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Monday, March 30, 2009

The Survival of the Progressive Virginia Blogosphere

Great news!

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.

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. :-) :-) :-)

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.

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.


Eileen Levandoski said...

I'd like to see New Dominion Project develop to fill that void in the community blogosphere. We don't need anymore repeats of "Blue Commonwealth".

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Thanks for stopping by, Eileen. I agree with you that New Dominion Project is a great blog and its writers are a very talented group. It also has shown that younger people can often be more civil and mature than the supposed adults.

But I don't think they post enough or have enough contributors to fill the gap.

Anyway, I think there is room for two major blogs. Unlike newspapers or magazine, I don't think we compete for readers so much as share them. Indeed, how often do we all cross-post? Every blog I know encourages it, something no mainstream media publication would do. They would demand exclusive publishing rights from their writers. So, I don't see more blogs being threatening.

You know that the more blogs out there linking to each other, the more links we get and the higher the google ranking (btw, I think Repubs have figured this out by now so I'm not revealing any secrets). So, I'd still encourage BC to come back.

But I'd like to see it more civil than the last time. I hope none of us repeats the mistakes we made in the past.

Catzmaw said...

I have mixed feelings about the demise of Blue Commonwealth. As someone who doesn't spend quite as much time in the blogosphere as others I've relied upon other bloggers for information and coverage; however, I was dismayed at the kind of slant seen at BC. I'm a Moran supporter - no big secret there - and do not like all this personal venom directed not only at him, but at anyone working on his campaign.

Have some Moran supporters done inappropriate or objectionable things? Sure. But in reading BC every day I got the distinct impression of a double standard at work. There was a lot of anger at Moran supporters even for pointing out legitimate objections to the other candidates - particularly T-Mac, while it seemed okay to just bash the hell out of them and out of Moran for anything and everything, no matter how attenuated the connection to his campaign or how minor the issue complained of.

The last diary before the sudden decision by BC to close down really tore it for me. I saw a very personal attack directed at Jerome Armstrong, whom I don't even know, but when Moran supporters responded in kind they were excoriated while the attack on Jerome Armstrong was not even mentioned. Folks, if Armstrong had not been so inappropriately attacked there would not have been a response such as what caused the sudden shutdown of BC. That much is obvious just by reading all the comments. Moreover, it seemed to me that the same people promoting the agreement about standards against personal attacks were now engaging in them, then criticizing those who reacted on the same level.

If BC is going to come back it should either declare itself a partisan blog and be done with it, or if it asserts itself as a balanced voice of all progressives and Democrats then it should be just that. That comment about bringing BC back for bloggers who wish to conduct themselves appropriately will carry a lot more weight with the likes of me if I actually see such standards enforced for ALL involved and not just those who happen to support a candidate NOT supported by the majority of the BC inner circle.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Catzmaw, I too am a Moran supporter but I have been equally dismayed at some of the negativity coming out of his campaign. That's not the Brian I have known and revered for years. I feel a lot of his professional staff is misleading him.

I was at a campaign kickoff on Sunday, with a lot of others from one of the delegate districts within Braddock District. It's for one of my favorite Virginia delegates, David Bulova. And other Moran supporters approached me with their concerns that Brian is going too negative. That was after hearing him on Kojo Nande. These are not blog readers. They are both grassroots activists and party insiders.

Frankly, I lay the blame on Joe Trippi and Jerome Armstrong, whom I believe ought to be fired. If Brian listened to Jean Jensen and other Virginians, his campaign would be taking a more positive tone that we could be proud of.

Brian, personally, is incredibly courageous for standing up to several union internationals, the Building Trades and Miners among them, and opposing Surry. I've written my thoughts about that and what I think of coal. My family has lung problems. To put it bluntly, in my family we die from lung diseases. Of course it's personal to me, even without the mounting science of climate change and global warming.

But the tone coming out of the campaign troubles me because I think he will lose because of it.

That concerns me even more than the blogosphere. He's too good not to have a great campaign. He doesn't now.

Having said all that, I really believe the reconstituted Blue Commonwealth will be different. It will be under somewhat new management so, hopefully, it will get beyond the personality conflicts.

But I still think Trippi and Armstrong are the problems in the Moran campaign. Of course, I've thought that about Trippi since Dean melted down in Iowa, though.

Catzmaw said...

Karen, I have also been very dismayed by the negativity of the Moran campaign. I've known Brian for two decades. He's not a negative type of person and does not revel in sticking it to opponents. So I agree, this tone is set by others around him, and it really is to his detriment.

Brian is an incredibly engaging, intelligent, hardworking, and charming person. He has a great track record and plenty of natural talent. Why, then, the resort to such negativity? This focus on the negative has deprived his campaign of a very strong, positive message. His inside knowledge of Virginia politics cannot be matched, yet I see no emphasis by his campaign on this, his greatest strength.

Brian could easily run as the happy warrior, the positive force, who has the gravitas and inside understanding of Virginia politics which Terry McAuliffe lacks. Is T-Mac charming? Of course. Is Brian charming? Hells yes. Then why isn't he using his natural charm to draw away those who are enchanted by Terry's charm and haven't given much thought to what's behind the curtain? Why isn't he pointing to his accomplishments and his superior background in Virginia politics while gently laughing off T-Mac? Why isn't he telling us that it's one thing to have bold ideas and proposals and quite another to get a fractious and divided legislature to help you enact them? Why am I not hearing any of the stuff that would actually appeal to the average Virginia voter?

It's quite disheartening.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Catzmaw, you said some really brilliant things that I want to expand on in a post some time, and give you credit for being the originator.

I really like your suggestion that Brian should, indeed, be the Happy Warrior - an expression I hadn't heard in years and what a tragedy that this country didn't elect Humphrey (though in 68, when I was 14, I didn't realize it). I think we would have been a far different, far better place if we had.

Anyway, I agree with everything you said. I have always found Brian to be a warm, engaging, down to earth and sincere person with good ideas. He's labored in the trenches for Virginia for years.

I'd like to see him stick to the positives. He's moving ahead in the polls. If he concentrates on his vision for Virginia's future, I think the momentum will continue to build for him.

Eileen Levandoski said...

Ladies, I couldn't agree with you more. And perhaps I could solicit your help. I'm the editor of our new Raising Moran report (weekly e-newsletter). If you haven't gotten the premiere issue, let me know and I'll send it to you. It's all positive stuff about Brian. We are working on building up our mailing list so if you have friends, family, co-workers that you would like to see receive it, let me know.