Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Death of Collaboration in the Independent Blogosphere

Robert Stacy McCain published an interesting post the other day, "Where Were You in 2002?"

He's asking about where folks were 11 years ago when the independent blogosphere was the vital forum for news reporting and analysis independent of the mainstream media. 2002's a long time ago. I don't think I was reading blogs intentionally at that point. It was still early in my career at LBCC and I was focused mostly on teaching and  research in political science. It was Dan Drezner's 2004 blogging piece in Foreign Policy that turned me on to the blogosphere and there's been no turning back (see, "Web of Influence"). At that time I was reading Drezner and Virginia Postrel. A little later Althouse became my favorite blog, and by 2006 I decided to get my blogging feet wet. American Power went live in October 2007. I've had a good run so far and I expect to be plugging away until I get bored or the progressives are successful in getting me fired. (Hell, that wouldn't stop me anyway, so WTF).

I've never considered myself an influential blogger (although my inbox, filled with all kinds of free books and promotions from publishers and blog newbies, often tells me otherwise). It was during the 2007 GOP primaries when I got really serious about having an impact and in 2008, when John McCain won the Republican nomination, I felt some vindication for my efforts. One result was that I got picked up by RealClearPolitics later that year. But honestly, I've had more fun these last few years following The Other McCain's advice on "How to Get a Million Hits on Your Blog in Less Than a Year." Sure, the babe blogging around here's become a major pastime, but actually, the idea of building community through "reciprocal linkage" has been one of the more important elements of my program. Folks need to exercise the "The Full Metal Jacket Reach-Around":
Reciprocal linkage is the essential lubricant that makes the blogosphere purr with contentment. If somebody's throwing you traffic, you should either (a) give them a link-back update, or at a minimum (b) keep them in mind for future linkage. Because you don't want to end up on the wrong end of a kharmic unbalance in the 'sphere, where you're always taking and never giving.
As blogging has become almost exclusively professionalized in the last few years, the notion of "The Full Metal Jacket Reach-Around" seems kind of quaint. But don't be fooled. We've still got lots of independent bloggers out there doing what the mainstream press refuses to do. For example, Robert mentions Professor William Jacobson's Legal Insurrection as a model of high-impact professional blogging to which we should all aspire. And of course Glenn Reynolds continues to plug away at Instapundit, resisting the lucrative lure of a huge corporate sponsor (even more lucrative, that is, as Glenn's already got great model of monetization). There are lots more examples --- and apologies to some of the great new blogs, like Rebel Pundit and SOOPER Mexican, for not highlighting their work more often --- although it's clear there are increasing sustainability issues for smaller "mom and pop" blogging outfits. Here's how Robert describes the problem at The Other McCain:
This network/community concept seems to have been lost by (or, more likely, was never known to) newer arrivals in the ‘sphere. The idea that each of us is contributing to a common project is not just some kind of “Stone Soup” idealism, but is in fact the only way to build any genuinely meaningful alternative to that pathetic exercise in groupthink we call the Mainstream Media. Bloggers who don’t help build the alternative can complain about the MSM “borg” all they want; they aren’t really making a difference. There are two ways in which bloggers actually help sabotage the blogosphere:
Turn your blog into a series of lectures...

Never link another blogger. It’s weird that some bloggers would rather link a story in the New York Times or the Washington Post than to link a fellow blogger. Why this is, I don’t know. Sometimes it seems like everybody has the same idea: Grab an MSM headline off Drudge, link it, include a brief blockquote and add some political snark. Not only does this effectively surrender content control to Drudge — so that bloggers are merely replicating the headline selection there — but nobody’s snark ever goes beyond their own readership, because no blogger ever quotes another blogger.
Be sure to read the rest for additional insight.

Those bloggers who "never link another blogger" are the kinds I generally avoid. Sure, few bloggers can worry about linking all their buddies all the time, but throwing some hits to your friends once in a while is the friendly thing to do, especially when you've been a mensch yourself, linking and forwarding your posts with breaking news and so forth. Which is why I was surprised yesterday at popular pro-life blogger Jill Stanek. I woke up about 4:00am and wrote a post on WND's piece on Planned Parenthood's grotesque sex education promotions ("Sex-ed cartoons 'too graphic' for N.Y. Times." I later tweeted it to Robert and cc'd Jill:

Then checking back on Twitter about an hour later I see Jill in my timeline with a new blog post:

Jill's post is time-stamped at 4:14pm in the afternoon, 1:14pm Pacific time, 50 minutes after I tweeted my link to her. Now, perhaps Jill had her entry all queued up or was already familiar with WND's reporting. I don't know. I can say that Jill isn't a big proponent of the Full Metal Reach Around community-building strategy. I've sent her lots of stuff in the past and have been linked perhaps a couple of times at her blog. I don't know. Perhaps she wanted to have this Planned Parenthood "scoop" all to herself, with no hat tip to WND, much less myself. That's how some bloggers roll. It's not the best way to build community, in any case.

Again, maybe Jill got that post going without ever seeing my tweet. But if it were me, I'd probably have replied on Twitter in the first place and then posted a hat tip if I blogged it. Your mileage may vary.

Either way, I couldn't help thinking that yesterday was one good example of the lack of collaboration in the blogosphere. And it's not an insignificant issue. Now more than ever American democracy needs alternative voices. American politics needs citizens to upend the establishment narrative. People frankly need to build on the social media revolution to bring greater accountability to government at at time when the press has abdicated its historic role as freedom's watchdog. Bloggers are upsetting and will continue to upset the accepted memes and force big media to report real news that's important to real Americans. Along with other forms of citizens' social media, blogs promote accountability and deliberation. William Jacobson had something on that yesterday, "If not for prior #Gosnell Twitter campaign, would MSM be covering Bronx and DC revelations?"

But "social" means you can't do it alone. The best of the top bloggers recognize the vital role newbies play in keeping the 'sphere an essential place for alternative reporting. And new bloggers entering the arena might heed the warnings of The Other McCain (and others) on the dangers of the death of collaboration in the independent blogosphere.