What, Exactly, Does The World Owe Bloggers?

James Joyner writes the post I would love to have written about Suburban Guerilla Sue Madrak’s crie de coeur, titled “No More Dead Bloggers”.

In it, Sue leverages Jim Capozzola’s death – which like a lot of other significant things in the last few weeks, I didn’t blog about – into a plea for the liberal political establishment to hire and pay progressive bloggers.

James hammers her point into the ground pretty effectively.

It’s interesting that this seems to be a common theme in progressive blogging – see Chris Bowers and my response to him in the Examiner

Now it’s one I’m sympathetic to, but with a pretty substantial difference – I’d like to see bloggers of all stripes have a shot at making a living doing it. That was the notion behind my version of Pajamas Media; to create an infrastructure that would make it easier for bloggers to maximize the traffic they can generate, maximize their ad revenue, and maximize their opportunities to sell content up into the better-paying MSM.

If you believe that blogging and user-created content – as a general practice – can transform politics, there’s something that smells kinda bad about the notion of trying hard to build a one-sided ideologically pure blogosphere.

But that kind of fits into the general prog-blog practice of silencing opposition rather than engaging it. Another reason I’m happy to be standing somewhere else in the room.

24 thoughts on “What, Exactly, Does The World Owe Bloggers?”

  1. Thanks for the kind words.

    And, yes, I’d loved to have seen your version of Pajamas Media given a go. When it turned into a competing ad network to BlogAds, demanding exclusivity as start-up, I lost interest.

  2. In it, Sue leverages Jim Capozzola’s death – which like a lot of other significant things in the last few weeks, I didn’t blog about – into a plea for the liberal political establishment to hire and pay progressive bloggers.

    Just once, I’d love to see someone argue against this on the facts, not some ideologically filtered version of events. This is just a careless swipe.

    I never said the political establishment should hire us. I said they should support us. Most bloggers are already employed – they’re just not making much money, or they’re lacking insurance. They’re not choosing underemployment as a way of life. If you want to insist that anyone who wants a good job can find one, well, you just go ahead and have that conversation with yourself.

    A blogger who consistently manages to send anywhere from $5,000 on up to Democratic candidates should be treated as an ally – and not a one-way cash machine.

  3. Money Fool!

    Big satchels of it. Oh and I will have news about that whole bloggers gettin’ paid thing on Monday. Yeah baby!

    Cordially,

    Uncle J

  4. AL, I think you may be misstating Madrak’s position. After reading her entire piece it doesn’t look like she’s asking anyone to hire bloggers – that would after all imply that you have to work and earn what you get – but she’s looking for handouts. While she rails against “corporations” and businesses, she expects those of us who own or work for one to give her stuff for free (because it all just grows on trees doncha know) and her idea of a “plan” is a frigging benefit concert.

    It’s like the ant and the grasshopper but with the grasshopper being an “underemployed community activist” who rails against the injustice of the ants refusing to give her stuff because she didn’t do the practical things that enable most people to go through live providing for themselves rather than mooching off others.

  5. Once I read that Joyner states that our large number of medically uninsured is unacceptable, I decided that there’s no dispute here over the most important issue.

    Now, it may be true that at this moment more liberal bloggers are being paid than conservative bloggers, but at the time that Atrios and Capozzola (whom I had stopped reading years ago) got started, the stars of the blogs were Instapundit, Lileks, and others of the right. I don’t think it’s true any more, but liberals were slow out of the gate, if not in terms of actual quantity, than at least in terms of visibility.

    But I’d revise and in one way broaden Medrak’s complaint. There’s a very revealing chapter in Marcos Moulitsas (a/k/a Great Orange Satan) and Jerome Armstrong’s Crashing the Gate where they compare and contrast right and left wing big-money philanthropic approaches to activism. Basically, there’s a whole network of conservative think tanks out there serving as the right wing’s minor leagues. (And that’s not even talking about turkey farms like AEI where Wolfowitz and serial liar John Lott came to rest.) Kos and Armstrong don’t have any problem with this. Indeed, Kos is pretty resentful of the left-wingers who resent his making a good living with what he’s doing. But the left-wing philanthropies are all about finding volunteers and low-wage no-bennie interns. Now, they cheat a little by not mentioning how there’s partial compensation though the preponderance of liberal university faculty, but I think the point still holds. I don’t think it’s worth discussing whether Joyner or Medrak individually should have a job, but I don’t think there’s much doubt that, at least until recently, Team Conservative has been much better organizing its future pundits. I don’t resent that. I’m annoyed it’s taken us so long to replace purity with practicality.

  6. Andrew, I’m on my Treo on a train, but go search for my old post on ‘astroturfing’ – the left had way more bloggers on salary quite some time ago – which may relate to the increasing prominence of left blogs since then.

    A.L. who gets his $150/month from the Examiner – but has to write something for it, dammit…

  7. Are you sure you want to create a professional political class in the first place? Judging from the recent track record of the Republican party, that well oiled pundit machine appears to just create a well insulated echo chamber, apparently immune to their own base.

    It may be a cushy ride for the wannabe pundits but I can’t say I’d recommend it for the party as a whole…

  8. Once upon a time there was a poor girl named Cinderella who lived with her cruel relatives: Uncle Sam and the Free sisters, Speech and Market. They made Cinderella work very hard and never seemed to listen to a word she said.

    One day Cinderella’s fairy godmother came to her rescue. She bought Cinderella her own apartment, car and health insurance, and she transformed Cinderella’s pumpkin-colored Yugo into a 2007 Saturn Hybrid. Best of all, she bought a popular minority-owned internet domain for Cinderella, and made all the other fairies link to it.

    Now Cinderella was getting lots of attention, and soon her dream came true: Her blog caught the attention of the handsome-albeit-vapid prince, Beautiful Rich Liberal, who invited Cinderella to join his presidential campaign!

    Cinderella would have lived happily ever after – if her jealous step-sisters hadn’t pointed out that her blog was filled with obscenities and crude anti-Catholic bigotry. They bugged the handsome-albeit-vapid prince until he fired her.

    The End?

  9. [Deleted.

    Eric, your post was solidly in the sp*m zone.

    It was a driveby post that started with a glittering generality, followed with some paragraphs promoting your blog for an award, and concluded with a request for cross-blogrolling.

    If you want someone here at WoC to take a look at your blog, try email; make a specific connection with a hot topic. If they like it enough, maybe it’ll get blogrolled.

    If you want to maximize that chance, post something substantive here, preferably more than once.

    Best wishes,

    –NM]

  10. OK, there’s the labor theory of value. I work hard and I’m good at what I do so I deserve good money. But unfortunately somebody in particular has to give you the money, for their own reasons. You have to be worth it to them.

    There are various times when that’s hard to arrange. Software is an example, our financial structures just don’t match up very well with what needs to be done. It might simply be hard to find a good way for people who benefit from blogs to pay as they’d like. Of course, if most of the people who’d like to pay are underemployed poor people who can’t afford it, that’s another problem. There’s never a lot of money entertaining the penniless — unless somebody else is getting benefits.

    So you can shill for a political party, say what they want and hope the audience will be there to persuade your patron that you’re worth it.

    Or advertisers can pay you for favorable reviews of their products.

    Or maybe somehow you can arrange a system of micropayments and people can each pay you fractions of a cent for posts they like.

    It’s hard to figure out how to get paid for quality work. Marketing is a whole different skill that sometimes takes more effort than the actual product. Here’s somebody describing that process:

    1st part
    2nd part

  11. It’s hard to figure out how to get paid for quality work.

    Not really…make sure that the quality work you do is something someone wants. You’ll get paid then.

    As much as I love blogging and reading blogs, it’s not something that’s in short supply. The bad news for anyone trying to make a living in blogging is that there are hundreds of thousands of smart people aching to be heard. My words, in other words, are extremely replaceable.

  12. “It’s hard to figure out how to get paid for quality work.”

    Not really…make sure that the quality work you do is something someone wants. You’ll get paid then.

    Did you read my links?

    Sometimes it’s hard to arrange to be paid for quality work.

    For example, plant breeders had trouble getting paid — sell your new plant to anybody and they could give away seed to everybody. They developed a trick, plants they could sell that would not breed true.

    The music owners have been facing this problem — how do you sell music without letting people copy it? If you buy a copy and you can make copies yourself then they get less money. How can they neuter your copy so that you must pay again every time you want to listen to it?

    Software has a similar problem. Software works best when many people test it and find the bugs and fix them. But how do you pay many people what their work is worth? How can you trust your source code to all those people, they might make fixes and sell it themselves.

    Whole industries spring up where people develop standard ways to be paid. And then new technology can wipe them out. My kitchen sink developed a bad leak and couldn’t be repaired, and the shutoff valve had a leak too. Fifty years ago I’d have needed a plumber. He would shut off the water for the whole house, solder a new valve on, bend a hollow pipe from the valve to the new faucette, solder the pipe to the valve, and bolt the pipes to the new faucette. Each step needed special knowledge — he was a professional. I called a plumber, he wanted $85 to make an estimate. Every plumber I called wanted that, though one wanted only $30. RotoRooter gave a free estimate. $250 plus parts. They were willing to use parts I supplied so I went to the hardware store. New faucette. Flexible pipes. Two new valves. The valves had little gaskets at both ends so they didn’t need any soldering. Not even any teflon tape. Every single step was something I could easily do myself.

    There are people making a living as “geeks”. They have some unknown amount of PC knowledge, and people call them on the phone and pay by the minute for their expertise. Paying by the minute is a godawful way to decide how much a job is worth, but it’s one gimmick that sort of works. One alternative is to let them call your computer over the net and take complete control of it and find out what’s wrong. They can run automated diagnostics and such, and spend less human-minutes on it. You must trust them completely — they not only get all your passwords but they can install keyloggers and backdoors of all kinds so they can use your computer whenever they like, while it’s online. That approach might do better with a fixed fee, refundable if they don’t fix the problem. Of course, they can install a bug that will recur hoping to get more business from you. Perhaps they could go on retainer, you pay them to keep your computer healthy, and stop paying them when you’re dissatisfied enough to choose someone else? Oh well. When I was a kid a geek was somebody who killed and ate live chickens for an audience. People paid to watch. It paid sort of adequately but didn’t get much respect.

    The belief that quality work just naturally gets paid is false. It’s a variation on “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.”. Somebody has to do the marketing. And then you also need a collection agency. An employer might arrange to get those jobs done for you, but then part of your job is to do a good job of selling yourself to him.

    Oh well. My links explain it better than I can, but you have to read carefully.

  13. After reading Susie Madrak’s original post, I am pretty sympathetic to her anger about not getting supported. She feels that people like her to yeoman’s work for the Progressive wing of the Democratic party, and that they ought to receive support in exchange for the work they do.

    On the other hand, there’s Mitch’s acerbic Comment #45.

    July 6th, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    A capitalist would point out that if no one is willing to pay for what you produce, you should think about producing something else. Funny, but that’s pretty much what common sense would say, too. I get my living and my health insurance from my employer, not our blog, and get paid to work, not to bloviate.

    The idea that your opinions – or mine, for that matter – are so important as to require subsidy is frankly bizarre. How about free coffee and donuts for the loudmouth in the next booth at Dunkin’ Donuts?

    Madrak’s frustration seems to stem from the fact that “we” (Progressive B-list bloggers) put on a greater value on “our” punditry than “they” (Progressive politicos and skybox donors) do.

    As J. Thomas points out in comments 11 and 13 above, this is not an uncommon problem. You might say it’s a variant of the biggest issue that salespeople face, the world over. The busker who J. Thomas links to puts it this way:

    bq. Venice Beach, I was discovering, is the toughest place in the world to make it. Just like on a typical car lot there were only one or two guys making all the money, and the other thirty lived hand-to-mouth. There’s no in between: you’re either real good at it, or ought to get another job. I wondered if I had the true desire to be real good at this and scratch out a living.

  14. AMac – one issue I see is the gap between the perception of the clout the progressive bloggers have, and the reality on the ground of their clout.

    For all the noise and sparks around the progressive blogosphere, they raised – “not much”:http://www.windsofchange.net/archives/008861.php – money for Ned Lamont; Netroots fave John Edwards is “at 12.1% to Hillary’s 34.6%”:http://bp3.blogger.com/_MRs_Nt465oE/RoQ21yDa3uI/AAAAAAAABw8/151Tt8-Ql4Q/s1600-h/TopDems.png – gotta say that the impact is real, but it doesn’t quite measure up to the hype in the NY Times and Washington Post.

    And to me, that’s the nub of the issue. If you raise $5000 for a candidate, what’s that worth? A professional fundraiser would make $250 – $500. Not enough to buy Susie health insurance. If 20 blogs collectively raise $50K, that might buy one blogger health coverage…

    …that misperception is collapsing right now in the face of Hillary and Obama’s dominance, and that’s why the MyDD team is going through changes.

    A.L.

  15. From Sue Madrak’s existential article about what is owed bloggers:

    “I looked at her. I cleared my throat. “Actually,” I said, “If we need Lexis-Nexis, most of us can figure out where to get access. What we really need is help with actual survival. Most of us need health insurance. We need computers. In fact, the single biggest thing you could do is set up a program that would give free laptops to bloggers, because so many of us live hand to mouth and when our computers go, we’re silenced.”

    The world owes you nothing, unless you are a socialist; then it owes you everything. Want a computer, health insurance, Lexis Nexis? Well, do what most of the rest of us do – get a job and pay for it. I am sorry some bloggers are living the Vincent Van Gogh lifestyle hand to mouth, but that is their choice and ultimately their responsibilty. There are so many bad blogs and so few Van Goghs of the art. Darwin will out.

    On the subject of political rent-a-bloggers, they are blogwhores and soon known as propagandists, losing any general intellectual appeal, other than the study of political pathology. The recent John Edwards kerfuffle over hiring two progressive bloggers to (I’m looking for another phrase than “prostitute their blogs”) propagandize for Edwards was hilarious. Partisanship is fine and advertises itself. Echo chambers like KOS, or Firedoglake are a bore, like a meeting of the central party committee, and I suppose they serve a purpose in supporting lost souls. Anyway it is cheaper than Scientology.

    Putting up a decent blog is a lot of work, which is one reason I do not have a blog. Hat tip to WOC and its staff.

    ” A.L. who gets his $150/month from the Examiner – but has to write something for it, dammit…”

    Heh, writing for a living is HARD, believe me. 10% of the writers make 90% of the money. I decided along time ago it was not for me. Blogs are a little different in that one can generate revenue through advertising traffic. Traffic can be generated from anything interesting, a circus, or a serious effort. The operative word is ‘interesting’, marketing this is another can of worms.

  16. A.L. — Susie, Jim Cappazola (RIP), and many other Progressive bloggers seem like talented people. The basic situation still seems to be a common one to a market-based economy, Capitalist or otherwise:

    Would-be Seller: “I am offering Good or Service X, which I strongly believe you should buy for $Y.”

    Prospective Buyer: “Hmmm. Maybe. I’m not sure what X is worth to me. I’m not sure I will suffer if I decline to buy it, at all (maybe you or others will continue to provide X anyway).”

    This is harsh, but I am not sure that it’s untrue. And Prospective Buyers may be thinking this way, whatever the “actual” value of the Progressive Bloggers’ Clout is.

  17. Sellers very often have a gimmick. Like those plumbers I called. They wanted $85 to make an estimate. Then they’d apply the $85 to the job if I approved it on the spot. If I wanted a second opinion I could tell them to go away and call another plumber, and I’m out an extra $85. But when I call their secretary/dispatcher she says she can’t give any kind of estimate at all over the phone. Not how much they charge for standard parts. Nothing except the price for the estimate.

    If you want a politician to pay you, you ought to provide some special service that few other bloggers could do, and also arrange to do it completely credibly. Like, you produce a public report that your politician thinks benefits him to be made public, and you’d produce the same report if his opposite number paid for it.

    Looking over the problem I came up with a couple of gimmicks that I thought might work to get money for a few blogs. Of course, like everything else, the few best at it would make most of the money. I don’t want to devote the time to make it work, so if any WoC regulars want to email me I’ll send them a description and they’re welcome to try it out if they like. I haven’t done a lit search to see whether it’s been done before or how well it was done.

  18. It isn’t so much the fact that they want money they didn’t earn; the whole theory of netroots is to enable them to get their hands on power they didn’t earn, either.

    This is rationalized, as all thievery is, by the belief that everyone who already has power/money stole it or gained it through some sort of institutional anti-proggie bias.

  19. As I’ve observed things for the last 20 years or so, this problem of wanting “support” is nearly endemic in the marginal world of “progressives,” though far from uniquely so.

    We see it all the time, for example, in organic and small-scale agriculture when people demand (and receive) subsidies for the expense of organic certification. Such certification is a marketing tool, and is generally used to receive a premium price.

    In the real world, market benefit gained must cover the cost of marketing, and most serious businesses follow their return on marketing investment fairly closely, not ask for subsidies, grants, and support. On the left, however, there’s a huge amount of ego entangled with being “progressive” or alternative.

    Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether an approach to life that sees a grubby three-year-old running around barefoot in chicken $#|+ as “progress” — rather than as a return to the iron age — has anything at all to offer our society, lots of “progressive” types believe fervently in their rectitude and elitism.

    “I am an organic farmer.” becomes a personal definition, rather than a mere description. Therefore, anything “I” do is organic, and since “organic is the pinnacle of sustainability” (it’s not, believe me), then “I” should be supported because what I do is for the benefit of the whole world.

    It’s that elitism that’s the source of the problem. I am entitled, because of who I am, not because of any generally-accepted value to what I have or have not accomplished.

    That, BTW, boys and girls, is the functional definition of “nobility,” and America was founded to move beyond that nonsense. When it shows up on the left it is not progressive in any sense, but profoundly reactionary.

    By the same token, professional sports teams shouldn’t receive one stinkin’ public nickel for their stadiums, farmers large and small should not receive subsidies (I do not), and failing corporations should not be bailed out by governments. That’s all a different post, however.

    Nevertheless, when we look at a desire for “support” (left or right, large or small) as a form of self-defined nobility it does seem to clarify the dilemma at a somewhat higher order of magnitude.

  20. In the real world, market benefit gained must cover the cost of marketing, and most serious businesses follow their return on marketing investment fairly closely, not ask for subsidies, grants, and support.

    Are you *serious*? “Most serious businesses”?

    In the real world, lobbying is a cost of doing business. If you don’t do enough defensive lobbying your competitors are likely to find a way to get your own business made illegal. Seriously.

    Back in the days when there were small loan companies, only a limited number could get licenses in each area. Get too many and at least one would go out of business. And if the small loan companies didn’t provide enough contributions to the dominant party, a new one would be licensed. Companies could lose licenses too, though they usually didn’t….

    There was a time when we were building a whole lot of small new hospitals etc. If you figured out that your area could support a 25-bed facility, the politicians might not allow it unless you made it a 50-bed unit and gave them considerable kickbacks. But of course what good is a big unit that your area won’t support? Unless you can get subsidies and preferential laws…. And if you give those up, what good is it to try to compete head on against businesses that do effective lobbying? You need to make a profit and they don’t….

    Here’s a trivial example. The federal government gave money to states for urban improvement, with the requirement that the states should let local governments allocate it. I knew a collection of guys who ran small shops on a downtown street, who lobbied heavily to get their street improved. They got a share of the money and got quainter (and brighter) streetlights, and improved parking, and trees planted on the sidewalk, etc. The atmosphere was considerably improved and their businesses did better. But every one of them had their rents go up to the point they couldn’t afford it and had to move or go under. They should have lobbied *against* the changes. But they’d probably have lost if they’d ignored them too.

    Government has become such a central part of the economy that no economic actor can afford to ignore it. Your ability to lobby the tax laws is central to your business’s profitability. Unless you lobby carefully you will pay more than your share of taxes — perhaps much more — and you will go under.

    I tend to think it would be a good thing to carefully find a way to reduce this problem. But it does no good to pretend it isn’t all-pervasive now.

  21. I am not denying the relative pervasiveness of it all. To the contrary. However, “progressives,” members of the not-for-profit sector, and government bureaucrats have all worked very hard to convince people that they are immune to the phenomenon and therefore worthy of both support and extra accolades for their altruism.

    That’s the part that drips with nobility-entitlement.

  22. Practically everybody who wants special perqs from the government comes up with some sort of noble bushwah to explain it. The obvious alternative is to say “Here’s your money, here’s what I want, if my competitor offers you more then you tell me and I’ll more than match him, ya-hear, Bunky?” If you don’t come up with any rationale at all for why you are the public interest, then it all feels so sleazy….

    “Progressives” tend to be particularly good at coming up with good-sounding reasons why they’re doing good work for society, as do churches. If you actually care whether they’re doing good work or not you have to look at specific cases.

  23. I really don’t agree with Ms. Madrak’s POV on this one. Should bloggers get comped by political organizations & campaigns for verbal & written support? Why? Free speech is _free_ speech, unless the speaker works for a news media or political media group. In that case, they get their paycheck for work performed. Political blogging is individual support for a political position on various stories, done because the blogger wishes to make the position known to the rest of us out here. Sounds like Ms. Madrak wants to get a check from DNC every time she makes a lefty rah-rah post. Maybe I should ask Wizards of the Coast, Lucasfilm, and Namco-Bandai to cut me a check every time I buy fanboy stuff from them? Hey, I’m a supporter, I uphold their productions as worthy of my time & effort to exhibit & comment on to others, so whay don’t I get some praise and PAY from The Man for my efforts?

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