Political Blogs Stagnating?

Chris Bowers has done quite a bit of research and concluded that political blogging has not only reached an apex but may well be in decline in significant ways. While most of his data relate to liberal blogs, it seems quite reasonable to draw generalized conclusions. Has major data points and observations:

  • Since September 2005, The Liberal Blog Advertising Network has only increased in traffic by adding new members or by temporary, election related traffic frenzies.
  • Late 2005 was also the last time any new progressive political blogs with exceptionally large audiences were founded.
  • Both Gallup and Pew released data last year that strongly suggested the daily audience of all blogs had become flat after a long period of uninterrupted growth.
  • Current estimates of a daily audience of 4-5 million for progressive political blogs, and an occasional audience of up to 13-14 million for all political blogs, are now appearing in multiple sources.
  • The paradigm is shifting toward a more networked, community-oriented model where a much higher percentage of the audience participates in the generation of new content
  • Blogging, including political blogging, is still quite healthy, as long as it encourages user-generated content and relies on a group of main writers rather than a single individual. The days when an individual blogger can start a new, solo website and make a big national splash are probably over.

Anecdotally, while OTB’s traffic has spiked considerably through the addition of the side blogs, especially the celebrity site, OTB proper has had relatively flat traffic for well over a year, with occasional spikes surrounding major news events.

A follow-up post discusses the increased barriers to entry and explains why maintaining a quality solo blog is so hard. The bottom line is that there is an incredible amount of quality material being produced out there and it’s therefore harder to compete. The sites that are thriving have either generated a “community” through the addition of reader diaries and/or a steady diet of partisan red meat or provide incredibly unique content, especially videos.

While there’s a lot more quality content coming out on a daily basis than there was four years ago, the top blogs are undeniably becoming akin to commercial enterprises. As Bryan Murley observed on a panel discussion with Steven Taylor and myself some time back, in so doing we’re taking on many of the aspects of the mainstream media. That includes taking on advertisements and the pressure to crank out content with an eye to generating traffic rather than simply writing when it strikes our fancy as it did when we were pure hobbyists.

I agree with Bowers that this likely signals a “transformation” rather than “decline” of political blogging. Still, there’s something lost in the process.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Rodney Dill says:

    I think the next election will see a resurgence of the political blog. The real tell will be after the next Presidential election, that’s when the major ‘transformation’ will probably occur.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    While I agree that there’s a consolidation phase going on in the political blogosphere, I think that this

    The days when an individual blogger can start a new, solo website and make a big national splash are probably over.

    immediately soared to the top of the Ecosystem on a combination of name recognition, effort, talent, and raw meat. I see no reason that someone else with real name recognition couldn’t do the same today if he or she had the inclination to do it.

    As to an unknown doing the same I think that’s been difficult for a long, long time.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    For some reason my comment was garbled. The blogger I was referring to in the comment above was Michelle Malkin.

  4. I think a specialty blog (e.g Durham in wonderland) can easily be launched and thrive today (assuming there is interest in the speciality).

    I also think that judging political blogs based on the number of hits they generate and going from a high right after a presidential election to 20 months before the next presidential election is called short term thinking. This would be like counting number of words on political issues published in the MSM from 1/2005 to 1/2007, comparing it to 2004 and then concluding that MSM political coverage and importance is declining because the amount published has decreased.

  5. James Joyner says:

    I also think that judging political blogs based on the number of hits they generate and going from a high right after a presidential election to 20 months before the next presidential election is called short term thinking.

    That’s fair enough. The problem is for the “blog as a business” model. Advertising rates have gone way up as have revenues but the sales are very cyclical.

  6. Gayle Miller says:

    I think what’s really at play here is that even the political bloggers are EXHAUSTED by the non-stop politicking going on. The November elections were over one day and the 2008 election cycle started the next morning! That’s just too much – people are weary.

    Also – the tone has become increasingly hostile (especially on the left – but I have to admit I’ve had my hissy fits recently as well) and just plain nasty and that is a major turnoff! It will be more interesting to see what happens after the first of the year!

  7. bains says:

    For what it’s worth, I much prefer the less trafficed blogs – their authors are much more likely to respond to comments. And the comment threads at highly ‘popular’ sites are much more likely to be populated by echo-chamber aficionados whose desire for honest debate is… non-existent.

    Further, on the rare occurrence where comments top 50, unless I’ve been a participant in 1-20 (having a real life, that necessarily means at least a 24 hour time frame) it’s usually not worth it.