Chris Bowers of Open Left has written two articles (1, 2) in which he opines that the amateur1 political blogosphere is dead. The fallout has prompted posts from other sites (1, 2, 3), who reinforce the basic premise. All of these point to the national political blogosphere, and in truth, I agree: anyone trying to cover national issues is likely to be quickly drowned out – or co-opted by – the mainstream media.
There is, however, a very vibrant political blogosphere at the state and local level. Take a look at the Virginia blog aggregators (BNN and VPL) and you will find hundreds of blogs, each serving varying degrees of readers. Yes, we have seen some very good blogs come and go during the time I’ve been blogging. That people’s interests wax and wane or that real life gets in the way are just a couple of reasons why some give up blogging. Why people get into blogging varies, but as I look back, my own reasons haven’t changed. As frustrated as I sometimes get, I still feel the urge to express my opinion, especially when I feel like that opinion is not being voiced elsewhere. I suspect that is one of the reasons why the state and local blogs continue to survive.
Note that I said “survive.” I didn’t say prosper. The harsh truth is that if you get into blogging thinking you’re going to get rich, forgetaboutit ;). For the most part, it’s not going to happen.2 Many blogs have ads – some, like Google, over which they have little control, while others sell ad space to various buyers, including candidates. I long ago decided that I didn’t want ads here, and if you happen to see any when you visit, rest assured that the money isn’t coming to me. (My host places ads that regular visitors don’t see. I’m not willing to pay them to keep the ads off the blog.) I prefer that no one think my opinion is influenced by a few bucks. 3
As long as the barriers to entry for blogging are low – in truth, you really could do it with virtually no cost, except your own time – there will always be new people coming on the political blogging scene. There is no dearth of people who want to express their opinion.
Another reason that local and state blogs continue to exist is that we are able to fill a niche that the newspapers simply cannot. As the size of newspaper staffs has diminished, there is a need for someone to fill in the gaps. One columnist bemoans the lack of local coverage:
Aside from an occasional AP reporter, virtually the only print journalists whom I encountered at campaign events were my national press-pack colleagues from the New York Times, the Washington Post, Politico and the Atlantic Monthly.
As newspapers struggle, state and local political bloggers can fill – and have filled – the void. At their best, bloggers can provide the political coverage that newspapers often don’t, such as information about events and interviews with candidates. Bloggers can be the start of actions that the greater public learns about later, such as the abuser fees issue, which was led and sustained by bloggers until the mainstream media picked it up. And bloggers often provide the bulk of the early coverage of campaigns.
As long as there are candidates and campaigns, the amateur political blogosphere is here to stay. The players might change but the reasons for our existence won’t.