I recently attended my first “Blogger Bash” hosted by Andrew MacDonald of Sound Politics, intended as a gathering of all Puget Sound area bloggers. As someone new to the world of blogs — shorthand for “Web logs” — the event offered some insights into this new alternative media phenomenon.
Blogging has received much attention lately. Names like RealClearPolitics, Instapundit and Andrew Sullivan have become, if not quite household names, famous among political junkies. RealClearPolitics, for example, registered 2.7 million hits in November at the height of the election mania.
Blogging is said to have exerted a major influence on the election — everything from the rise and fall of Howard Dean to George Bush’s victory. Bloggers are at once denigrated as wannabe hacks in pajamas typing in living rooms and hyped as the cutting edge of the next generation media.
In Seattle, Stefan Sharkansky, the force behind Sound Politics, has become something of a media celebrity of late, because of his efforts to expose imperfections in the gubernatorial election and the subsequent recounts. After he embarrassed several election officials and made headlines, he was interviewed extensively and even appeared with Brit Hume on Fox News.
Even in hyper-liberal Seattle, bloggers tend to be a decidedly conservative lot. Despite my effort to find liberal bloggers at the event (several were invited), I encountered none. The one blogger who harangued me for what seemed an eternity for “associating with Discovery Institute” turned out to be a conservative.
This is not to suggest that the Seattle blogging scene is overrun with unrepentant right-wing ideologues. Matt Rosenberg, a contributor to Sound Politics who also runs Rosenblog and used to write a column for The Seattle Times, calls himself “a metro-cultural with center-right politics.”
Nonetheless, what seems to motivate many bloggers in the region is their opposition to the near-total domination of the mainstream media (“MSM” or “legacy media” in blogspeak) by what they consider to be a leftist orthodoxy.
While organizations like Discovery and the Washington Policy Center have been keeping the flames of conservative principles alive in the region, theirs has been an uphill battle. Now bloggers have joined the fray and turned Seattle into a major center for an underground conservative movement and alternative media.
Bloggers have been aided by scandals at the likes of CBS News and The New York Times that tarnished the “gold standards” of the legacy media. Without a doubt, the fact that most office workers and students now have daily access to high-speed Internet has helped bloggers as well. What really boosted bloggers, however, have been their edginess and uniqueness.
Local blogs with provocative titles like “The Mulatto Advocate” and “Pajama Jihad” abound. One area blogger works for the Department of Homeland Security. There are active-duty military officers who engage in “mil-blogging” and maintain civilian blogs. It goes without saying that they provide views and insights that are often missing in the mainstream media. The conversations at the blogger party ranged from politics and race to the lethality of 5.56-mm versus 7.62-mm NATO cartridges beyond 300 yards.
Blogging is at once serious journalism, startup business, frustrated ranting, amusing minutiae, relentless self-promotion and revenge of the nerds. (What is the difference between conservative and liberal nerds? Conservative nerds have guns.) In other words, it is a subculture with cultlike loyalty to the phenomenon. Because of this strong sense of community, there is unusual generosity and mutual help among bloggers. Rosenberg, for example, encouraged me into blogging, and is thus my “blog-father.”
Unlike traditional media networks, which are in reality hierarchies that push news from corporate headquarters in New York to smaller outlets, the blogger community appears to be a true network, in which information flows organically from node to node. Instead of top-down feeding of the news, Ballard, Bellevue and Bellingham can feed New York and each other as effortlessly as the reverse.
Where then is blogging headed? Some blogs will fade away as exigencies of families and jobs take their toll. Others will doggedly persist, even in obscurity. A few will leverage blogging fame into real jobs in the maligned traditional media. A select few will actually earn a living purely through blogging.
I suspect that famous blogs are increasingly becoming like Fox News or even CBS News — establishment media. While financial barrier to entry is minuscule, small-time bloggers will have trouble emerging from obscurity if only because traffic is difficult to generate without star power.
Finding a particular blog without buzz is akin to finding a specific needle in a stack of 5 million (and growing) needles.
What will keep “independent” blogging alive, however, is the undying need of outcasts to rant. They, like conservatives in Seattle, will blog on, frustrated with their environment and hoping desperately that someone out there will share their views and provide the validation they crave.