On Increased Entry Costs In The Progressive Blogosphere

In my post yesterday about changing dynamics in the progressive, political blogosphere, there were quite a few excellent comments. Two that really caught my eye were by Jeffrey Feldman and a response to Feldman by andy k. First, here is Feldman's comment:
I think what you're describing is the transition from an open to a competitive market dynamic. Price of entry is now high enough that solo bloggers are not quite making it in, and established bloggers are innovating to retain their share.
I think this is exactly right. When the progressive, political blogosphere began, it was structured in pretty much the same fashion as the conservative political blogosphere. Almost every single major progressive blog was founded and operated by a single individual. However, starting in late 2003 with the introduction of a scoop platform to Dailykos, a process began where highly trafficked, highly linked progressive blogs continued to innovate far beyond the structure of a single blogger serving as the sole, mainly punditry oriented, content provider. Virtually everyone supplemented their writing staffs with guest bloggers, or even new, full-time bloggers. Virtually everyone started moderating their comments or requiring registration in order to post. Many blogs became community sites, with greatly enhanced user-generated content. Video, radio and other forms of multimedia became the norm. Many websites enhanced their political capability by starting Act Blue pages, founding PACs, or starting nationwide activist campaigns. Investigative journalism and live, on the ground reports from important events became commonplace. People scored interviews with, or even blog posts by, major figures in the progressive ecosystem and Democratic leadership. Bloggers themselves started appearing in a variety of high visibility media locations, including hosting radio programs, television interviews, meeting with former Presidents, and speaking before major conferences. Revenue streams were added, from Blogads, to Feedburner, to fundraisers, to consulting gigs, to sponsorships. Many are even publishing books. Now, more than three years later, it has come to the point where the early structure of the progressive political blogosphere has been almost entirely done away with. The days of the major, solo content generator, pundit blogger are all but over.

The blogosphere may have started as a new form of individual punditry, but at its elite levels, the progressive blogosphere has now moved beyond that. Take a quick look at the structure of the new progressive blogosphere elite, and consider how difficult it is for a new blog to break into this group (or even to maintain its place within the group):

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MyDD Survey Data, Part Two: Partisanship, Voting and General Ideology

Click here to take survey

It is time for part two of the MyDD reader survey. This section focuses on partisanship, voting, and general ideology.

Click here to take survey. I'll post the results tomorrow morning.

I will produce part three of the survey, which will focus on lifestyle questions, on Wednesday. Also, you can see the complete results of part one, the demographic survey, in the extended entry. You should seriously check it out--it is interesting stuff, and quite relevant to our conversations today.

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MyDD Reader Survey, Part One: Demographic Info

Click here to take survey

I have decided to conduct the reader survey in several distinct parts. Well, "decided" is a strong word, since the basic membership I have with Survey Monkey only allows me ten questions per survey. So, I have whipped up the first part, which focuses on demographic issues. Click here to take survey. Please let me know how you think the questions I have asked can be improved, and what questions I should have asked that I left out. I would like to get the survey questions down pat, so that at some point in the future we can hold a single, omnibus survey that will allow for more interesting cross-tabs.

Click here to take survey. I will post preliminary results at 5 p.m. eastern tonight, and also tomorrow morning. The results might be posted in Breaking Blue, so be on the lookout.

The next part of the survey, which I will post on Monday, will focus on ideology and partisanship.

Update: The survey is now open. Sorry about that.

MyDD Survey Thread

I just signed up with Survey Monkey. I did so because I want to create some sort of comprehensive survey to ask MyDD readers. I figured I would ask about things like favorable / unfavorable ratings of the 2008 Democratic field, approval / disapproval of the Democratic leadership, some demographic information on who reads MyDD (or least in who takes surveys on MyDD), and maybe a couple of site-focused questions.

I figure I will launch the survey either tonight or tomorrow morning, but before I do, I'd like to hear your input. What sort of questions would you like to see posed to the MyDD community? Are there any questions I should definitely not ask? Should it all be done in one large survey, or should there be several surveys, each focused on a single topic? I could, for example, do a demographic survey, then a 2008 survey, then a strategy / activism survey, then a MyDD focused survey, etc.

Anyway, let me know. Making surveys like this is pretty fun, and I want to give you guys a piece of the action.

Questions On The Professionalization of the Netroots

Looking at the announcements of the new Edwards hires, Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan, I am struck once again by the ongoing exodus of prominent players in the netroots to professional positions as campaign, congressional, and consultant staff. At this point, I now personally know multiple people working as Internet / netroots staffers for Edwards, Dodd, and Draft Obama. I know at least one person working for Vilsack, Richardson, and Clinton. Additionally, I know people who work for all party committees, for Harry Reid and for Nancy Pelosi, as well as for a number of individual Senators and Representatives outside the leadership, including Louise Slaughter and Russ Feingold (and droves of freshmen). I have known people not working for any of these candidates or members of Congress who worked netroots for Kerry, Dean and Clark in 2003-2004. I know several netroots coordinators for advocacy organizations, including the various unions, ACLU, PFAW, Media Matters and the Center for American Progress. There are also people who are employed by netroots organizations, such as Democracy for America and MoveOn.org. There are also those who operate as netroots consultants for Internet based consulting firms like Blue State Digital, @dvocacy, Wired for Change, and, until recently, Echo Ditto. And the list goes on and on.

By this point, netroots activists have spread to virtually every corner of the professional Democratic and progressive ecosystem. In most cases, they have been co-opted into existing infrastructure, although frequently that is in order to perform a new task (netroots and / or Internet) that existing staff is unable to perform. There are also some, though fewer, cases where netroots activists have been able to build up their own, new infrastructure, such as ActBlue, the Progressive States Network, and MoveOn.org. Whether inside or outside, whether filling existing staff positions or creating new ones, it is now entirely possible for someone to have a full-blown career as netroots-focused political professional. This is because, to virtually the same extent as areas of focus such as communications, field, fundraising, and policy, "netroots" and / or "Internet" has become its own department within any large political operation. Commensurate to this development, a new group of political professionals has emerged, one that is drawn largely from independent netroots activists, and from younger, "junior staff" politicos who were originally from a different area of focus in professional politics, but who engaged and participated in the progressive netroots during its formative stages.

This change is perhaps the most interesting development in the world of professional politics since the rise of Wingnut Welfare in the form of the Republican Noise Machine starting in the 1970's. Quite a bit needs to be written about it, and I would like to start with these questions and thoughts:
  1. As a potential agent of change, to what extent are the netroots and the progressive movement helped or hindered by its professionalization? Certainly it always helps to have "people on the inside," but if your main source of employment comes from existing institutional structures, inevitably your ability and willingness to challenge and change established structures is reduced. Perhaps the questions is better rephrased as follows: with "outside" elements joining the "inside," who will change more, the outside or the inside? Also, are the netroots better served by creating their own institutions and campaigns, or by continuing to join existing ones? These last two questions are always important for any successful avant-garde movement to answer once it reaches this level of maturity.

  2. To what extent is a "professional" and "amateur" divide emerging within the netroots and progressive movement? If there is such a divide, will those people who live as full-time movement operatives develop competing interests with the largely part-time, volunteer activist base? Specifically, I am wondering if there might be a danger that a new "netroots elite" will end up holding the same dismissive attitude the "serious pundits" currently hold toward the activist base, or if the activist base community will turn away from the "professionals," in disgust at the sell-outs.

  3. Will the netroots community be able to continue to function as a semi-coherent entity with so many of its members working on behalf of competing candidates and campaigns? While everyone was on the same side in 2005-2006, the potential for dilution and division certainly seems ripe to me in 2007-2008.

  4. How long will it last? Will there come a point where the netroots is so familiar to Democratic infrastructure, that rather than being a separate department of large political operations internet and netroots instead becomes blended into every other department? Will there be new technological developments that make current "netroots" staff obsolete? Will the new political professionals just decide to move on to new careers in different fields before long?

  5. Finally, what happens when these junior staffers and new political professionals continue to age and move up in the ranks of the progressive and Democratic ecosystems? What cultural differences are there among this new professional class that will result in an overall cultural shift in progressive politics once the participants involved move from being junior staff to senior staff?
So many questions, so few answers right now. I don't even know if the average reader of MyDD will find this development the least bit interesting. It certainly connects to what I wrote last Thursday, about the one-way flow of progressive movement money. This could be yet another way in which the netroots are reifying established infrastructure, rather than changing it. It's not like I am free from this either, since I have been a consultant for varying campaigns and organizations over the past two years.

This is a pretty wide-open post, mainly because I am not sure where to begin this discussion. Hopefully, just by raising these questions, we can find ways to start narrowing the conversation, and developing a better sense of the issues involved. The outside is becoming inside, and vice versa. What does it all mean?

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