a day job who is light years away from getting a hand on the greasy pole of print or electronic journalism, or from a gig with a major political outfit or think-tank. Like most low-mid-major bloggers, I get a constant stream of email from people wanting me to link to their blogs, and the backlog of requests is a constant source of anxious guilt.

But they are there, in far greater numbers than the people lining up for interviews with Establishment outlets, and boasting qualifications--like the ability to write, and an actual knowledge of actual conditions around the country--that their Ivy-educated peers often don't have.

Yeah, many bloggers are people who'd be doing faily well in the punditocracy if the internet did not exist, and yeah, the internet has created opportunities for intelligent commentary and advocacy by a whole lot of folks who didn't go to Harvard and thus can't get in the door at The New Republic. Let's hope the supply and demand curves ultimately begin to converge. In the mean time, there's space for us all.
-- Posted at 1:22 PM | Link to this post | Email this post

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