On the off chance you missed the story (what, you’ve got a life or something?), there’s a dustup in progress between liberal bloggers and liberal organizations. Here’s the skinny: it seems that the big dog liberal blogs — you know, the folks who draw the rock star like traffic — are feeling unloved, or at least unnourished, by liberal organizations such as Americans United for Change (which has apparently now given in). They’re also a little peeved at official Democratic Party committees.
Bottom line: these organizations regularly ask liberal bloggers for help, but fail to return the favor by supporting the blogs financially through ad purchases. And many of the bloggers, in all their virtual glory, have announced that they aren’t going to take it anymore. (The full story is here.) It’s pay up, or we shut up (in terms of pushing the organizations’ agendas) time.
I’m sure I’ll regret saying this (I’ll probably be thrown out of the Liberal Bloggers Union — well, okay, I was never actually invited to join, but still . . . ):but, speaking as a liberal blogger (though by no means one of the big dogs — can anyone say Pekingese?), I find myself largely on the side of the progressive groups, and particularly the Democratic Party committees, resisting the ad buys.
The usual hit on blog advertising, of course, is that it compromises a blog’s independence. BuzzFlash, this blog’s sponsor, is a big proponent of that position, of course, with its editors taking great — and well justified — pride in the site’s freedom from advertising (even if the downside is a seemingly endless series of irritating fund drives). But there’s another problem with this type of advertising — one that applies most strongly in the specific instance of blog advertisements placed by Democratic Party committees and progressive organizations (as opposed to commercial advertisers).
Bloggers can be a raucous bunch. It’s part of the medium’s charm. It’s not, however, an attribute that mixes all that well with “respectable company.” Like it or not, you can’t be an intellectual “outlaw” and part of the establishment at the same time. And you can’t be an intellectual “outlaw” and expect establishment organizations, even those on the same side as you, to publicly embrace you. The risk they run is just too great.
The same risk exists to a degree for non-political advertisers, of course, but it’s much less acute: after all, they usually don’t face an army of political operatives out there looking for any opportunity to tarnish their opponents through bogus claims of guilt by association, as is true in the political arena.
Imagine you’re a popular liberal blogger (I image that a lot but then wake up). You get up one morning, pour yourself a cup of coffee and rev up the old laptop. Wham! Suddenly, there, assaulting your unbelieving eyes, is a story that sends your blood boiling: let’s say it’s a story about a so-called religious organization that’s distributing a commercial falsely accusing gay marriage proponents of trying to take away the rights of straight couples. Let’s say it’s also a subject that hits close to home: perhaps your brother’s gay and he and his partner want desperately to wed.
“Those mother fu*king liars,” you scream, sending both your coffee and your cat flying across the room (what is it about liberal bloggers and cats?). Then, without taking a nanosecond to think, you pound out some words, growl angrily, click once and send the following message flying at the speed of light (almost literally) all across the globe:
“I hate those fu*king Christian zealots! They’re a bunch of hypocritical assholes. Sometimes I think that religion’s the worst thing that ever happened to this world. If we’re lucky there really will be a rapture like those damn fools are always talking about. At least that way, they’ll all get the hell out of Dodge!”
A little over the top, you think? Sure, but who cares? I mean, over the top is part of what blogs do. Unless, of course, the blog in question happens to be sponsored through advertising by a “respectable” mainstream progressive organization, or even a committee of the Democratic Party.
In that case, all hell is going to break loose. Right wingers will have a field day. The media will go nuts — with reporters burning up the wires demanding that the organization in question either endorse or condemn the post — in the end they’ll condemn it, of course; they always do.
This is a “risk” that’s always there when dealing with blogs, especially as they increasingly become multi-headed “monsters.” Let’s say the organization in question feels it can trust Markos, the founder of the biggest of the big dogs, Daily Kos, to himself not post anything that will cause it grief. Great, but what about Tom from Toledo, or The Liberal Dude, or some other promising young diarist who’s putting in his or her year in the sun on the main page: can they really be trusted?
The truth is even the most cautious of bloggers will occasionally go “too far.” It goes with the territory: no editors, heavy demand to post, distribution of content at light speed — all combined with that snarky irreverent blog style we’ve all grown to love.
Be honest. Wouldn’t any reasonably cautious establishment type be nuts not to be at least a little worried? Besides, do we really want our favorite bloggers censoring themselves in an often futile attempt to avoid such problems — to keep their political sponsors happy and the money rolling in?
Formal relationships between liberal bloggers and establishment types have come to grief in the past. There was, for example, the time John Kerry felt the need to disassociate himself from Daily Kos, following a particularly blunt Kos post about the killing of the four contract soldiers in Falluja. Kos later expressed regret for the post, but in the blog world by itself it would have been no big deal. In the political world of Kerry’s campaign, on the other hand, it was a problem they didn’t need (although many prominent Democrats continue to post diaries at the site). Similarly, four years later, gifted blogger Amanda Marcotte found it necessary to resign as a blogger for the John Edwards campaign following a controversial post.
I repeat: you can’t be an intellectual “outlaw” and part of the establishment at the same time.
I understand the financial issues confronting blogs are very real: you gotta eat to blog. But pressuring progressive organizations to place ads isn’t the answer. The price is just too high — for both sides.