June 23, 2006
The New Media is Starting to Look OldBy Rick Moran
There are many observers of the New Media who believe that blogs or other on—line communities will one day replace the mainstream media as the best way to transmit news and information to the American public. The rationale behind this revolution is that collectively speaking, bloggers are wiser, less prone to error, and when that error is discovered, ruthless in correcting the mistake.
The key, as new media herald Jeff Jarvis preaches, is content. With millions of on—line participants in the process, content will cease to be of paramount importance and instead, the community itself will emerge as both arbiter and disseminator of what we now consider 'news.' No more gatekeepers. No more 'reporters.' In this brave new world, the act of sharing information itself through 'linking' and other technological innovations will supplant the old paradigm of a small elite who writes, edits, and prints (or broadcasts) the news.
I have tremendous respect for Jarvis and others of his ilk who have devoted considerable thought to the new media and where it might be headed. And in the end, he may be proved a true prophet of the new age, a voice in the wilderness who pointed the way toward a bright future of citizen participation in the political conversation of the nation as we've never seen before.
Frankly, I don't buy it. And judging by the burgeoning controversy surrounding Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos, the biggest liberal blogger on the planet, we may in fact be witnessing something of an earthquake that will alter the blogging landscape, changing the public's perception of these on—line journals from fiercely partisan, independent voices to little more than pale echoes of the political parties they support.
More than 50 million Americans get most of their news and information from the internet with 13 million people counting themselves as readers of blogs. What makes politicians salivate about bloggers and blog readers is simple; they are comparatively rich. Surveys show that 43% of this group make over $90,000, with almost 70% enjoying annual incomes in excess of $50,000.
The result of all this attention has been a phenomenal increase in advertising revenues for bloggers from a variety of sources. Herein lies the makings of controversy for Kos and I suspect other influential bloggers. All of that ad revenue has brought increased scrutiny of the Daily Kos universe by the mainstream press. And what they are beginning to uncover smacks of influence peddling, 'pay for play' by politicians on the Kos website, and perhaps most interestingly, a network made up of the biggest, most influential liberal blogs with Moulitsis himself cracking the whip and ruthlessly enforcing a kind of orthodoxy of thought thanks to his control of a liberal ad network to which bloggers subscribe.
As with any media story, one must look at the sources and motivations of the people and outlets digging up this kind of dirt. If these revelations came only from right wing media outlets or talk radio, they could be more easily dismissed as just part of the normal background noise indicative of the usual partisan bickering. But some of what is being reported comes from the nominally liberal New Republic and the New York Times — hardly bastions of the right wing noise machine. And the details that are emerging, while revealing nothing illegal, certainly call into question Mr. Moulitsas' ethics and thus, the ethics of all bloggers.
The controversy centers mostly around Moulitsas' relationship with his friend, business partner, and recent co—author Jerome Armstrong. As the conservative site RedState� has reported, there appears to be a correlation between candidates who hire Armstrong to work on their campaigns and favorable attention paid to those candidates on Daily Kos, a blog that garners more than 500,000 readers a day. Normally, this wouldn't raise many eyebrows. Kos himself worked for the Howard Dean campaign and fully disclosed the fact that he was being compensated by the candidate. But what has some tongues wagging is Kos's apparent support for the Presidential aspirations of Virginia Governor Mark Warner, a moderate Democrat who recently hired Armstrong as an internet consultant.
Further, during the recent YearlyKos convention in Las Vegas, Governor Warner spent a reported $50,000 on an open bar reception for attendees while delivering a rousing speech denouncing President Bush and the Republicans. Moulitsas, whose support of far left candidates have included other Armstrong clients like Representative Sherrod Brown who is running against Senator Mike DeWine in Ohio, has recently said that the moderate Governor Warner 'bears watching' while praising his electability for President.
There is no evidence that any money changed hands between Armstrong and Moulitsas as a quid pro quo for pimping Brown, Warner, or any other politician's candidacy on the Daily Kos website. But the appearance of impropriety is there. And legitimate questions arise in this regard when examining the background of Jerome Armstrong and his history with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In a complex stock touting scheme, Armstrong was paid $20,000 to push a stock on investment message boards without disclosing he was being paid to do so. The SEC got Armstrong to cease his activities on behalf of the stock and had him agree to a permanent injunction that forbade him from touting stocks in the future. In addition, the SEC is still considering whether or not to levy monetary penalties against him.
The connection between Armstrong's stock touting and Kos's candidate pimping is made by RedState:
This kind of coordination in and of itself is not shocking. What is apparently out of the ordinary is the fact that Moulitsas sits on the board of directors of an blog advertising group known as Advertising Liberally, a group that pays liberal bloggers for ads.
That may be true, although from my own personal experience, very, very few people are going to get rich by featuring advertising on their blogs. That said, it is the appearance of control that is the issue here. And even though there may be some bloggers�on the Townhouse list who have criticized Moulitsas in the past and not suffered any consequences, there is the very real possibility that many of the smaller liberal blogs would feel compelled not to upset their blog patron lest they lose whatever meager earnings they squeeze out of their websites, or their imaginative dreams of future success as a major blogger.
In short, this is not so much Kos cracking the whip to keep people in line but rather the reluctance of many on the left to challenge his position and authority.
From my own perspective as a blogger, I think that while appearances are important, Moulitsas has done nothing wrong nor has he operated in an unethical manner. The email list is titillating but hardly the stuff of conspiracy. And as far as the blogad controversy, unless your blog has a fairly large presence, your remuneration will be so small that most bloggers wouldn't think twice about speaking their mind if they believed Kos was wrong. The threat of Moulitsas pulling their ads is therefore not credible.
What all of this does point to is the imminent demise of blogs as we have come to know and love them. Blogs are about ready to hit the big time. It is expected that most competitive campaigns will spend tens of millions of dollars on internet advertising before the November elections, a large chunk of that on political blogs. What will all of this money do to Blogland?
We will probably see a stratification process as money flows to larger blogs and smaller websites scrambling for the remainder while the owners harbor dreams of making it big. And this presents a whole series of problems with blogs themselves and what we who write them are becoming.
In order to get a nice chunk of that ad money, smaller sites must grow. And the surest way to grow one's blog is by being a good writer and participating in controversy. I don't deny that one of my motivations for writing this piece is that people who read this site and others are interested in the Kos case. But what this kind of thinking reveals on my part and on the part of political bloggers in general is a thirst for the controversies and scandals that rock politics on a regular basis and appeal to the lowest common denominator in readership.
In this respect, we are little better than the 'old' media in that the drive for readership and notoriety is becoming paramount. Gone are the days when many of us simply blogged for the sake of writing and sharing information. And while there are still thousands of bloggers who enjoy blogging for its own sake, for many of us, it has become a competitive enterprise, a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
Will success spoil the blog and the blogger? Even if it does, there will be someone and something to take its place. The only thing we can be certain of is that the pace of change in this on—line world is faster than in any other mass medium in history. Where it will be five years from now is anyone's guess.
Rick Moran is a frequent contributor. He blogs at RightWing Nuthouse.