March 13th, 2008
Are big-name political bloggers just another endangered intermediary? That basic question came up in the Politics Online Conference session on Web 2.0 and politics, soon after the mention of the role of comments on news organization sites in helping activists bypass media filters. The basic point: just as commentors on mainstream sites can speak directly to those sites’ readers, political campaigns are working hard to reach voters directly online, without needing the support or even the notice of prominent bloggers to do so.
When the political blogosphere was first becoming prominent a few years back, one of its attractions was that most bloggers were non-traditional voices who brought up topics and points-of-view that weren’t being discussed in the mainstream media. For instance, one reason that Daily Kos initially attracted readers was that its author, Markos Moulitsas, was a former soldier who was speaking out against the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Other writers and activists on the Left, Right and Center also gained readers because they presented ideas and served communities that more traditional media outlets weren’t. But an interesting phenomenon happened — the world of political blogs quickly splintered into a handful of sites that attract a mass audience (Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, RedState) and a vast sea of smaller sites that struggle just to get noticed.
As the top blogs built their readerships and rose to national prominence, in some sense they became just another set of intermediary: another filter on information. For instance, a media-relations person I once talked with compared getting her organization’s issues on the front page of Daily Kos to getting into a New York Times story, both in reach and in the difficulty of breaking through. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? Ah, I can hear the bloggers bristling from here….
Of course you don’t want to overstate the point. But the thing with the internet’s natural trend toward disintermediation is that it doesn’t care who the intermediary IS, and prominent bloggers are just as likely to be the targets of an end-run as traditional media outlets. I’ve heard Lefty bloggers talk about their desire to create a new progressive movement, but if one arrives, will they have the role in it that they expect? Or will they find themselves bypassed by political candidates, activist organizations and NEW citizen voices who have learned to use video, social media and good old email lists to have the same influence that bloggers have had over the past few years? The prominent blogs on both sides have large but still niche audiences, just as talk radio hosts, politicians and environmental groups with big email lists do. As more people learn to create online, the competition for attention will only grow, and the big political blogs may find themselves just as ripe for undercutting as the mainstream media they often rail against.