Just as I was getting ready to do a task that really made me sad, removing Blue Commonwealth because of their recent announcement that they were closing up, I saw this announcement that they will be back under new management. Here's the announcement in full:
Blue Commonwealth will be returning shortly, The URL will then point to a different address.Like many others across the progressive blogosphere, I was stunned by the level of acrimony that we were descending into in the primaries. And when Blue Commonwealth finally decided to fold under the weight of it, I was distressed all day yesterday.
We will still be a community blog, serving all Virginia Dems willing to behave with a modicum of common decency
we will be at a different location
we will be under different management
those of us who have been active here have decided we want to try to continue to have one blog in Virginia that is open to people who may disagree on whom to support in contested primaries
we will keep our name
we will have many of the same participants
we will invite others to join us, including you
so . . . . .
STAY TUNED We will let you know when we are about to "go live" in our NEW! IMPROVED packaging :-)
And we hope you will join us. :-) :-) :-)
Without a solid community blog, there would be a huge vacuum in Virginia progressive politics. Despite the disagreements over which candidate to support in the primary, bloggers create value in the election process. That's why all of the major campaigns have put out time and money to woo bloggers. Each of the gubernatorial campaigns has hosted blogger dinners, teleconferences, and interviews with bloggers. They have embraced live blogging and sat down for interviews with bloggers. Even small fry like me have been offered exclusive interviews. I don't do interviews because to do them properly and respectfully of the candidate, I think it requires lots of work researching the interviewees background and composing intelligent and challenging questions for him to answer. In short, interviewing is a skill that requires more dedication, time, and work than I am willing to give to what is for me a hobby.
If I wanted to be a reporter, I'd quit my day job and go back into journalism (although nowadays, that might not actually be a realistic career option).
Sorry to digress from the main point of this post. That point is that campaigns realize the value of blogs to spreading their message and, in some cases, to raising funds for them and encouraging grassroots activists to support and work for their campaigns.
The best read blogs are the large scale community efforts where readers can go to peruse a variety of opinions, get valuable information on the campaigns and where to go to volunteer, and find out each candidate's policy positions. A lot this inside baseball information for volunteers and activists is not avaliable in newspapers, which cover only the horse race aspects. And the largest daily newspaper in our region, the Washington Post, often gives scant coverage to smaller local races.
As a reader, I've learned more about local politics from the blogs than I ever did from the newspapers, even the smaller more localized papers like The Connection, The Fairfax Journal, The Examiner, etc. I'm not just talking about the Democratic Party's political messages, I've learned more about the Republican Party at the local level by being able to read the other side's blogs. And that makes me a more informed voter and citizen. The more information out there, the better for democracy.
But when a large state-wide blog with lots of contributors from all over the commonwealth folds, it creates a vacuum, as I said above, that will be difficult to fill by smaller blogs. Many of us who do one person blogs have neither the time nor resources to update several times a day or to present differing views within the spectrum of progressive politics. Heck, I sometimes can't post for days at a time. Raising Kaine and Blue Commonwealth were able to present new material throughout the day. The more news, views, and information you have on your site, obviously, the more readers you will attract throughout the day. People will check in periodically to see what's happened since they last read it in the morning. People can check AIAW about once every few days and be reasonably caught up with what I'm going to say and write since I can't sit here all day doing what BC, or RK before it, did. And the more timely information out there, the more people read it, the more word of mouth that that's where you go to keep up, the more valuable to site becomes for practical organizing.
Just as important, when newspapers neglect an important story or get it wrong or are biased, who will be there from the progressive side to call them on it?
Despite what our right wing friends claim, more of the mainstream media is right center than left center. There are just a few truly slightly left center papers around. And even they have a pro-business bias. In our area, the Washington Post is clearly a slightly right center, socially moderate, vey pro-business, very anti-union newspaper. Doubt me?
Recently, Sandhya Somashekhar and Tim Craig did a major article on the growing influence of unions on Virginia politics and the only labor person they interviewed was a labor official from Maryland whose union had almost no members in Virginia. They totally ignored the Virginia State AFL-CIO or even the Northern Virginia Central Labor Council, which is both one of the largest and most politically active labor councils in Virginia and is right in their own backyard. That's being pretty out of touch with your own community. (Ok, I have to add some snark here, maybe that's why the WaPo is losing readers and maybe they need to pay attention to the fundamentals of good reporting rather than making cosmetic changes to the way their paper looks).
So, with most newspapers having their own biases and shortcomings and an organized and energized rightwing blogosphere - underestimate them at your peril - who picks up the slack for us as we head into the general elections, after June 9th?
For me, it was starting to look like a pretty bleak prospect. It could easily have become a return to the days when Republicans dominated the media coverage and successfully got their talking points out while we couldn't get anybody to even listen to us - remember the talk radio, early Fox News days, and early blogosphere when there was virtually nobody out there to compete with the rightwing bloggers?
Because we didn't have much money and had less influence on the mainstream media, blogging was all we could compete with successfully and out of that desperation to get our message out, it was what the progressive community did brilliantly. We were simply better in recent election cycles than Republican bloggers at dominating the Net and getting out our narrative and it spread beyond the Internet and wended its way to network and print media.
Also, Republicans have not had anything like the concept of a community blog with lots of diarists posting whenever they wanted. The closest in Virginia is Bearing Drift, with its great variety of regular contributors, including some respected progressives, and its guest posts. But it is still managed by Jim Hoeft and friends, and contributors have to be invited to post. It is run more like a good on-line magazine, with a variety of contributors; but it's not a true community blog as RK or BC was. And that's not its business model.
But that was precisly what contributed to the Virginia progressive blogosphere's great success in driving the dialogue and the message. To be sure, there are some real problems with a bunch of amateurs posting in a free for all format. To my mind, the most glaring problem is that they break the most elemental rules of good journalism because they are untrained and those rules never occur to them. But the mainstream media also break some of those rules, and they are trained and should know better.
The main problem, for me, is that bloggers tend to post inside dirt, leak things, and think they are doing great investigative journalism, but they never go to the subjects of their posts to get their side of the story. In real investigative journalism, a Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein always interviewed their subjects, presented the material they had gathered, and attempted to get the subject to respond to hard hitting questions pertaining to that material. Good reporters interview targets of their stories and ask them to answer charges raised against them. Bloggers almost never do that and, I think, it's hurts their stories and hurts their credibility.
They may argue that they haven no obligation to get the other side's story.
They don't if all they are interested in is partisan advocacy. But if they are interested in doing good journalism, even from a liberal point of view, yeah, they actually are obligated to practice the tenets of of the profession and be fair.
There are other technical problems with the way bloggers handle stories. But I don't want to write - and I don't think readers want to read - a complete journalism textbook here. However, the issue of how to handle anonymous sources and getting verification from others willing to go public to confirm the information is another area that needs to be better thought out.
My point is that while there are areas where we bloggers could improve, overall we provide value in our coverage of campaigns and our advocacy for candidates that will be sorely missed if the largest of our progressive blogs can't make it and are forced to fold.
That's why I welcome a revised Blue Commonwealth. I hope the dedicated bloggers, diarists, and grassroots activists tone down the vitriol, concentrate on promoting their candidates, and remain positive during the rest of this election cycle. If they can't do that, we will lose more than the valuable resources of the blogs, we will also lose an important election and set Virginia's progressive politics back a great deal.