How Selfish Bloggers and a Hapless GOP Are Choking the Life from the Independent, Conservative Blogosphere

| July 18, 2011 | 18 Replies

John Hawkins wrote a post today called “The Slow, Painful Coming Death Of The Independent, Conservative Blogosphere” wherein he pretty much advised every right-wing blogger to either pull down big traffic numbers of quit.

That’s it. No advice for how to get that big traffic. No mention of smaller bloggers who are doing a good job of building their site’s visibility or traffic. Nothing. Just, well, this:

Bloggers have asked me: So what’s the strategy to deal with this?

Really, it’s simple: Get big or go home.

Find a way to dramatically increase the size of your blog, expand into multiple websites that together are big, hook up with someone who’s already big, or accept that there isn’t much of a future in a small, niche market for you. Maybe that sounds a little grim, but unless something changes, independent conservative bloggers who haven’t already made it big don’t have a bright future.

Gee, thanks, John. What, you couldn’t find a way to deliver an electronic kick to the groin right at the end of that last paragraph?

As I’ve written before, right-wing bloggers do have a couple fairly large problems between them and a respectably-sized readership, but they’re far from insurmountable. Unfortunately, a big part of the solution to those problems lie in the hands of bloggers like Hawkins who have no real interest in spending much if any of their time on community-building.

Take a quick scan over Hawkins article and look at the links. Do you see how all of them — every last one — goes to a big right-wing web site? That’s by design. He’s link-whoring. Now, link-whoring is a venerable blogging tradition and often helps bring in a few links here or there, but if you’re going to write about smaller blogs, why not link to a couple of them? There are sites out there — William Jacobson’s Legal Insurrection, Donald Douglas’ American Power, Stacy McCain’s The Other McCain, Joy McCann’s and Dan Collins’ Conservative Commune, and Duane Lester’s All American Blogger — who would have benefitted from a link and a quick mention as examples of at least some level of success. He could have pulled links from within his own stable of guest-writers (who, by the way, get no special mention anywhere on his site that I can find) for the same purpose – William Teach’s Pirate’s Cove and Lance Burri’s Troglopundit come quickly to mind.

He didn’t because, well, he’s in the game for the links and he’ll get more from a Lucianne sideswipe than he will a direct post from any of the bloggers to whom I linked. Look at his “Linkswap” page. Sure, he’s willing to give a blogroll link to another blogger, but only if that blogger can guarantee him 500 hits a week. How many small, or even mid-sized, blogs can guarantee 500 hits a week to one site? Not many, unless they make an point of giving Right Wing News a fairly prominent link in a couple or three posts a week. The message he’s explicitly sending to other bloggers is “If you can’t help me in a fairly decent way, I have no interest in you at all”.

That’s not how things worked when I was a new blogger. When I started the Sundries Shack, I got links all the time from more popular blogs like Q and O, Captain’s Quarters (the home of Ed Morrissey before he joined Hot Air), and even Right Wing News. Now, years later, I’m lucky if I get a link every few months from the guys who used to link me three or four times a month.

Times change. People change. Job responsibilities change. I get that many of the bloggers with whom I came up in the blogosphere have moved on to much larger professional gigs. Some have sites that pull hundreds of thousands of hits a month. Some work as social media consultants and rarely write anymore. Their lives, and their blogging/writing schedules get pretty busy. The demands on them are more pronounced than when they were hustling hits for their own sites. Their employers demand big, fast results. I get all of that. But would it kill any of them to toss a few links back to the folks trying to get a leg up? Would it truly be that onerous to add a few smaller blogs to their RSS readers and perhaps highlight one of those blogs in a post or newsletter a couple times a month? I can’t imagine it would. I manage to do it pretty much every day with my Clearing the Browser Tabs post. In fact, one of the reasons I do that daily post is to spread some of the linky love to bloggers to whom I know I don’t link enough otherwise. I do it on purpose because I think an important part of my presence in social media is being social. More of us who have been around a while need to remember how good it felt when one of the big dogs noticed us and sent us a healthy dollop of Sitemeter-bulging hits and make sure we do that once in a while for other bloggers.

It won’t kill the bottom-line. In fact, it’s far more likely that reconnecting with the blogospheric community will be good for all of us in the long-term. Not only will we get more links from the little guys, who may well become big guys one day, but we’ll also foster a much-needed sense of community among right-wing bloggers.

One other point. I think Hawkins buried the real reason the right-wing blogging community is in ebb tide right now. Here’s his fifth point.

Most bloggers are not very good at marketing, not very good at monetizing, there are no sugar daddies giving us cash, and this isn’t the biggest market in the world to begin with. In other words, this is a time-consuming enterprise, but few people are going to make enough money to go full time.

He’s right about that. Let me make two points here. First, John mentioned earlier in his post that the left-wing blogosphere exploded in 2002-2003 because they hated George W. Bush and wanted to give voice to that hate. That may well be, but I think something else was at work. Let me list a few of the more popular left-wing blogs and bloggers, and the year they were founded.

  • Daily Kos, Markos Moutlitsas – 2002
  • TAPPED (The American Prospect blog), Matthew Yglesias – 2003
  • Think Progress – 2003
  • Ezra Klein – 2003 (Interned for Washington Monthly in 2004)
  • Media Matters – 2004
  • Political Animal (the Washington Monthly blog), Kevin Drum – 2004
  • Firedoglake, Jane Hamsher – 2004
  • Unclaimed Territory, Glenn Greenwald – 2005
There are a couple things to note about this list. First, only two of these sites coule be called “community” sites where like-minded people could vent their spleens. They are also the sites that are, for the most part, self-funded. The other blogs are backed by either wealthy sugar-daddies or establishment Democratic publications. Second, every one of these bloggers have moved up in the Democratic political/media establishment. Kevin Drum moved to Mother Jones and was replaced by another established “DIY” blogger Steve Benen. Ezra Klein is at the Washington Post, as is Greg Sargent (who moved from Joshua Micah Marshall’s Talking Points Memo, which is now an establishment professional site). Yglesias moved from TAPPED to The Atlantic and now works for the Center for American Progress, which also funds Think Progress. Greenwald moved from his own blog to a regular position at Salon. Both Moulitsas and Hamsher get regular air time on cable news networks as pundits and election analysts. So does Klein. So does Greenwald.
When was the last time you saw someone who got their start as a blogger on Fox News as a regular contributor? How about at the Washington Examiner? National Review? The Weekly Standard? Save for the Washington Times, which is a notable exception, right-wing media treat the blogosphere as the junior varsity (to borrow a phrase Stephen Green used on Episode 100 of The Delivery). Bloggers don’t often get to “move up” in the right-wing message machine because…well, I don’t have a good answer for that.

One of the big reasons the left got a jump on conservatives online is because the left-wing establishment used its money and influence to push a number of bloggers into positions where they could be more influential. Democrats continue to do this, too. When Andrew Sullivan moved on from The Atlantic, the magazine kicked one of his writers, Conor Friedersdorf, to a more prominent spot. The right? Well, let me just say that a blog has a far better chance of getting hit by a bus on the Ross Ice Shelf than they do getting an offer to be part of a new media team at the RNC. The right-wing establishment barely shows an interest in the blogosphere and so long as that continues, the left will always beat us.

Here’s my second point. John is right when he says right-wing bloggers are not good at marketing and monetizing. Neither subject is particularly easy to pick up on the fly. But let me suggest that bloggers could use some useful advice from a guy, like John, who is good at marketing and monetizing. Plenty of bloggers (or former bloggers who are now professional marketers and monetizers) could give new site owners some truly helpful information, but too few of them actually do. I can’t tell you how frustrated I’ve been at conservative political conventions when I’ve sat in on a panel discussion on blogging or podcasting during which the participants spent most of their time talking about themselves and promoting their own projects rather than sharing a few crumbs of their accumulated experience.

I get that we conservatives are ruggedly-individual capitalists. Yay, Adam Smith and all that. It doesn’t make much sense to me, though, to write a piece on the death of the conservative blogosphere when you’re one of the people with your hands around its throat. I’m not a big-traffic guy like John, and so if you’re inclined to dismiss what I have to say as the whining of a failure, well, I won’t argue with you. But consider that the real strength of social media isn’t the second word but the first. If you’re stressing the wrong part of that phrase, you can certainly do well for yourself, but you’re not doing anyone else any good. And isn’t that the point of being a political blogger in the first place? Blog traffic isn’t a zero-sum game — the pie is plenty big enough for all of us to get a huge piece, even if we spend less time hyping our own projects and a little bit more time helping to lift up the people whose piece isn’t all that big right now.

UPDATE: Ed reminded me that Hot Air’s Greenroom does feature a number of smaller bloggers (like me) and that some of those posts do get promoted to the main page. I had forgotten that an apologize to Ed and Allah for the oversight. I believe that the Green Room was the launching pad for John Hayward (AKA: Doc Zero), who is now a regular contributor to Human Events’ web site. So, the situation isn’t as dire as it could otherwise be. I’m still not convinced it’s anywhere nearly as good as it is on the left, but it’s not entirely hopeless.

UPDATE 2: Let me be clear (wait…where have I heard that before?), I didn’t write this as a way to bemoan my own plight. I use myself as an example because I know my own history the best. It’s clear to me that the the left wings establishments, both political and media, have made a habit of looking to its own talent. I’m simply saying that we used to have that habit on the right and we would be better off if we got back to it.

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