Tanni Haas is a professor of speech communication arts and sciences at CUNY’s Brooklyn College. He’s written a number of books and scholarly articles on the subject of public journalism, which is fond way to describe this thing of ours, i.e., blogging. His Amazon.com page – I need to get me one of them – describes him as an “avid political blog reader,” which must be true, since he reached out to me via the email pipe to see if I was interested in reading his latest oeuvre.
Entitled, “Making it in the Political Blogosphere – The World’s Top Political Bloggers Share the Secrets to Success,” Professor Haas explores the phenomenon of political blogging, also known as “participatory”, “democratic”, “guerrilla” and “street journalism”, descriptions that invoke a whiff of the Weather Underground as much as it does pajama-clad heroes tapping feverishly away at the keyboards in the dark o’ the night.
There are roughly 160 million blogs in existence in one form or another, although many represent damp squibs that either never took off, or became too cumbersome to maintain. The blogosphere covers a lot of ground, but many of the more popular portals deal with politics. There’s little doubt that the heavy hitters in the political blogosphere have left their mark on our political discourse, for better or worse, shaping public perceptions in ways often congenial to their readers’ preconceptions, if rarely challenging them. They have, I would submit, widened the gap between our various liberal, conservative and libertarian elements, hardening prejudices and contributing to the toxicity of the national dialogue. But there you are, and the toothpaste is out of the tube. No squeezing it back in.
As Professor Haas explains in his opening chapter, “the top 10 blogs account for 48% of (political blog) readers,” and are widely read in turn by mainstream journalists and opinion writers, who use their less constrained cousins in no-man’s land to get a sense of the country’s political mood. If you doubt the reach of the political blogosphere, ask Trent Lott or Scooter Libby what they think.
Haas surveys the top 20 political bloggers for their opinions – bloggers are never short of opinions – on how to write, reach and influence the nation. For his subjects he chose Arianna Huffington, of the HuffPo, Taegan Goddard, Jane Hamsher, Eric Olsen, Andrew Malcolm, Nick Gillespie, Thomas Lifson, Eric Garris, Tyler Cowen, Rogers Caldenhead, Lew Rockwell, Jim Hoft, Steve Clemons, Ben Smith, Matt Yglesias, John Hawkins, Juan Cole, Cheryl Contee, and finally, Neptunus Lex.
Just kidding about that last one.
If you haven’t heard of half of those bloggers, you may be reinforcing my thesis in paragraph 3. If you’ve heard of roughly half of them, but remember Juan Cole unkindly for his opposition to Bush’s wars and his support for Obama’s, you’ve read the man correctly. If you’ve never heard of any but that fellow at the end there, congratulations on your refined sensibilities. If you’ve heard of them all, mazel tov. Now push away from the keyboard and get some sunshine.
They are distributed thusly: 9 left/liberal, 3 ostensibly neutral, 4 conservative, and 3 libertarian. I lumped Cole into the left/liberal category, and Contee as well – officially Jack & Jill Politics is an ethnic blog, but a quick scan of the matter there leads me to the conclusion that their politics are aligned more with the Democratic Party than otherwise.
A diverse selection, properly weighted I think – the conservatives are mostly at the office – and it’s not hard to argue, as Professor Haas does, that they are making a difference:
The political blogging A-list has also had a direct impact on recent election campaigns. The support of Ned Lamont among several top liberal bloggers, notably Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake, is widely credited with helping him win over Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) during the 2006 Democratic senatorial primaries, although Lieberman defeated Lamont during the general election later that year while running as an Independent. More generally, the political mobilization and fundraising efforts of top liberal bloggers is widely credited with ensuring the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006, making possible a number of crucial wins, including those in Montana, Ohio and Virginia.
So there’s that.
I found “Making it in the Political
Blogosphere” an interesting read, partly for the insights the bloggers share, and partly for the techniques they used to, well: Make it Big. It’s possible to make a living in your pajamas – the ultimate work-from-home-gig – if you have a defined point-of-view, a broad scope of interest and the willingness to put it all out there: Part of the “participatory” journalism thing is take your lumps in comments from time to time. It’s time consuming of course, requires the intelligence to write well, research carefully, earn trust and engage with your audience. If you can carve out a certain niche, that’s all to the better: Although there’s a lot of competition in the “Obama sucks” or “Bush Still Sucks” categories, it helps if you can differentiate, according to Haas’ research.
It also helps to have a technical strategy. That’s more than just a good look and feel, its partly to do with interacting with other blogs. Link blegging is one way to go about it – one I never put much investment in – as is making thoughtfully written comments to important posts: Raises your stock among the audience.
If you’re at all interested in how these people, some of them veteran journalists, some influential in their previous industries, others more like hobbyists with an unbridled passion for all things politics, “Making it Big” could be just the jump start you need. It’s well written, without being stuffy. How’d you get started, what were your motivations, who are you trying to reach, and how? What makes for an outstanding blog? To what do you credit your success? What advice would you give?
Good questions in almost any field of endeavor, I should think. Excellence often being fungible. And even if you’ve no interest in the act of blogging, it was thought-provoking to learn the back-story behind these peoples’ lives, especially considering their not inconsequential impact.
Which brings an interesting point, one I asked of Professor Haas:
I’d be pleased to take a look at your book, and share it with my audience, although – admission against interest – we are mere hobbyists in that part of the world compared to those you’ve researched, and not much more elsewhere.
Just out of curiosity, what brought your attention to my little corner of the ‘net? I’m flattered and all, but the world is so big, and we are so small.
To which he answered: “I enjoy your site very much. That explains it.”
Give the man credit for taste.